Not only can technology make the Knicks a better basketball team (as Sombit described in his recent post), it can also help us enjoy the game no matter which teams/players we root for. Technology has already improved the fan viewing experience and I think we’re just at the beginning. I’ve listed below my favorite applications of technology to enhance sports viewing:
- Football first down line. It’s hard to imagine watching a football game on TV without the first down line. It’s almost like not knowing if a basketball player made a shot until the commentator announced the outcome. Before 1998, we had to guess if the player reached a first down. For non-football fans, the first down line is a yellow line superimposed on a live video feed to mark where the offensive team needs to advance for a first down (i.e. line stays in same place even when camera view changes).
- Tennis line judge. Would we remember John McEnroe differently if the Hawk-Eye system were in place during his professional tennis career? In the last decade, professional tennis has increasingly relied on advanced vision technology called the Hawk-Eye system that can precisely capture if a ball is in or out. It’s not only useful for the players, who can request calls be reviewed by the system, but also the fans. As fans, we can now see which players have a legitimate gripe with the umpire and which players are just whining.
- Pitch/serve speed. Can you imagine standing in the batter’s box for a Nolan Ryan fast ball or trying to return a Venus Williams serve? It was much harder to imagine those scenarios before radar technology was used to track ball speed. This metric helps us understand what makes certain players particularly dominant.
- Baseball strike zone. The matchup between the pitcher and batter in baseball is one of the most fascinating in sports. There is an incredible amount of strategy that goes on during an at-bat and a lot of it is hard to appreciate as a casual fan. With the introduction of pitch location technology (i.e. ability to see exactly where the ball crossed the plate), commentators now have a powerful tool to help shed light on the strategic battle between pitcher and batter.
- Hockey puck and golf ball tracking. Both hockey and golf have helped fans track a puck/ball by highlighting the object with a bright color. This didn’t seem to work as well in hockey and is no longer used in that sport to my knowledge. I think the hardcore hockey fan never had a problem tracking the puck, so the tracking visual was just annoying. I think it’s a nice addition in golf. Before golf ball tracking, TV fans could see the golfer swing and then the ball land, but not much in between. Now you can see the ball flight, sometimes in real-time, which lets you see how the player is “shaping” the shot.
Have I missed any good ones? Which are your favorites?
I’m excited about future possibilities in this area. Look at what Under Armour is doing with the NFL combine. With their E39 sensors, we can see real time biometric data as players go through a workout. How about Nike? Their new sensor enabled basketball shoes, called Nike Hyperdunk+, can provide real-time information about how high a player is jumping. Apparently, LeBron James will wear the shoes at the 2012 Olympics in London.