CBC’s recent announcement that it is introducing a women-friendly Stanley Cup broadcast – live from a fake living room - sounds like a pretty stupid idea. But, then again, a lot of TV sport innovations look that way upon first blush. Some look that way upon second blush as well. And some end up changing our sports viewing forever. Here are a few you might take for granted or simply wish you could forget:
FOXTRAX – Apparently, Americans had trouble following the puck during an NHL game. So at the 1996 All-Star Game, Fox hockey broadcasts began featuring a blue glow around the puck. Worse was the big red comet tail that appeared when a player shot the puck in excess of 70 miles an hour. Strange to watch today, the whole experiment lasted but two years. Fox has denied that its staffers were sent into hockey crowds to fetch those battery-equipped freak pucks, but the legend persists. Foxtrax did inspire a similar, yet far less annoying, visual gimmick as a way to follow golf shots and home runs.
THE “FIRST AND 10″ LINES – Developed for the NFL – debuting at a Bengals/Ravens game in 1998 – the “First and 10″ lines are those colourful yellow (first down) and blue lines (line of scrimmage) superimposed under the players’ feet to help the audience know where they are on the field. Well, it beats waiting for some commentator to pull out a sharpie and draw the line of scrimmage on the screen. Barely noticeable these days, the technology has been expanded greatly to include all manner of field surface graphics (the Red Zone being, of course, highlighted in red). It’s also used now to insert ads under the player’s feet or behind the plate.
INSTANT REPLAY – Hard to imagine watching a televised sports event without instant replay. More than a way to see a play you missed, instant replay now decides goals. And games. And championships. Begun in 1955 by Hockey Night In Canada, the replay wasn’t all that instant at first. It took a televised 1963 Army/Navy football game before it became (almost) immediate. Now, even slow-to-change Major League Baseball are using it to get a second look at home runs. Okay, but did we really need to incorporate this lengthy umpire review in the baseball video game? I guess we did:
TV TIME OUT – While most sports have natural breaks that accommodate TV commercials, not so with hockey. Yes, I understand that advertising is important, but this only makes sense when you’re at home and have full access to the fridge or a bathroom. At the arena, a TV Time Out sucks the life out of a game at regular intervals (at the 14, 10 and 6 minute mark). And all the on-ice filler – the fan games, the kiss-cams and staffers dancing to oldies – just seem to make it worse.
HAWK-EYE – One TV innovation that has met with universal praise is the Hawk-eye system employed in tennis. Though developed for TV, it’s now used as a backup to the line judge. Basically, it triangulates four video cameras, using the information to decide if a ball is in or out. Players are allowed to use it to dispute a call three times a set – though TV broadcasters can use it…well…whenever. The best part of the Hawk-Eye system is the excitement generated as viewers follow the animated ball’s trajectory. It’s in! No….arggh…it’s out! Hard to imagine John McEnroe would have been half as famous with this device in place (“Are you serious? Moron!”), The Hawk-Eye is also used in cricket to measure “leg before wicket decisions” – whatever that means. Soccer is still mulling it over.
CAMERAS – EVERYWHERE! – There ain’t an angle in sports not covered by some camera or two or five . TV’s obsession with getting every possible angle seems insatiable. The goal cam. The helmet cam. The home plate cam. Cam Ward. Nothing escapes the unblinking eye! The most ridiculous – albeit successful – trend devotes whole pay-per-view channels to one camera! Direct-TV’s NASCAR HotPass puts you right in the car with your favourite driver when he careens into the wall. Actually, that does sound cool:
THE SHOOT-OUT – Maybe not an innovation exactly, but TV sure has benefited from the shootout. Afterall, every good TV drama needs an ending. Thus, every game needs a winner – not a tie (which is the sports equivalent of kissing your sister). While professional soccer still debates the the shootout as a way to decide a match (or World Cup) and not have the game go on forever, hockey fans embraced it almost immediately upon its introduction in the 2005-2006 season. A player. A goalie. A puck. What’s not to love? Even hockey purists have a hard time whining. How about a home run derby to shorten baseball games? First guy over the fence wins!