Technological innovations in sports have had a dramatic impact on athletes and their abilities to compete. Much of that can be attributed to advances in equipment, training and the venues themselves. But the athletes aren't the only ones who have "gained a step" from technology. Today's sporting fans have access to gluttonous amounts of statistics, news, transactions and in-depth data sources that provide visibility into every aspect of the games. In fact, it could be argued that a typical business user's "dashboard" is nowhere near as complete or easy to use as an average fan's "dashboard." How much access do business users have to real-time data about every competing company in their industry, every employee and partner of those competitors (from the CEO on down to the intern), and every single business arena they play in?
Here are nine technology innovations that have greatly enhanced the fan experience - and made business users everywhere extremely jealous. Feel free to add your comment to the mix, including any sports innovation we might have missed.
Yellow "1st and 10" Lines
We take it for granted now, but while watching football games before 1998 we had only a rough guess of how far our team had to go to get a new set of downs. Thus was created the virtual "1st and 10" yellow line, a broadcasting TV innovation that has become a requirement for football viewing. (The players on the field can't see it.) It was developed by Sportvision, which also created the gone-but-not-forgotten FoxTrax glowing hockey puck for the National Hockey League and the KZone virtual strike zone for Major League Baseball. ESPN named the "1st and 10 Line" as the seventh biggest innovation during the last 25 years in sports.
The Home Viewing Experience
Now that the majority of professional sports leagues broadcast games in high-definition (HD), it's never been a better time to watch sports on TV: 50-inch HD televisions that offer crystal-clear, digital pictures from sporting events; surround sound stereo systems that capture the hidden sounds of the games and amplify the roars from the crowd; digital video recorders that allow viewers to control live TV broadcasts and save memorable games; and remote controls using infrared technology that allow viewers to manage all of the components. Viewers can also surf the Web for in-game stats that you can't get on the TV broadcasts, vote online for the best players and plays of the game, and get video highlights via mobile phones.
Online Fantasy Leagues
The object of fantasy baseball and football (also called rotisserie or roto) leagues is simple: Draft players whose collective statistics help your team beat other "managers" in the league. Pre-Internet, one poor sucker, called "the commissioner," had to track trades, scores and statistics with paper and pen. But in 1997, Commissioner.com and RotoNews.com changed everything. Today, 35 million people have tried fantasy sports online, and there are leagues for baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, cricket and car racing. Most are free; scores, trades and injuries update in real time; and the lives of the commissioners are much better.
Nascar Drivers' Radio Chatter
Nascar diehards know that with a radio scanner, headphones and guide to their favorite racer's radio frequency (try the 450MHz to 460MHz range), they can listen in on communications between a driver and his team. (Fans can also listen via Nascar.com and Sprint mobile phones as well as receive real-time updates on racers.) The "race chatter" is uncensored--Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fined in 2005 for uttering an obscenity heard on TV during a race. The chatter reveals the critical decisions and pit strategies among the drivers, crew chiefs and spotters, as well as what drivers really think of each other.
The sports world has become reliant on and addicted to the replay. At any sporting event that has TV broadcasting and video screens, every critical play is scrutinized by fans, broadcasters, officials and even the players themselves who look up to the Jumbotron to see what just happened (whereupon a cumulative groan or cheer rises from the crowd). Since 1986, the National Football League has utilized instant replay and today, it can change the outcome of an NFL game with a reversal of an official's call on the field. What did we all do before 1963 when the first televised instant replay was shown during the Army versus Navy football game? Hope somebody took a photo and argued a lot.
Madden NFL Video Game
OK, so it's not exactly a sport that has real players on the field, but just tell that to the millions of Madden NFL zealots who get to act as player, coach, general manager and fan while playing the popular football video game. EA Sports debuted the game (named for Hall of Fame NFL coach and TV broadcaster John Madden) in 1989, and its amazing graphics as well as gamers' ability to use real-world players and make adjustments on the fly have made this one of the top-selling video games (more than 7 million) of all time.
Real-Time March Madness
The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament tips off in March, with 65 teams vying over 10 days to be crowned the collegiate champion. The problem? On the first two days (Thursday and Friday), most of the 32 games occur during business hours. Since the late 1990s, sites such as CBS Sports and ESPN have offered scores and short recaps (delivered as fast as fans' Internet connections allowed). In 2008, however, fans can get live TV and Internet simulcasts of the games, real-time scoring updates and play-by-play game information without ever having to refresh their PCs or leave their desks.
The Tennis "Line Judge"
Since 1999, the Hawk-Eye ball-tracking system has made its way into major pro tennis events. TV viewers and players in the U.S. Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon Championships rely on it to judge whether a ball is in or out (tests have consistently shown Hawk-Eye to be 100 percent accurate). The system uses a combination of high-tech cameras and 2-D, 3-D and 4-D vision-processing technology to determine the position and trajectory of tennis balls. Players can challenge two of the linesperson's calls per set. Hawk-Eye delivers the graphical representation of the ball's flight in two to three seconds.
Professional Golf's ShotLink
Since 2001, The PGA Tour's ShotLink has been collecting data on every shot by every player at every tournament (about 32,000 golf club swings for each four-day PGA Tour event, according to USA Today). The system measures where golf balls start and land, and all the ground covered in between--driving distance to the fairway, how well each player putts from different measurements on the green and much more. ShotLink uses a combination of high-tech lasers and PDA-toting volunteers to get all that data, which is used by TV broadcasters and fans on PGATour.com or those accessing via mobile applications.
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