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Sports Media Best Practices: Without Proper Care, Sports Broadcasts Can Be Hampered by a Bug

Monday, November 16, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 11:43 AM, under ,

Nothing was published this weekend as I was a bit busy. Saturday afternoon/evening was spent working the Auburn University - University of Georgia football game. Yesterday I was cloistered away in a chilly, dark room with a bug.

No, not the H1N1/Swine flu, but with the equipment, called the bug, that generates the scores and stats that appear at the top of your screen during a game. While I was not ill, there are definitely some symptoms from this type of bug that can cause problems.


The bug pictured above was my tool for yesterday's women's volleyball match between the University of Tennessee and the University of Georgia. Using a standard WINTEL keyboard interface, I could update the score, change display information on the "notes" section, and fly the graphic in and out when needed. I did not need to worry about switching the highlighter for which team was serving as the built-in rules based software knew when to auto-update that checkbox selection

There are some things that would be nice if the rules based software were modified. For example, if one team reaches 24 points (or 14 if in a fifth set) and is up by one point or more, it would be great if the statistics field automatically changed to reflect "match point".

Even better would be if the score reaches one of these two points, it would ask, like it does when you select a "TO" (timeout), if you want to display that automatically on air. Why? because fewer mouse clicks menas a faster update on air.

There are other interesting features in the software used yesterday. I could use one click to override the stat currently on air (i.e. I could override the stats with the score), and as soon as I would hide the score, the stat would reappear. However, it would not work in the other direction. That is, if I had the score displaying, I could not override it with the stat message and have the score re-appear when I removed the stat. This means the loss of a seamless transition, i.e. a dead blank space for as long as it took for me to move the mouse from one button to the other.

There are also other human-based limitations associated with the budget of a show being produced. Because this was women's volleyball and not a revenue sport like football or basketball, the production crew is much smaller. For this event, that meant that the position of statistician and font/graphics coordinator were combined, and the stats person was in the truck. There was no official stats person on the floor to communicate with.

The big-picture impact of this was not really felt until one point late in the game when a timeout was called, and no one could say who called the timeout. Therefore, I could not update the bug, and the on-air visual of timeouts remaining was incorrect.

The limited size of production staff also meant that more detailed stats like team kills and digs could not be shown on air. Oh it was possible technically, but there was no one to communicate with to get the information so it could be entered into the stats section of the bug. No stats means nothing unique to display.

So in the end, the quality of the data you see on the screen is not limited by technology, but by the intangible human elements and production budgets. Last Friday, CBS College Sports commentator Tom Hart wrote about how the human element component can impact on-air talent in the booth. This example shows you what can happen inside the truck.

So why am I sharing this with our readers? Because this is an example of a fairly simple sport to cover on the air. But what happens in basketball and football? How is ESPN able to get updated information up on the air immediately, mere seconds after the completion of a play? So later this week we will talk about the role of an official stats person, and how even this does not get ESPN the information they need quickly enough.

Interested in learning more?

If you would like to talk to us about how we can work with you on these and other business process issues, both technical and non-technical, you can email us at (replacing the AT and DOT of course) or call us at 706-363-0299.

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