Join 3,372 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Can you have it ready for this NFL season?"
July 19, 2013 7:30 AM   Subscribe

The secret history of football's TV first down line.
posted by Chrysostom (28 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have always wondered about that! Thanks for posting
posted by rebent at 7:42 AM on July 19, 2013


Football is not a favorite sport, but man do I love that first down line, and have always wondered about its origin.

Honorable mention to the remarkably instantaneous instant replay reviews for tennis shots.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:43 AM on July 19, 2013


I'm coming up on the point where I've been watching football for as long after The Line as I did before it, and frankly, I can barely watch "classic" games anymore without it. It's even more useful to me than the score and down marker in the top corner. It definitely makes the game more accessible to the casual (or busy) fan -- you can glance up at the TV and see right where things need to be happening instead of hoping the shot is wide enough that you have a good angle on the down marker.

However, the networks need to stop trying to make it more useful. Changing it to red when a team is in the red zone? No. Stop that. I live in fear each season that it will be made to move or have a long, narrow ad on it for some new TV show.

The hockey puck halo thing that gave them the idea, though? That thing could not go away fast enough for me, and I don't even like hockey.
posted by Etrigan at 7:44 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I still remember the first time I saw the line. I was so confused... was it actually being laid down on the field somehow? Definitely the biggest innovation in sports broadcasting in a long long time.
posted by kmz at 7:52 AM on July 19, 2013


Fox Sports MidWest has taken the first down marker technology to the zenith and used it to place McDonald's ads on the end glass during the first round of the Blues home playoff games last year and this year.

Made it look like the people in the third to tenth rows had to look through a giant McDouble to watch hockey. Took me a minute to realize it was only on TV.
posted by stltony at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My father-in-law, who is dumber than a bag of hammers, was watching a game with us a year or two ago and asked (in all seriousness), "Ain't they gonna trip over that line?"

I live in fear each season that it will be made to move or have a long, narrow ad on it for some new TV show

Oh, that just has to be coming - there are already giant Home Depot ads that are laid over the field between plays. Fuck that noise - I just want the MNF flying/crashing/exploding helmets back.
posted by timetoevolve at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would have thought it was much older than 1998. It seems like it's been around forever.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:03 AM on July 19, 2013


Soccer broadcasts have been doing giant ads superimposed over stadium crowds since forever.
posted by kmz at 8:08 AM on July 19, 2013


The advancement of technology still amazes me.
[In 1998] We would have to send six people to each game along with a 48-foot semi to haul our computer and video equipment.
...
within several years two things happened -- the first was that the size of the system shrunk from a 48-foot, equipment-filled truck to racks about the size of four card tables that could be shipped to each venue in packing cases. With time to work on the system, the team was able to configure it in much more efficient ways, and we did not need the extensive backup equipment we hauled around that first season.
This makes me think of real-time video manipulation that ran on Windows computers, which came out in 2010. Impossible in the 1990s, now a reality (though it's unclear if the software progressed beyond the 2010 demos).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:14 AM on July 19, 2013


As someone who works on augmented reality software, it's kinda nice to be validated by some of the pioneers.

Jitter sucks.
posted by The Power Nap at 8:26 AM on July 19, 2013


If you're blown away by the ads being dynamically placed on hockey rinks, you need to check out the high-tech-but-low-tech ads that ring a lot of European sports fields. They're not even there.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:35 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


That first down line is one of the greatest inventions ever. Right up there with the polio vaccine.

Last year my 80 year old mom came over to watch the Superbowl with us and trying to explain to her that the line was not actually there was pretty much impossible. I should have just told her Jesus put it there.
posted by bondcliff at 8:46 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


One thing this article doesn't explain is how they know where to put the line on first down. It mentions sensors in the cameras and a model of the field. But unless there's also a sensor in the sideline marker that marks the line of scrimmage, there's got to be some manual input involved, yes?
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:52 AM on July 19, 2013


...there's got to be some manual input involved, yes?

The camera high in the stands is in the input. Pretend that you've mounted the camera on a very large joystick. Where you tilt/turn the camera tells the computer how to shape and draw the line to make it look correct.

When the camera position is fixed in place, and the field is fixed in place (obviously), the camera position is all you really need to know.

But yeah, someone just types in what yard the line is at.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:56 AM on July 19, 2013


I'm not a football fan, but I have to say that the first-down line is probably the best application of technology to a sport ever. I think it's because it's a simple, logical and natural extension of the visible markers already present in the game (i.e. the chains) It flows naturally from those. In fact, when networks decide to tart it up with arrows and numbers and animation, it actually loses effectiveness.

Baseball's strike zone graphic runs a very close second.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:06 AM on July 19, 2013


I'd always assumed there was some sort of transponder in the yardage stick, but now that I think about it, that's really over-complicated and probably no more accurate than manually notating it on a computer model of the field.
posted by Ickster at 9:06 AM on July 19, 2013


Neat-o. Here's a slightly more in-depth IEEE Spectrum article on the same topic.
posted by cog_nate at 9:08 AM on July 19, 2013


I'd always assumed there was some sort of transponder in the yardage stick,

So did I!
posted by cashman at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2013


Okay, now how about the Fox glowing hockey puck?
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:21 AM on July 19, 2013


Yeah, I think the strike zone graphic is also a big deal. Really get a feel for what the pitcher is up to, and if the ump is way off that night.

Having real time scores and other info has also had a lot of impact. That's something I really notice on "classic" games - you may have to wait 10 minutes to find out who's winning!
posted by Chrysostom at 9:26 AM on July 19, 2013


The only thing with the strike zone graphic is that it's a 2D slice of a fully 3D phenomenon. I think I may have seen a broadcast where they had a 3D strike zone and could track the ball's path through that cubish shape to see if it nicked a corner or something, but I might be imagining that. That kind of thing probably isn't too far off anyway, but I don't know if the 2D thing is at the front, center or rear of the plate. Expecting umps to be that precise is going too far for me anyway. It's great if they're consistent, even if the zone they're calling is slightly off from the strict rule interpretation.
posted by LionIndex at 10:10 AM on July 19, 2013


I too have wondered about this for a long time. Now to bore my NFL-loving wife with a second-hand retelling over dinner!
posted by Monster_Zero at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2013


Okay, now how about the Fox glowing hockey puck?

A story or how it worked? It had an infrared pulse transmitter in it.
posted by yerfatma at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2013


I'm not a huge fan of racing, but the car telemetry data is fantastic. I'd like to see someone do something with all the data available in football (soccer) matches, if only because the resulting pushback will make the Fox hockey hullaballoo look like a pink tea.
posted by yerfatma at 11:44 AM on July 19, 2013


I'm really interested to see if computer vision technology will ever replace home plate umpires. "Pitch framing" by catchers would become useless overnight.
posted by scose at 12:06 PM on July 19, 2013


I'm really interested to see if computer vision technology will ever replace home plate umpires. "Pitch framing" by catchers would become useless overnight.

I think, just as importantly, it would remove the "lefty strike". But there's too many who crow over the 'human element' for computers to replace umpires that far I think.
posted by john-a-dreams at 12:49 PM on July 19, 2013


scose: "I'm really interested to see if computer vision technology will ever replace home plate umpires. "Pitch framing" by catchers would become useless overnight."

If you're going to do that, why not replace both baseball teams with robots?
posted by double block and bleed at 2:16 PM on July 19, 2013


Hey guys, I work at ESPN.

Just wanted to thank you all for your appreciation. We work hard on this stuff.
posted by butterstick at 6:07 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older At age 99, Mr. Newton still gets up and goes to wo...  |  A junior doctor writes about t... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments