soccer field

The good, the bad and the ugly

March 25, 2019

Sport was made for television. And television was made for sport. The world's first televised sporting event was the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Seventy-two hours of live Olympics coverage went to viewing booths called "Public Television Offices" in Berlin. The first broadcast showed Jesse Owens winning the 100m final. Since then television and sport have helped each other reach bigger and bigger audiences. Over a billion people watch the soccer World Cup Final. And television gives us highlights programmes so we can catch up, slow motion replays, freeze-frames, close-ups and most recently the new spidercam so we can appreciate the action in detail – all of this enhances sport’s offering to its audiences and increases our enjoyment of our favourite sports. Yet it’s not the perfect match. Three things serve as examples.

The good – cricket. You can actually see what’s going on. Every wicket taken, every shot scored, it all looks better in slow motion and close up. And if it’s a close call, well we all look forward to watching HotSpot (which uses infra-red cameras to find out if the batsman has nicked the ball) or the Snickometer (who would have thought a video representation of an oscilloscope tracking sound waves would be so much fun?). A gold medal for TV here.

The bad – Formula One. You can’t actually see what’s going on. At least not if you live in the UK, home of most of Formula 1’s teams and its one superstar driver, or at least not unless you pay a chunky monthly subscription fee. Unsurprisingly the UK teams are worried about their home audience shrinking, not least while new competitor Formula E is free to watch instead.

The ugly – soccer. You have to wait to see what’s going on. Or at least you do if anything controversial happens. VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is being introduced in most of the big competitions now. If there is a close call, the referee stops the game while footage is examined to see whether there has been a handball or an offside or some other infringement. So we all stop for a few minutes while a decision is taken, meaning the spectators have nothing to do, the players get a rest and can regroup and the whole flow of the game and the emotion of the crowd (possibly the most important thing of all to a soccer broadcaster) dissipates to nothing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the inconsistent use of instant replays by officials in the NFL has been a controversial topic for a number of years. In a recent blog, we looked at the fall out that resulted from the “no-call” during the Saints-Rams NFC championship game which led to two Saints fans filing a lawsuit seeking to force the Commissioner of the NFL to replay the last few minutes of the game. Please click here for our recent blog on this incident and possible future rule implications for the NFL.