As football fans gear up for the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl this Sunday, we can expect to see not only a great athletic game, but a host of dazzling new technology at play behind the scenes, working to seamlessly bring the game to millions of viewers. To really appreciate how sophisticated this sport has become, let’s take a look at some of the ways Super Bowl technology has evolved in the last fifty years.
1. Camera Tech Has Come a Long Way
Back in 1967, Super Bowl 1 aired to viewers simultaneously on NBC and CBS—the only game to have been aired by two major networks at the same time. Unfortunately most of the footage from the game was wiped, as was standard practice at the time. Just this year the NFL was able to locate all 145 plays of the game on a few dozen different sources, stitch them together, enhance and color correct the footage, to bring the game back to life for the first time. The daytime game features tons of empty seats, despite $12 tickets, and of course no jumbo screen or pyrotechnics filled halftime show. While Super Bowl 1 is a fun throwback for film buffs, camera technology has come a long way in the past fifty years, and so too has the viewing experience. For this year’s 50th anniversary, CBS Sports is debuting exciting new cameras to bring television viewers even closer to the live event experience. With last year’s game bringing in a record 140 million viewers, this year’s anniversary match between the Panthers and the Broncos is the perfect time to show off new technology. CBS will have a suite of 70 cameras filming the Super Bowl, which is a big jump from the 40 cameras that covered last year’s game. The showstopper from the new cameras is sure to be the Eye Vision 360, a replay camera that can freeze any moment of play and circle 360 degrees around it, and then continue the play. With a fleet of 36 cameras mounted near the red zone at the 25 yard line, the placement will allow the cameras to capture the entire field, and then render together into 360 degree views for replays. Instant replay has become such a pivotal part of how football is both watched and played, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t until 1986 that the NFL first implemented a limited instant replay system. Since then the process has gone through a number of changes, from nine inch monitors in a skybox to high definition multiple angle replays on the side of the field for referees to review. What began as a process with walkie talkies and stopwatches has since evolved to 360 degree HD cameras and an off site control center, where refs can consult directly with officiating experts every time a review is initiated. Also new to this year’s Super Bowl are pylon cameras: eight high resolution cameras with high definition audio that will be affixed to the pylons on the edge of the endzone. These cameras are sure to capture some up close and personal touchdown footage, as well as provide another perspective on calls too close to make with the human eye.
2. Beyond the First and 10
Back in 1997, Sportvision first brought the magic of superimposed yard lines to those watching on live t.v. The “first and 10” line shows where the offense must reach to make a first down. While this line appears magical on the screen, there’s actually a number of steps that go into creating it: first a laser in the center of the field is used to collect elevation points and map the contours of the field for a computerized rendering. Broadcast cameras outfitted with Sportvision sensors are then able to keep the virtual field the same size and perspective, even as the cameras pan, zoom and tilt. Finally, production operators make sure the line moves in the correct direction from the play when a first down is reached, all before you see that magic yellow line on your t.v. screen. In addition to the First and 10 line, this year’s new Matrix-like EyeVision 360 cameras will also be able to superimpose a virtual line on the play, enhancing the instant replay experience in much the same way that Sportvision enhanced live viewing with the invention of the First and Ten technology.
From brands having to work harder to wow audience with advertisements to new apps offering fans an interactive experience, the Super Bowl is as big a game on social media as it is on the pitch. The simple brilliance of Oreo’s 2013 Twitter response to the Super Bowl blackout—”you can still dunk in the dark”—illustrates the power of social branding perfectly. Last year a full 50% of ads shown during the game had a special hashtag, and this year will likely be even higher, with brands enticing viewers with potential rewards for retweeting. Not only is the 30 second spot during the game critical—as it should be with an average price tag of $4.5 million—but so too is how the brand engages with consumers on social media before, during and after the game. As for apps, there’s a whole fleet of apps to enhance your experience, whether you’re at the stadium, the bar or on your couch. Those going to the game should download the Road to 50 app and the Levi’s Stadium app, which lets you order snacks right to your seat, among other wonders. You can even download an NFL emoji keyboard if you’re so inclined.
The Evolving Face of Football
Every aspect of football has made huge leaps forward in technology recently. From the caliber of the halftime show, to upgrades in protective player gear, to RFID tracking systems embedded in players’ shoulder pads, the Super Bowl has undoubtedly evolved into a larger than life spectacle. It’s no coincidence that this year’s game is being held at the most technologically advanced stadium to date. Levi’s Stadium is fully equipped with 400 miles of fiber and copper cable. There are 1,200 Wi-Fi access points throughout the Silicon Valley stadium. In other words, there’s plenty of juice for the stadium’s 68,000+ fans to take endless selfies, view stats, order food, and share updates. So is this the nature of progress, or does this tech frenzy somehow detract from the purity of the game? We might watch for the ads, or for the instant replays, or for the apps (edible and virtual), but really we still watch first and foremost for the love of the game. The rest is just enhancements. *This article was originally published on TechCrunch. Check out my author profile here.