A LONG-overdue sports graphics roundup.

When was the last time we had a sports graphics roundup, July? We’re very overdue for one, especially considering some major developments in the world of sports graphics in the interim…

I had to go outside this country, but I did eventually find a video that had Versus’ IndyCar graphics:I have to say, while I didn’t know how Versus would do racing, I’m rather impressed with the graphic they did come up with. The placement of elements is a little haphazard, and the lap count and current flag sort of stick out like a sore thumb, but everything looks rather natural and nothing seems forced. It also flows well with Versus’ other graphics.

Versus also introduced a new score box for college football, which lost the element of putting the two teams on opposite ends “VS.” one another. Switching from a rectangle to a parallelogram theme makes it look a little more professional, but I didn’t like the score to the left of the teams’ abbreviations on the old CBS box (more on that later) and it looks even worse here.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter, because it looks like Versus is in the middle of a graphics package change that will FINALLY unify its graphics packages – and it looks good enough maybe they don’t need NBC’s help. It started with coverage of Mountain West basketball, and although it looked a LOT spiffier than any previous Versus graphics package, they were off to a bad start by putting the teams and scores at the extreme opposite ends of the strip, which I’ve criticized before.The graphic Versus broke out for the NHL after the Olympics, however, works VERY well with the team logos flanking their abbreviations atop the team colors. At the very least, it’s a big improvement over Versus’ old graphics. Now if only they could change the rest of their graphics to match…If Comcast is planning on bringing Comcast SportsNet closer to its other sports properties, perhaps they should adopt a variant of the Versus graphic for it. Have you seen the abortion that is Comcast SportsNet’s new basketball score bug? Just look at this bulky number! TNT’s NBA graphic looks like a work of genius!

As promised, we finally get a look at TBS’ baseball graphics, and I get the impression they were designed more for the playoffs than the regular season. See the top line, with the triangle indicating the side of the inning, the inning itself, and the game number? During the regular season, “TOP” or “BOTTOM” is spelled out across that entire space. TBS knows people only watch their coverage for the playoffs. Then again, Fox also gives the inning more space than it needs, and I suspect this graphic was designed to maximize solidarity with Fox…

Kuo 2009 NLCS Game1 from Erised on Vimeo.

…except BOTH of the pioneers of the two-line box seem to be abandoning it. FSN went back to a banner for basketball this year, and that’s not the only change, which tells me similar changes are coming to other sports. While the basic elements of the player info are the same, same font and basic design, it looks undeniably different, and seems to take a cue from the philosophy of ESPN’s MNF two-line box, because all of it comes out of the banner itself. It also looks not unlike what I thought ESPN’s graphics for non-NFL sports were going to look like, complete with area on the right side telling you exactly what kind of basketball broadcast you’re watching.

ESPN also introduced a new graphic for MNF this year, keeping the basic philosophy of last year’s banner – stats appear in at most two lines with the name of the person displayed crammed into one side – but going back to a single line for the banner itself, with a small area above it for displaying stats. When I first saw it, I almost didn’t recognize it as an ESPN graphic or even an ESPN broadcast – there was no BottomLine, the fonts didn’t look right, and the colors certainly didn’t look right. ESPN’s color is red, not gold!

But there was evidence that this was, in fact, THE new graphic for all sports – one of the fonts is the same as that being used on SportsCenter, and the on-field down-and-distance graphic was basically lifted whole-cloth with less color when college football season started. It was confirmed when the same banner showed up for college football, first in the South Florida-Connecticut game, and then in all bowls. I’m guessing after seeing how bad last year’s MNF banner translated to the NBA, ESPN hastily decided to change course. For college football, ESPN basically removed the “MNF” wordmark (which incidentially, changed to an “NFL” wordmark without surrounding logo for the Pro Bowl) and stretched the space for the team names to fill the space. To further create space for the team names, ESPN shrunk the font size for them, making the whole graphic look bulky, which is probably my biggest quibble. ESPN also replaced the colored line on the side with a little arrow indicating possession.

Might this be why the score graphic for the SEC Network – one of the most widely distributed syndication packages in recent memory – has a rather sloppily slapped-on SEC logo on a black parallelogram on top of the ESPN logo? Might it just be a stopgap for the introduction of this new graphic and its more professional application? Regardless, I can’t wait to see how less standard ESPN logos (ESPNU, ESPN RT) look on this new banner – the ESPN logo is a little crammed as is.

You know what all this means: yet ANOTHER year of a different graphic for the NBA Finals! But ESPN surprised me when I first saw the NBA version of this graphic earlier today. I had anticipated ESPN would stick an “NBA” logo on there, similar to the “MNF” wordmark (and the final ABC Sports NBA graphic), which it could then remove to create a college basketball graphic. Not only did they not do that, they tried to have it both ways: moving to the new graphic but keeping its two-line character with a permanent statline below, not above, the main line. (I prefer the football approach.) I have a feeling the college basketball graphic is going to be very different, and I wouldn’t rule out yet ANOTHER change before next year’s Finals.

That changes a lot of my speculation as to what this graphic will look like for other sports, since they could have quite a bit of leeway. I still imagine the baseball graphic will look a lot like the football graphic, given how much stuff needs to be crammed in there. But how this will work for racing is anyone’s guess, and they may take more after basketball – especially since my old mock-up of a two-line NASCAR banner may be out of date for another reason. I don’t know if this is new, but TNT is now showing the current leader constantly on its graphic. (I can’t show you because NASCAR seems very protective about videos showing their broadcast partner’s full graphic and it doesn’t appear on the genericed-out version. Incidentally, ESPN moving most of the Chase races from ABC to ESPN makes “ESPN is killing sports on ABC” rumors a lot more plausible. Same goes for making the SEC Tournament the only college basketball on ABC, which is weird because the SEC is the only conference ABC doesn’t show football for, and in fact this may be the only part of “the SEC on ESPN” that’s on ABC.)

On a related note, ESPN’s move to add timeout indicators to its college sports graphics seems to be catching on. ESPN, CBS, and NBC all added them to their NFL graphics a few weeks into the season, though at first, it was hard to tell between taken and not-taken timeouts on ESPN’s graphic. (Incidentially, I don’t think timeout indicators are coming to the NBA.) One thing remained constant: just as with ESPN’s college football banner, all the networks couldn’t find a way to make it fit with the rest of the graphic – not even CBS. After clinging to an alternating-sides box for the NFL even after its own SEC telecasts moved to a banner, CBS suddenly took a great leap forward with a banner so tricked-out it might presage more changes to all the other sports, probably because it had the Super bowl this year. Only the score display as it comes in to and out of commercial changed to fit the new banner; all other graphics remained unchanged, which is sad, because the inconsistency between having just the name come out of the logo and the entire graphic has always bugged me. But as much as the design of the timeout indicators (showing up not only on CBS’ SEC coverage, but its college basketball games as well) meshed with the design of the rest of the banner and as much as they tried to make it fit, they still stuck out like a sore thumb.

NFL Network had an easier time of it, but that big tab it stuck the timeout indicators on still looks awkward, even with the tab filling in the remaining space.

NBC came out the best of the bunch purely by chance. Imagine my surprise when NBC used its Super Bowl XLIII graphics at the lowly Hall of Fame Game after sticking with the old graphics at the Pro Bowl. I have no idea why NBC had those little things hanging underneath each team’s spot on the banner, as it was only used for things like penalties and who took the last timeout that didn’t require them to be on the screen all the time, but it gave them the perfect spot to stash timeout indicators when it came to that.

Fox is the only NFL TV partner that hasn’t added timeout indicators to its graphics yet, and as much as I hated them aesthetically when ESPN introduced them on college football I actually missed them practically watching the NFC playoffs. But presumably, with Fox having Super Bowl XLV, they’ll take a CBS-style great leap forward with both Fox and FSN moving to a new strip complete with timeout indicators.

There. Unless CBS introduces an NFL-style graphic during the NCAA tournament we’re set ’til baseball season, and hopefully my next round-up won’t be so massive.

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