Catching up with sports graphics in the NFL and more

Well, if I put this off any longer than I already have, I’ll have to include baseball graphics and that means dealing with MLB Advanced Media not knowing how the Internet works, so:

Back in 2003, Fox introduced something new to their NFL score banner: rather than represent teams with abbreviations, Fox represented them solely with the teams’ logos. I fell in love with it immediately: abbreviations are arbitrary, cooked up solely for the benefit of graphics packages, while the logos introduced a sublime simplicity to Fox’s graphic. I’ve continued to go logo-only in my own fantasies ever since.

Sadly, Fox got cold feet – I guess they got complaints that people who weren’t familiar with NFL logos were getting confused – and dropped the logos during the playoffs, replacing them with these ugly abbreviations that were obviously slapped on in place of something else. In 2004, Fox used abbreviations alongside the logos on what was fundamentally the same graphic, and after that Fox stopped using logos as a permanent element of the graphic entirely. Fox would continue to evoke the logo graphic for years by having team logos appear in place of the abbreviation when the banner first comes onto the screen.

For a while, it seemed as though that would be it for using logos and relegating abbreviations to the dustbin of history (or updates on games you’re not watching). But then a funny thing happened: the NFL Network started using logos alone, and did so in two different incarnations for years. And now, in 2010, apparently the NFL Network’s success has convinced Fox to return to using the logo-only approach. In fact, they arguably take it too far; only the logos are shown even when going to break, providing no opportunity for newcomers to associate a logo with a team.

Fox also shows the potential of designing graphics with the timeout indicators in mind from the start, even to the point of turning the timeout indicators into Christmas lights during the holidays. If I had a problem, it’s with how awkward the graphic is arranged, with the logos on top of the scores and the scores arranged lengthwise.

Ironically, NFL Network decided to incorporate abbreviations into their graphic at the same time. This graphic isn’t much different from graphics I’ve made on my own time, so I can’t complain too much about it, even the excessive space between teams’ scores I’ve called the Portland Trail Blazers out for in the past. One spiffy new feature is that the indicator of which team has the ball also shows the direction the team is moving down the field (though that just makes the on-field down-and-distance indicator that much more redundant). On the downside, the timeout indicators are still on a tab slapped on to the graphic, though it’s a much less jarring tab than on NFL Network’s previous graphic, and down-and-distance and statistics feel almost as slapped on.

Still, with Fox’s new graphic and ESPN’s changes to its existing graphic, all of the NFL’s TV partners now use logos in their graphics, though CBS’s logos still look awkward. ESPN removed the “MNF” from their graphic and instead replaced the “40th Season” in the down-and-distance area with the same “MNF” wordmark. They used the space they saved from removing the “MNF” to add logos to the team names. Later in the season, they increased the font size of the time left, the down and distance, and the stat line, which I found jarring, and its inconsistent application gave away that the graphic wasn’t designed for it.

This move pretty much doomed the fate of the way ESPN’s new scoreline had previously popped itself in, with the “ESPN” sliding into its box and opening up to reveal the rest of the scoreline, which had been complemented with “MNF” doing the same thing. Now the whole scoreline “zooms in” to view. It’s not too bad for MNF, where the scoreline now pops in as a black field saying just “ESPN MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL” and then turns into the rest of the scoreline. But in other sports it just looks amateur. While I prefer turning the colored box into a triangle for college football to what they did during last year’s bowl season, the way the box pops onto the screen leaves a little to be desired.

Other than my continuing issues with the timeout indicators, I don’t really have an issue with ESPN’s new college basketball graphic.

On the other hand, ESPN has become the only NBA TV partner to have timeout indicators on their NBA graphics as well. One wonders if this is their way to continue their streak of having a different graphic for every NBA Finals.

For a while I wondered if Fox was going to go the way of Turner, and have a different graphic for every sport – their old graphic for NASCAR, their new graphic for the NFL, and an FSN-inspired graphic for baseball. I was proven wrong when both Fox and SPEED went with graphics inspired by Fox’s NFL graphics for NASCAR. My biggest problem is that the little pods for the cars in the running order look bulky, and call to mind the problems I’ve long had with ESPN’s current NASCAR graphics, even though Fox doesn’t try to cram intervals or other stats onto the same line.

Turner, meanwhile, introduced a new graphic for its NBA broadcasts, fixing the problems with their last abomination. In fact this version arguably outdoes ESPN on their idea to try to cram all graphics into the same two lines at the bottom of the screen, bringing out the advantages of that approach like nothing I’ve seen before. If I have a quibble, it’s the distracting way team logos appear whenever someone scores, which mirrors a general graphic theme that appears for highlight packages and the like. It’s a neat idea to try to de-genericize the score graphic, but still.

In fact, Turner may be moving towards graphic standardization, if the CBS/Turner graphics for March Madness are anything to go by. These graphics are a rather jarring change from the graphics CBS uses during the regular season (although some of the fonts are reminicent of the graphics package used by CBS before the current one), and contributes to the sense that Turner has taken over the tournament and nicely let CBS play with them. (However, overall the tournament keeps enough of a CBS sense that I really don’t get the synergy with “Inside the NBA” from Kenny and Charles’ presence in the studio that was intended, or from the presence of other TNT NBA personnel calling games, except maybe Reggie Miller alongside Gus Johnson at the regional semifinals.) The graphic is rather odd, but servicable, and my lack of problem with the timeout indicators may be a sign I’m growing resigned to the fact of iffy incorporation of them.

It’ll be interesting to see if similar changes are coming to Turner’s coverage of NASCAR and baseball.

Comcast, meanwhile, whipped out Versus’ new college football graphics, which are about as expected. If you’re going to put timeout indicators on a tab, you could do worse than what Versus did.

Comcast also introduced new graphics for Comcast SportsNet, rolling out a new standard for those networks that uses a shape once favored by ESPN. Thank God, too, because it means the graphics that made TNT’s look good on basketball are gone.

However, the hockey graphic looks a little amateur, especially with the way the team logos can sometimes disappear and reappear.

I’ve already seen the implementation of this graphic for baseball, but I won’t show it to you until I’m ready to deal with that can of worms. How the Comcast-NBC merger affects these graphics remains to be seen, but it has already affected one graphics package. NBC’s golf coverage has adopted the Golf Channel graphics and been rebranded “Golf Channel on NBC”.

They’re at least marginally better than what Golf Channel had before, enough that I can actually buy them being on a broadcast network, though it’s still a jarring change from NBC’s other graphics. It’ll be interesting to see how these look come the US Open.

A word of praise for the Sacramento Kings for trying something different – something I honestly had expected to see first in the NFL. Their new graphic uses team names – and not just team names, but team names taken from the teams’ jerseys. It’s barely noticable, so here’s hoping other networks (probably Fox or Turner) pick up on the trend.

By the way, NBA TV’s graphics are much less FSN-inspired than the last time I checked.

If you’re wondering, FSN is not going to a banner for all sports, instead adopting the most slapped-on timeout indicators possible for football. Check out the on-field down-and-distance that’s basically a cheap version of what Fox used for the NFL last year.

Finally, I don’t get ESPN’s rollout schedule for its new graphics. They still aren’t on tennis or NASCAR (tennis will probably get them for Wimbledon, NASCAR maybe by the time ESPN takes over the Sprint Cup schedule, but NASCAR in particular is still mystifying), but they are on MLS broadcasts and college lacrosse (which uses a variant of the college football graphic – and I should mention that college hockey doesn’t have these yet either). MLS has introduced us to a new variation of the graphic.

At the very end of the video, the graphic pops out of existence in a unique manner, a variant of how it pops in. I’m very impressed; I’d like to see that be the way it pops in and out for other sports. (I’m also seeing a trend reflected in this graphic regarding new implementations of ESPN’s new graphics package, but I’ll save that for next time.)

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