Catching up on the world of sports TV graphics design

Various notes from the world of sports graphics while I was busy dabbling in politics:

  • It looks like I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the new ESPN College Football graphic, because in recent weeks ESPN has gotten rid of the hideous bar, and replaced it with an almost-invisible parallelogram on top of the main strip to contain the same information. (Fast-forward past the promos to about a minute in.) The old strip with bar was in place on Tuesday, but that’s a special “Interactive Tuesday” gimmick.
  • During the World Series, Fox was positively schitzophrenic about its graphics. For the NLCS, it used the same approach it used in the Super Bowl: the strip contained the regular “MLB on FOX” logo on the left side, with an “NLCS FOX” logo only when the strip wasn’t there, as on replays. On the right side, where other scores are often displayed during the regular season, it showed the MLB logo, then “NLCS”, then “FOX”. For the World Series, it started out keeping this layout, replacing “NLCS” with “World Series” wherever it appeared. But in Game 3 the “FOX” became “2008”, apparently feeling the two “FOX”-es were redundant. And in Games 4 and 5 the boys at Fox cleared up a glaring omission by getting rid of the whole thing on the right side of the banner, replacing it with a notification of the team leading the series and by how much, with the “World Series FOX” logo now remaining on the left side of the banner. To varying extents you can see all three at various points of this video:
  • It’s NBA season, it’s time for new graphics! First, Canada’s The Score has a centralized score box similar to what ESPN had for Monday Night Football:

    Okay, enough frivolousness. FSN’s new score display for basketball is a bit surprising: it’s a full-on return to the lower-right box! We had thought TNT was the last holdout! Where was this for hockey?

    Stop this video early on for a peek at the statistics display and see if you can spot the differences from college football… and the places of TNT influence.

    The only videos of NBA TV action I could find are way too poor quality to make out the bottom line on their graphics, but there is a clear FSN influence.
  • Speaking of TNT, I don’t think they thought out their new NBA graphic very well. It’s painfully obvious that “NBA” doesn’t fit well inside a “capsule”, and the box – which includes an indication of the team in the lead – feels like a bunch of people threw out ideas in a meeting and they just picked whatever ones sounded best. The treatment of the quarter and time on a single line in a single element is praiseworthy, but little else. Methinks they could have taken more cues from the TBS baseball coverage, which itself was originally heavily influenced by the last NBA on TNT graphics package (I honestly expected TNT to go the banner route).

    By the way, you should see TNT’s full statistics display, as it is positively hideous. I haven’t found a rendering of it in video yet, but trust me, it definitely could use improvement to understate tremendously. There’s a reason most networks don’t put first and last names on separate lines. If ESPN could change its graphics package midseason for college football, I wouldn’t be surprised to see TNT do the same, and I would look for TNT to potentially make another graphics change next season at the latest.

I should probably comment on this before I forget again.

So I guess now we know how FSN is going to port its new graphics package to other sports.

Not shown: The logo bug in the corner. Does it, perhaps, as might be expected from other evidence, show the new name of the network, “FS Arizona”? No. From what I’ve seen on, say, FSN’s Final Score program and read on Wikipedia, it would read “FS Coyotes”… and would be displayed in Coyotes colors. That suggests a de-emphasis on regional identities in general (something FSN has waffled on in the past) and indeed, the potential for regional identities to be rendered superfluous.

We can presumably expect a similar bug for the NBA, but as the shot clock doesn’t “belong” to anybody, I don’t know where it would be displayed. Maybe it would only be shown when needed over the team with the ball? It would get kind of awkward if it kept shuttling back and forth on changes of possession… and I still have no clue how this box is going to work with baseball.

Very interesting. (To me at least.)

I noticed that the logo on at least the first couple of FSN college football broadcasts included a new logo… and regionalized games were shown as “FS Arizona” or “FS Big 12”.

Now it seems that the Oklahoma City Thunder will play on a renaming of FSN Southwest to… “FS Oklahoma“. Not FSN Oklahoma. Just plain FS Oklahoma.

I smell similar changes coming to other markets and maybe even the linewide update of FSN graphics I didn’t think was strictly implied, or necessarily possible.

Hey, I’m obsessed with this sort of thing.

Hey, did you see that CBS has switched to a banner for SEC Football coverage? Too bad both ESPN and CBS’ highlight packages have embedding disabled.

It sort of feels like it was hastily assembled to me for a couple of reasons. For one, the space for the actual score is really small and forces double-digit scores to condense. Watch for the big “TOUCHDOWN” graphic to show up and tell me it doesn’t look like an amateur operation. It works for FSN and really low-budget operations; it doesn’t work for ESPN, NBC, or the Fox network. Goal to go situations result in the down and distance being REALLY condensed. Oh, and I saw it fade in and out and it basically just collapses into the circular SEC on CBS logo or “wipes” out of it, rather than the circular logo actually turning into the horizontal logo as in CBS’ college basketball banner.

Regardless, I will be completely shocked if this doesn’t show up for the NFL on CBS next season.

My thoughts on the new Monday Night Football graphics package

You can see some of ESPN’s new MNF package in action here:

And this video has a statistical graphic near the end, and a one-line statistic at about midway:

I think what may have been meant by “they’ll know it’s a better experience. But they won’t know why” was that even if people would notice the scoring bar was different, they’d only notice that most graphics were being kept out of sight if they were looking for it (perhaps because they noticed how the names of the announcers were displayed at the start of the broadcast). This would also seem to indicate an abandoning of the parallelogram in ESPN’s graphics package… were it not for the fact that some parallelograms were occasionally seen on some full-screen graphics. (Peripherally, ESPN also becomes the last NFL broadcaster to add an on-field down-and-distance indicator. ESPN also lagged in displaying the down and distance on their “dashboard”, apparently thinking the on-field graphic made it redundant, but I saw some complaints about having to wait too long to see the new down and distance.)

I would not be surprised if this never makes the leap outside Monday Night Football, at least on ESPN. ESPN seems to want to keep MNF special in some way, if the “orb” of previous years was any indication, and it would be difficult to fit college team names in there, at least if ESPN wanted to keep the team logos as well. ESPN’s wide team logos also seems best fit for the NFL; you would probably be looking at a very different look for baseball.

I can’t help but think the folks in the ESPN graphics department may be disappointed at this graphic’s revolutionary potential. Ironically, the centered score display, at least as refined by NFL Network, may be the next big evolution in score graphics, thanks to the intricities of widescreen vs. standard screen display.

The one (well, two) NFL games I know I’ll be watching… and why

(Hat tip to Sports Media Watch for tipping me off to this one.)

Most of the innovations in sports graphics have been made by Fox. It was Fox who, if not invented, at least popularized the modern score box, and Fox led the way in the transition to the modern score banners used in every non-tennis sport by every major sports operation in some form except on CBS’ football coverage. But a transition more profound than the one to banners, and possibly as profound as the introduction of boxes, may be being spearheaded not by Fox, but by ESPN.

When the new Monday Night Football regular season starts on, well, Monday, ESPN will introduce the “Monday Night Football Dashboard“, which will consolidate the information presented by a box or banner with statistics and player information and that sort of thing. It sounds like ESPN will attempt to condense the banner (although for the past two seasons and this year’s preseason MNF has used something better described as an “orb”, a centered design since modified by NFL Network but not seeing wide use elsewhere) with the line of statistics that has been obvious on college football broadcasts and which recently saw a semi-notorious application on MLB broadcasts with pitch-count-by-pitch-count statistics for each batter.

The graphics designer at ESPN interviewed by the Sports Video Group web site says “I think [viewers will] know it’s a better experience. But they won’t know why.” I know few people obsess as much over graphics as I do, but even if the “dashboard” contains a preservation of the “orb” I find that somewhat hard to believe. At any rate, I sure as hell hope I’m able to catch the MNF opener and see it in action, see just how different it is, and see if it’s something other networks might copy, or if it’s worth copying.

(And might this have something to do with ESPN’s move to only showing college football starting lineups at the top of the screen, above the banner, and only spotlighting “impact players”?)

A look at FSN’s new graphics

FSN’s graphics are probably among the most worth watching in the country, because they are aped by so many teams’ own operations. Click below for a look at FSN’s new college football graphics:
Highlights: Colorado - Colorado St.
Highlights: Colorado – Colorado St.

It warrants comparison not only with FSN’s old graphics…

…but the Big Ten Network’s as well (sorry for it being last year’s game):

They’re sisters and there seems to be a definite BTN influence on these new graphics. (I haven’t included Fox’s current graphics, which this is clearly an attempt to take after as well.) Perhaps more interesting is that this is more box-like than any FSN score bug since the early part of this decade, rather surprising when you consider it was Fox and FSN that in many ways gave us the modern scoring banner in the first place, yet it doesn’t switch sides depending on which way the ball is going. It’s somewhat akin to ABC’s last college football box before getting absorbed into the ESPN brand in that sense, as well as the sense that the teams are still placed horizontally from one another.

One notable feature of it is that it does not contain the name of the network. FSN’s college football broadcasts are national operations that have to go out to the Comcast Sportsnet operations, as well as a couple of others such as MSG in New York. In the past CSN in particular overlaid a modified version of its own logo over the FSN logo. Now CSN can just plop its logo in the upper right corner of the screen and plausibly pass it off as entirely its own operation. For that reason, I would not be surprised if FSN did not port this graphics package to any local broadcast of baseball, basketball, or hockey, even though their old graphics package looks rather amateur (it’s hard to think of a baseball version of this graphic anyway), unless Comcast Sportsnet were willing to come up with a similar graphic.

And while I don’t have anything against sound in score graphics in principle, this new one has a weird mechanical sound when putting in the new down and distance that’s a bit distracting.

Don’t ruin your graphics, ESPN!

I didn’t like ESPN’s new strip for college football last year, thinking the little timeout indicators were too jarring and thrown on at the last minute. They grew on me as the season went on, but I doubt THIS will grow on me quite so much.

(Image taken from ESPN Video.) There’s now a thick red line at the top of the strip, and the space above it is shaded. Statistics that last year were shown on a small translucent trapezoid on top of the strip, in fairly light type, are now shown in this area. I saw this sort of thing, sans thick red line, on lesser NCAA championships last school year, such as in lacrosse, but I can’t help but think it’s distracting, unnecessary, and could obscure the action. It almost makes ESPN look bush league.

Do any of you have any suggestions for improving ESPN’s score strip? I don’t really have much of a problem with their overall graphics package.

Absolutely amazing final. Now that that’s over, something completely different.

Two things. I mentioned before that I conceived of Da Blog as a series of sub-blogs, but regardless of which sub-blogs you follow, you should probably also follow the blog news tag, because it will often have things pertaining to all other tags. I’ll also use “blog news” to herald the introduction of new tags you might like, like this “sports tv graphics” one.

I know a lot of people don’t like ESPN’s attempt to create a strip or banner at the top of the screen for a score display for tennis coverage; it’s rather non-intuitive. But everything is strips these days – the only networks that still use a box for ANY sport, not counting tennis, are CBS for football and TNT for basketball. And tennis doesn’t lend itself well to a strip; even after importing its post-“Sunday Night Football” broadcast package, NBC still uses a box for tennis, and so does its corporate sibling USA, and so does CBS, and so does the Tennis Channel.

Well, I’ve stumbled upon (no, this is not the Random Discovery of the Week) the BBC’s Wimbledon graphics package, and I believe I may have a solution. You can kind of make it out in this video (which is not the same as the one I’ve linked to):

It’s a box, but it may contain the key to creating a workable tennis strip. I’ve created a mock-up based on ESPN’s graphics package:

I would probably want to make the space for the score longer, because “DEUCE” doesn’t fit in that space and I might want to say something like “AD FEDERER” rather than what ESPN does now, which is just “AD” and highlighting whoever has the advantage. And I forgot to include any indication of who’s serving. Break points, set points, match points, and the like would be indicated by a small banner slipping down underneath the strip. I don’t know what I would do for tiebreaks. My guess is either have another little banner fall beneath the strip, similar to what would be done for statistics, or shift over the spaces for sets and games and add a new space. Or separate both sets and games into their own clearly delineated spaces and simply open up a new space to the left of the others for the tiebreak. But that breaks the implied sets-games-points hierarchy.

Thoughts? Ways my idea could be improved? Or am I so off base I need to be whacked with a two-by-four before my abominations become accepted?