PtG Article 01.11.2007

Changing the Rules of the Game

New technology is affecting the broadcasting, perception and marketing of sport – and in some cases changing its rules too.

Experts and researchers gathered at the Play the Game conference to discuss the ways in which new technology is changing the way in which we view, buy and even participate in sport.

A prime example, said Velayutham Chandrasekaran of India’s Chennai University, is the modern game of cricket, which is followed by upwards of half a billion people in his nation. Not only has modern technology led to blanket coverage of matches, he said, but it has also had a major impact on the way the game is played.

India’s love affair with cricket began in earnest after it won the World Cup in 1983 and so far it has shown little sign of abating. However, recent innovations are having a major effect on the game, he said, not least the way in which decisions are taken on the field of play. And generally, cricket fans are viewing these innovations in a positive light.

The task of cricket’s “third umpire” used to be restricted to scrutinizing TV replays. Now, Chandrasekaran pointed out, it is aided by devices such as the “snickometer”,  a sensitive microphone placed close to the stumps that registers contact between bat and ball, “Hawkeye”, a device allowing the third umpire to see where the ball would have been heading if it had not been blocked by a batsman’s leg, and the “dartfish” which accurately maps shows the line, length, and speed of the ball.

Although these innovations have been welcomed, Chandrasekaran said, their introduction presents certain dilemmas. Can the professional game ever be played without them? And since different varieties are available, won’t their quality and accuracy vary? While acknowledging the positive impact these innovations have had on the game, he expressed concern that no definitive standardisation currently exists.

Taking another angle, Claude Sobry of France’s Lille University looked at the new media and the scramble for European football broadcast rights. He asked whether the spiralling cost of football  rights can continue indefinitely, and pointed out that the advent of new technology such as mobile phones capable of delivering video content can artificially hike the market price. Some telecoms are paying very high sums for mobile rights even though they cannot make a profit, he said. Profits are increasingly being made from periphery activities,  not from the sport itself.

Yann Abdourazakou of the University of Lille spoke of the digitalisation of merchandising in football clubs – in other words, selling digital content to fans. Next generation devices suit some sports more than others, he said, but competitions such as the Americas Cup have succeeded in representing on a mobile phone what fans are unable to access on TV. In next decade, he said, clubs will concentrate on shifting their current fan base into the virtual marketplace by offering different angles on demand, equipping referees with cameras and introducing other initiatives allowing fans to personalise the content they receive.

Antti Laine of Finland’s Jyvaskylka University looked at developments in Scandinavian tabloid newspapers, focusing specifically on their sports pages. He concluded that newspapers are doing as well as can be expected in the digital age, and those offering strong sport content are doing particularly well, despite the fact that the same content is often available for free online.