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Sports + tech = $$$

By Jeffrey M. O'Brien, senior editor
Last Updated: October 17, 2008: 5:29 AM ET

How is that done? It all starts with the tracking system. Three stationary cameras do the trick in baseball, but NASCAR is a more dynamic sport. To track a few dozen racecars all moving at 200 mph or more, Sportvision outfitted every vehicle with a GPS transmission device and an inertial measurement unit developed to guide smart bombs.

The data are collected and fed to the broadcast truck, allowing producers to overlay the race with graphics. The information is also processed by a rendering engine and posted online, where fans can take control of the experience, isolating a favorite driver, for example, or changing perspectives on a multicar crash to determine who was at fault. The next step will be to allow fans to drive in a live race.

In fairness, the word "live" is a bit misleading. No TV broadcast is truly live. The video feed is processed and beamed to satellites before arriving in your living room. During the delay Sportvision can insert anything from a first-down line to customized digital advertising to ... you.

"Driving in a race, you could have the 44th car. In baseball, we know the pitch. So you can take your Wii and swing at it," says Marv White, Sportvision's CTO. "Getting it to market is a big deal - we're in discussions with videogame producers. But the technology is pretty well in hand now."

There are limitations to such a product, of course, including the laws of physics. A phantom driver can't very well wipe out a real driver. And what happens when an avatar hits a two-seam fastball for a double, but the actual batter pops out to short? Adams and White are working on a ghosting system to account for such situations, allowing players to pick up in subsequent innings where they left off.

But even without the kinks ironed out, Major League Baseball sees great potential in the idea. "It would turn a dummy videogame into a real-action, real-time videogame," says Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media.

That's what Adams and his team are gunning for. The company is profitable and has been growing 33% a year for four years. But this trove of data could pave a way to new ad and licensing revenue with big gaming companies.

"We're allowing people to see things they didn't see before and gain more control over their experience," says Adams. "The history of media is that people appreciate more control."  To top of page

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