When most people think of the National Football League’s Super Bowl, they think of two things: parties with friends watching the greatest football game of the year and the worlds most expensive commercials. Amazingly, this game that seems to be all about basic strategy and brute physical force is actually full of cutting-edge technology.
The 2007 Super Bowl in Miami was broadcast by CBS and involved hundreds of crew members manning Hi-Def cameras, long-reach microphones, expert computer technology to handle the play-by-play, hugely muscular data servers to provide up-to-the-second information and overlays, and more. All of that (and more) is converging in South Florida again and this time, Fox will be broadcasting the event and the tech will be even more dazzling.
The Super Bowl brings with it a lot of things: sex, excitement, and a general boost to local businesses. It also brings a lot of gadgetry. The little yellow line they overlay on the screen to determine whether it’s a first and ten or not? That requires a lot more computing muscle than most might think. The drawing of that one line requires computer models of the entire stadium, the field, computation of the angle of the camera and its orientation on the field itself, and a lot of number-crunching within a few milliseconds.
Lasers are used to map out the individual yard lines on the field before the game; cameras are positioned with perfect accuracy and range-finding equipment is used to calculate their zoom potential. All of that for one little yellow line on the screen. Now consider the huge databases of information that produce near-instant on-screen results for announcers or live broadcast feeds. Then there’s communication between Fox’s camera and production crews, the announcers, and more. That’s just the television side of things. The teams themselves have complex communications systems that go beyond the old “slap your wrist twice, tweak your nose, and nod your head three times” signals that used to be the game’s mainstay. In fact, even Madden’s old chalkboard X and O drawings are mostly gone too. Now, it’s scrambled and encrypted headset walkie-talkies, smart phones and PDAs on the field, and instant updates for fans on Twitter.
Not to mention the NFL’s official Super Bowl blog. Then there’s us fans. Local tech companies and freelancers, like Andre Rumyantsev, have been hired and are working feverishly to provide expanded content and technology solutions for the big game. “We are working to make sure the WiFi and cellular repeaters are in place and ready to go so that reporters, fans, and maybe even team members can access the Internet and do their thing real time,” he says. “It’s a real boost for us in some tough economic times, but Florida is all about IT and football!” Cell phone companies, including all the major players like Verizon and AT&T, are expecting activity in the Miami area to increase three or four times normal and have increased capacity with mobile towers and other technology to keep up.
Overall, the Super Bowl is about more than just a leather ball and big guys in uniforms. There is a lot of technology behind a game that appears, on its surface, to be such a simple match of brute force.