Statcast set to join ranks of classic sports innovations
Instant replay, fantasy sports, streaming video among greatest innovations
By Paul Casella
Statcast, a revolutionary player-tracking technology that will allow fans, players and executives to experience Major League Baseball like never before, will make its 2015 debut on Tuesday during the 7 p.m. ET MLB Network showcase game between the Cardinals and Nationals.
With the latest innovation in sports technology set to take centerstage, it's worth taking a look at 10 other technological advances that have altered the sports-viewing experience throughout the years. Every sport has had its share of revolutionary advancements, many of which now seem essential to the fan experience.
Here's a look at 10 of those developments throughout history:
• Shot clock in basketball Debuted: 1954
While many believe the NCAA needs to lower its shot clock from its current 35 seconds to closer to the 24-second clock utilized in the NBA, maybe we should just be thankful that one exists at all. In its original state, basketball did not include any sort of shot clock, often leading to teams stalling with the ball as soon as they took the lead. Though it wasn't quite the norm, the lack of a shot clock helped result in things like the Fort Wayne Pistons' 19-18 victory over the Minneapolis Lakers in 1950. Eventually, the 24-second clock was introduced in '54, and scoring immediately jumped from an average of 79 points per game by each team in '53 to 93 ppg in the shot clock's inaugural season.
• Instant replay Debuted: 1963
Few innovations have altered the way we watch sports more than instant replay, which made its debut on Dec. 7, 1963, during the annual Army-Navy college football game. Not only is instant replay now a seemingly vital part of watching any sporting event on television, but it also impacts the actual game itself. With all four major North American sports leagues now implementing instant replay review in one form or another, all of those different camera angles and slow-motion breakdowns are doing far more than simply enhancing the fan experience. It's hard to imagine watching a game on television nowadays and not being able to get another look at a game-deciding play at the plate or a bang-bang play at first base.
• Online fantasy sports leagues Debuted: mid-1990s
While fantasy sports have seemingly taken on a life of their own in recent years, the concept itself is nothing new. Some fantasy sports players have been competing as far back as the 1980s, though at that time everything had to be tracked and computed manually. Now, not only can you partake in a live online draft with people scattered across the globe, but fantasy gamers are treated to real-time scoring, in-depth projections and daily sports coverage geared toward the fantasy aspect.
• First Down Line Debuted: 1998
Unlike many of the others on this list, the first-down line implemented in football broadcasts had no actual impact on the game itself. That said, the "1st & Ten" line -- which debuted during a 1998 game between the Bengals and Ravens on ESPN -- revolutionized the viewing experience for fans at home. Fans watching the game on television now often know in real-time whether or not a team picked up that key first down or made a crucial defensive stand. Though it's not precisely accurate 100 percent of the time, fans watching on TV can sometimes know it's a first down even before the on-field officials. It's certainly a far cry from waiting for the referee to spot the ball, then watching to see whether or not he signals for a first down or, even worse, calls to bring out the chains.
• K Zone Debuted: 2001
Fewer calls in sports trigger more debate on a regular basis than balls and strikes. Despite long-standing rules about what constitutes a strike or a ball, strike zones can still differ from night to night and umpire to umpire. Instead of being forced to use only the naked eye to debate whether or not a certain pitch appeared to be a strike, fans were treated to the K Zone graphic for the first time in 2001, during a Sunday night game between the Mets and Braves. Now a staple of any national or local broadcast, the graphic overlay provides batter-specific strike zones to show whether or not a particular pitch ended up in the zone.
• Live streaming Debuted: 2002
MLB.TV paved the way for live streaming in 2002, when it made its highly anticipated debut by streaming a game between the Yankees and Orioles. It's since expanded into perhaps the most successful sports live-streaming subscription services in the world. It's also helped set the foundation for other successful streaming services, including with the English Premier League and the NBA, via the WatchESPN app.
• Tennis' "Hawk-Eye" tracking system Debuted: 2002
It is a good thing this technology wasn't around during the playing days of former tennis great John McEnroe, or else the sports world would have missed out on some of its most epic rants and meltdowns. Similar to soccer's goal-line technology -- and even a step above the replay system in the four major North American sports -- tennis' "Hawk-Eye" ball-tracking system eliminates any doubt of whether or not a ball was inside or outside of the lines. The system uses cameras from multiple angles that not only project ball flight, but then calculate a 3D image to show exactly where the ball initially landed on the court. Who knows what else Johnny Mac might have found to complain about if he had this technology to solve many of his disputes?
• Twitter Debuted: 2006
The prevalence of social media sites, specifically Twitter, has made it easier than ever before for fans to not only virtually interact with athletes, but also with one another in real time during some of sports' biggest events. Take, for example, the 28.4 million tweets that were sent around during the New England Patriots' dramatic Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seattle Seahawks in February. While that number made the Super Bowl the most tweeted football game of all-time, it still fell short of the 35.6 million tweets that were sent during the 2014 FIFA World Cup semifinal match between Germany and Brazil.
• Pitch F/X Debuted: 2006
Not only can we now tell whether or not a pitch was in the strike zone, but -- thanks to Pitch F/X technology -- we can also immediately know the velocity, movement, release point and spin for that specific pitch. Pitch F/X, which made its debut on a trial basis during the 2006 American League Division Series, is a pitch-tracking system that uses multiple cameras at each stadium to instantly evaluate every pitch that is thrown. The resulting information is available pitch-by-pitch on MLB.com's Gameday and is often incorporated directly into the broadcasts.
• Goal-line technology in soccer Debuted: 2012
Though it may have seemed long overdue, FIFA finally introduced goal-line technology on a trial basis as early as 2012 before rolling it out for every game at the '14 World Cup. It's a relatively simple concept where a camera-based system objectively determines whether or not the ball completely crossed the line. The technology not only alerts referees if they miss a good goal (or incorrectly award one), but it also provides fans, both at the stadium and watching on television, with a concrete answer on close calls.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.