Vizrt, ShotTracker, Astucemedia Team Up on Player Tracking for ESPN’s Production of Hall of Fame Classic

College-hoops tourney serves as showcase for advanced real-time graphics generation

For this year’s National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Classic this week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO, ESPN is integrating and experimenting with new real-time data-filled graphics designed to enhance the live broadcast. Use of sensor-based tracking technology and high-end graphics-generation engines enables live on-gameplay displays of live player IDs, on-court shot charts, and more.

These new graphics are made possible through a partnership between ShotTracker (the tournament’s title sponsor) and graphics powerhouses Vizrt and Astucemedia.

Placing sensors within the jersey of each player, ShotTracker is able to generate a wealth of data from statistical trends to X,Y,Z coordinates of every player’s location at all times (ShotTracker samples player data at 120 Hz, or 120 times per second).

That data is quickly fed to Astucemedia software, which was brought on board to help ingest and integrate all the live data feeds to provide both context and usable information for the graphics operator in the truck. The data is then rendered and visualized on-screen via Vizrt’s Viz Engine and Viz Arena, in the form of graphics designed by Astucemedia.

It’s a highly technical process but one that happens endlessly and in the blink of an eye to provide the production team with some very compelling data-driven graphics.

“This ability to visualize data has always been a priority for Vizrt across all of our businesses but especially in sports,” says Kevin Bovet, head of sports, Vizrt. “Companies like ShotTracker are bringing way more data to the table, so the challenge becomes how to use it and visualize it and at what time. That’s a big driver of our focus in data-driven storytelling.”

The story of this collaboration begins with ShotTracker. The tracking company was established on the foundation of providing basketball coaches with data as quickly as possible to help them make decisions to achieve the highest points per possession. Quickly, and not surprisingly, that data became interesting not only to coaches but also to fans. As a result, broadcasters wanted in.

At last year’s edition of the event, there was a desire expressed to add this data to the live game broadcast. However, a lack of technical capability to properly display that data led to ShotTracker opening conversations with Vizrt and Astucemedia.

ShotTracker had the data. Lots of it. But how could it become a pretty television element for the viewer?

“Analytics have played such a significant role in the storytelling and the breakdown of the game,” says Davyeon Ross, co-founder/president, ShotTracker. “Consumers and fans of the game are so knowledgable that they want to see these stories. The critical thing is, how can you actually develop and parse the data fast enough so that you are telling these stories in real time and not waiting until halftime. We are getting this data up either live or on first replay. That’s the really powerful part of all of this.”

In addition to making the data consumable by the viewer at home, a notable challenge was to pack the data in a way that it would also be usable by a graphics operator working the show. How would he or she know what data was valuable to pitch into the broadcast and when? The three sides worked together on a couple of smaller broadcasts earlier this year to work out some initial kinks.

According to Astucemedia CTO Thomas Desmeules, key alterations included reimagining the experience of the operator and completely flipping around the control interface. Updates made the software more adaptable so that, as ShotTracker develops new metrics and stats, those can be served up to operators and producers that ultimately make the call for what appears on the broadcast.

The NABC Hall of Fame Classic began on Monday with Butler-Missouri and Stanford-Oklahoma showdowns. The tourney concludes on tonight with both the consolation game (Missouri v. Oklahoma, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS) and the championship game (Butler v. Stanford, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2).