Hawk-Eye Innovations North America Finds Success With Remote Production, Player Tracking

PGA TOUR, US Open tennis, MLB, and college and pro football deploy the company’s technology

It has been a busy year for Hawk-Eye Innovations North America. Right before the sports world shut down in March, the tracking-technology developer played a big role in PGA TOUR’s Every Shot Live at THE PLAYERS. And then, when the sports world came back, it was busy with operators working from home on golf and both college and professional football. Toss in expanded use of Hawk-Eye for line calling at the US Open tennis championships and a deal with MLB for sports tracking at all 30 MLB ballparks this year, and James Japhet, managing director, Hawk-Eye North America, and the team have been innovating around the clock.

Hawk-Eye technology is now tracking MLB players at all 30 ballparks and for the World Series.

“Until this point,” says Japhet, “we have been working with federations and broadcasters directly, and it has moved fairly quickly. We’re keen to find a solution that fits the model that can allow them to cut the number of people onsite but not the quality of the production.”

It was at the end of the first round of THE PLAYERS that the efforts for Every Shot Live came to a halt. It was a global effort for Hawk-Eye: the operators were located at Sony headquarters in Basingstoke, UK, and were cutting the streams that allowed fans to see every shot live via proxy feeds and edit commands sent back and forth across the pond.

Since golf returned, both CBS and NBC have had Hawk-Eye replay operators working from home.

“We send out to each operator a kit that has an all-in-one machine with a couple of USB control devices in it,” says Japhet. “The golf version is button-oriented; the football controller is slightly different as a T-bar is vital for football. We want to make the controller suitable for what it is being used for rather than putting a round peg in a square hole.”

Connectivity needs are 15-20 Mbps to give the operator low-latency remote desktop control into the replay server, which is located in the production truck onsite.

“At the first golf event we did with CBS,” adds Japhet, “we had about 7 ms of delay via public internet.”

The efforts are part of an industry-wide movement to make the industry not only safer in the COVID-19 era but also more cost-effective. In addition, it allows replay operators to skip travel days and instead have more working days.

“People don’t have to travel, and they can make better use of their time,” he explains. “Ultimately, the number of operators isn’t going down by any stretch, and it could, in fact, increase. Now they can get a full day’s wage and also work for multiple games and clients in one day.”

Hawk-Eye tracking technology also had a big year. For US Open tennis, automated line calling was the norm on every court except Arthur Ashe and Armstrong. Feedback from players, coaches, and nearly all involved has been positive, and the technology could very well be the way forward because players tend to accept the judgment of Hawk-Eye much more easily than that of a flesh-and-blood linesperson.

And the World Series concludes the 2020 MLB season this week, marking the end of the first season in a multi-year partnership to provide tracking and analytics services across all MLB ballparks and several training facilities. MLB and the clubs rely on the data to power broadcast and digital fan experiences, as well as a range of baseball-operations functions, including player development and umpire evaluation.

The Hawk-Eye system tracks the field of play using 12 high-resolution, high-frame-rate video cameras installed at each ballpark. Video from these cameras is synchronized and analyzed to detect and track ball and player movement. In addition to previously available data sets, the new platform provides real-time player pose and motion analysis by measuring multiple points on the body 30 times per second.

“We saw excellent results,” says MLB Chief Technology Officer Jason Gaedtke. “We set a high bar for performance of the new tracking system, and Hawk-Eye has consistently met and exceeded those expectations.”

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