FoxTrax and the Beginnings of Modern Sports Broadcast

foxtrax8xoIn the early 90s the NHL was in the midst of a major shift. Teams relocated and expansion teams were formed in the US. More importantly, they were moved to southern states with tropical climates and a populace that couldn’t care less about the sport. It was a bold move but the NHL went all in.

In 1996, after several studies and focus groups, the NHL heard the cries of their new fans: “the puck is hard to follow.” More experienced viewers follow the tiny dot by taking note of the players’ positions and movements. New fans just end up seeing football players sating around and banging the ice with a stick in some sort or ritual to the gods of Canada. The solution? FocTrax

FoxTrax was a state of the art puck designed to be tracked live with a glowing effect for viewers at home to more accurately follow the puck as it flies around the ice. After hitting a high speed, the puck would glow red-hot and leave a light trail like a comet. The great TV scientists of the 60s placed about a dozen LED lights around a puck that blinked at 30 lashes a second; too fast for the human eye to process. Infrared scanners were configured around the rink to pick up the sensors at all times. At the time, this technology was considered a moonshot and the fact that it came to fruition was a feat in it of itself. However, the fact that with all the added bits and pieces, Fox was able to keep the density and weight of the puck to a minimum was an even more impressive feat.

The innards of a glowing puck.
The innards of a glowing puck.

Reviews of FoxTrax were expectedly split with casual fans enjoying the high tech graphics and more experienced fans annoyed with the feature Unfortunately for FoxTrax, the Fox lost its rights to the NHL to ABC. Their technology just was not impressive enough to keep the NHL committed. It seems that FoxTrax was made at the wrong time but the technology it introduced has developed modern sports broadcasting, as we know it.

Sports broadcasting is about grand presentation. FoxTrax’s developing company, Etak (which once developed GPS tracking tech), continued their development of CGI (under the name Sportsvision) that can be integrated into live broadcasts. Since the development of the FoxTrax, Sportsvision has developed some of the most common and innovative CG effects seen in modern sports such as the strike box in baseball, and the subtle first down line in football, as well as other events such as NASCAR, and the Olympic Games. Sportsvision was successful with these effects because of the subtlety of the effects as opposed to the very in your face approach of FoxTrax.

All these innovations were some of the most unique and brilliant advancements to television broadcasting in general. Now, with Sportsvision becoming synonymous with broadcasting sports, SV may possibly return to the LED FoxTrax puck.


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