The eyes in the sky are a boon to sports fans

The folks at SportVU understand the desire of fans to get into the bodies and souls of the players.

player card 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy )
player card 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Word of warning to "football widows" before you read on: the game just got a whole lot more interesting, thanks to a new invention by an Israeli start-up that (I predict) will very soon be sweeping the world. Instead of hoping your spouse will get bored with football (American or "soccer") and shut off the TV, you might consider learning to like the games instead. Thanks to the new sports information system developed by SportVU, sports fans just got a lot more stuff to watch and talk about. Fans of the game, on the other hand, will want to give a virtual high-five to Dr. Miki Tamir, founder of Kfar Saba-based SportVU, who founded virtual reality video innovator Orad ( Tamir and his team have, in SportVU (, developed the ultimate sports analysis system, with constantly flowing statistics and data that real fans know is the lifeblood of professional sports. In pro soccer and football, the more information you have, the more interesting the game. Why do some teams do better than others when the temperature goes down below a certain level? How come your guys look so tired by halftime? Are players making the most efficient and effective plays? Why do they keep losing? It's not just a pastime - it's an exercise in analytics, and the more data you have, the more you can place yourself in the shoes of those on the field, thus enhancing the viewing experience. The folks at SportVU understand the desire of fans to get into the bodies and souls of the players representing them on the field, and have developed a fantastic system that parses out tons of information based on the action on the field. Using a software engine developed over the past several years, says company marketing director Shimon Katzubes, SportVU parses the actual events on the field, generating information on all aspects of the game in progress. The system consists of three cameras that take in the length of the field. The video is uploaded to a SportVU equipped computer. Under the SportVU analysis system, each player and referee - as well as the ball - is treated by the engine as an "object." SportVU follows the action in terms of the relationship between the objects - where they are on the field, how far they have moved and at what speed, the spaces and distances between each object throughout the game. Any relationship between players, ball, time, atmospheric conditions, or any other factor that can affect behavior, is analyzed by the sophisticated SportVU engine, says Katzubes. Once analyzed, the raw information is processed through the suite of the SportVU-based applications, all geared to enhancing the "big picture" for players, viewers on TV or the Web, or coaching staff. RadarVU, for example, places a bird's-eye virtual view of the action on the entire field on the screen, showing you where each specific "object" is at all times. The live action play-by-play that focuses on where the ball is at any given time, limits your view of the game, as players who are off camera up or down the field are ignored until the action comes their way. But they may be setting up an important offensive or defensive action in the back field. With RadarVU, you get to see what is happening off camera, so you know in advance if someone is going to try to outflank from the right, for example. StatVU, another application built on the SportVU engine, will give statistics lovers the thrill of a lifetime. StatVU can generate an "information card" on individual players or groups, with statistics such as how much distance they covered on the field, graphical maps showing on what parts of the field they were throughout the game, how close they were to the action, etc. StatVU can even show players' energy level throughout the game - when their peak play time was and when they started getting tired. With AnalyzeVU, yet another SportVU application, system operators can easily add graphics to recorded scenes to point out important information; for example, in an instant replay, AnalyzeVU lets the play-by-play guy in the broadcast booth put a circle around a particular player, highlighting and enhancing the scene. If knowledge is power, then the folks at SportVU are very powerful indeed. The best part, Katzubes says, is that the system can be deployed anywhere. "Unlike our competitors' analysis systems, most of which require players to be equipped with an electronic device, or a large array of cameras, SportVU is simplicity itself," he says. "All we need are three stationary cameras - no panning is necessary - to take in the live action, and the SportVU applications do the rest." So far, SportVU has been deployed in several countries in Europe - Spain, Italy, Germany - in Mexico and in Israel. But the product has been on the market for barely five months, Katzubes says, and the company has been swamped with requests by potential customers for demonstrations and deployment. "We premiered the system last September at a big media show in Holland," he says. "We had a small stand, but people lined up to check out the system." It's a perfect system, not just for sports broadcasters or Web sites, but for the teams themselves, Katzubes says, to be able to analyze their performance, as well as for game-makers who want to develop games based on live-action sequences, or even fantasy football leagues, cluing participants in on each player's or team's strength or weaknesses. Not to mention, of course, the all-important legal sports gambling industry, whether its Las Vegas-style sports-book betting, or state-sponsored "Toto" gambling. All the information generated by SportVU is extremely valuable, and for a while, Katzubes says, the company was thinking of deploying the systems on its own and selling the data. But they decided against it, preferring to sell the systems themselves. Right now, the SportVU suite is set up to work with soccer matches, but the company plans to expand to American football, as well as rugby, in the near future. "With SportVU, a game becomes much more than a game," says Katzubes. "It becomes serious entertainment for the serious fan."