SBJ/November 21-27, 2011/Idea Innovators

Rick Cavallaro, Sportvision

Define innovation: For me innovation is looking at things differently than they were intended to be seen, integrating them, and putting them to work in a novel and useful way.

What’s the innovation you’re most proud of? That’s a tough one. I’m proud of the hockey puck tracking system because, despite the mixed reviews it received, I think we developed a really clever solution that effectively sparked the industry we’re now in. I’m proud of the virtual first-down line not only because we further pushed the bounds of our technology, but because it materially improves the experience of watching a football game.

What’s the future of your industry? I think what we do becomes more about the value of the data we collect for uses beyond broadcast effects (coaching, fantasy, mobile devices, gambling, etc.). I’m also confident that it will become more about supporting the individual user experience as we deliver data and enhancements through mobile devices.

What inspires you? Fun technology, new challenges, trying to change how I think, and trying to help others change how they think. It’s hard to hold on to the sense of awe these days now that we’ve gotten so used to technology moving at such a fast pace (and me being an old man), but seeking and sometimes achieving that feeling still inspires a lot of what I do.


Rick Cavallaro

Chief Scientist
Sportvision

NFL fans who can’t imagine watching a football game on TV without the yellow first-down line owe a debt of gratitude to Rick Cavallaro. MLB fans who use the on-screen baseball strike zone to tell whether an umpire’s strike call is correct also have Cavallaro to thank.

As chief scientist for Sportvision, Cavallaro was instrumental in developing many of the bells and whistles that make up today’s sports television. Cavallaro recalls being part of a brainstorming session in the late 1990s when Fox Sports Media Group Chairman David Hill proposed the yellow first-down line.

“It wasn’t an original suggestion,” Cavallaro said. “There was a patent for a similar system nearly 20 years earlier.”

Cavallaro, who holds 25 patents, spent years developing and refining the technology. It wasn’t until about a year after it launched that Cavallaro realized the yellow line was a ubiquitous part of game telecasts. That’s when he was watching a game in a smoky bar and saw the line. “I realized that I didn’t need to be in a production truck to make it work.”

If Cavallaro has one regret, it’s the glowing hockey puck that Fox used on its NHL telecasts in the 1990s. The sport’s biggest fans generally hated the technology.

“I hope to propose that again,” he said. “It was introduced in an over-the-top way to a customer base not used to having graphics in the game. The technology has improved, so we could do a better job.”

— John Ourand

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