SBJ/March 13-19, 2017/Technology

Foxtenn expects to compete on tennis courts and more

In the last week of February at a low-level tennis tournament in a suburb of Barcelona, Spain, sports got a live look at what could become the first major competitor in the line-calling technology field dominated by Sony’s Hawk-Eye for over a decade.

Competitors in the International Tennis Federation’s Futures event in Cornella, Spain, could challenge a call with a replay system from Foxtenn, a small Spanish technology company looking to become a player in line calling. (Futures are akin to Class A or AA baseball.)

Hawk-Eye made its breakthrough in tennis in 2005, and soon expanded to other sports, from baseball to soccer, and dominates the field for replay challenges. So, it is no small matter that it was not Hawk-Eye that the tennis players relied on for challenges at the Spanish event.

COMPANY WATCH: FOXTENN

■ Launched:
2012
■ Headquarters: Barcelona, Spain
■ What they do: Develop
line-calling replay technology

KEY ACCOMPLISHMENT:
■ Certified by the International Tennis Federation in December 2016, making it only the second company to have the right to sell replay technology to the WTA, ATP and Grand Slam tournaments.

KEY CLIENTS:
Real Club Polo de Barcelona; ITF Futures Cornella, Spain (Foxtenn Open)

BEHIND THE NAME:
The fox gets close to the ground, fixes its eyes on its target (normally small and quick animals, just like a ball) and pays very close attention to it with incredible accuracy and silence.
“This is a competitor to Hawk-Eye,” said Stuart Miller, the technical director of the ITF, which in December 2016 certified Foxtenn for line calling. Only Hawk-Eye had that certification previously. “It would surprise me if it is not in use in 2017.”

Hawk-Eye, owned by Sony, is the only line-calling replay system in many sports like tennis, but it comes with a caveat: the cost. To use the technology for one court, which involves multiple HD cameras and a production booth, a tournament can spend $60,000 for a few weeks. That’s why the only tournament to have Hawk-Eye on every court is this week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., which not coincidentally is owned by multibillionaire Larry Ellison.

Foxtenn has toiled in relative obscurity but reached a key threshold when the ITF gave the technology its blessing.
“They have to be taken seriously,” said Danny Zausner, managing director of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. “They will be a part of our due diligence for 2018” when the NTC may revamp its technology for the U.S. Open, which uses Hawk-Eye on six courts.

Foxtenn, unlike Hawk-Eye, which relies exclusively on cameras to track balls, also uses lasers and touts its accuracy as greater than the Sony-owned firm. Hawk-Eye calculates where the ball is hit and then creates an image, while Foxtenn’s system is “based on real images of the real ball bounce,” the company said.

A key, of course, is the cost, and so far, the founder of the company is not willing to discuss that aspect.

The company, founded in 2012, is run by CEO Javier Simón Vilar, who is 48 and said he is a former Danone Group vice president. He lists among his educational accomplishments attending ESADE, the business and law school just outside Barcelona that is known as an incubator of startups.

“As a player and spectator, I constantly saw that a lot of problems and discussions in sports [was the] … technology was not at the level of the exponential professionalism growth of the players,” he said. “Even more, those existing technologies were not always able to show the real truth, the reality, with ultra-accuracy. You needed to believe in them, as an act of faith because they did nice pictures and representations but people criticized them sometimes when there were obvious mistakes.”



Vilar expects Foxtenn, which is based near Barcelona and has an office in California, to quickly compete in tennis and then other sports for line-calling contracts.

“ITF and the other major tennis organizations are really committed organizations with the development and evolution of tennis, scientific knowledge and search for improvement, as we are,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll do very interesting things together in the coming months.”

An official of the ATP Tour, asked about whether tournaments on that circuit would look to use Foxtenn, replied, “You would have to ask a tournament that, but I would have thought that competition in the marketplace would be viewed positively by the events.”

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