The latest in baseball, and ESPN’s potential coming sports graphics revolution

If Turner intends to standardize their graphics packages, I haven’t seen evidence of it in TBS’ baseball coverage or TNT’s NASCAR coverage. However, baseball’s other two TV partners have introduced new graphics that could portend big things, to the point that I really want to get this post out of the way before the NFL preseason starts.

Let’s start by arguably burying the lead a little, and taking a look at how ESPN rolled out its graphics package for NASCAR and tennis. Although they didn’t immediately apply their new package to Nationwide Series races, the new graphics were in full effect for the Indy 500, but didn’t appear on any NASCAR broadcast until last week’s Brickyard 400. At this point I think I’m starting to get resigned to the fact of these jarringly variable sizes of the “pods” for each driver on these motorsports tickers.

Beyond that, I find it suitably spiffy, especially the way the number of laps are displayed before it goes to “to go” mode (“Lap 100|250”), but I don’t think it’s going to remain unchanged for more than a year.

The odd display of player info for golf may be proving to be more standard than I expected, making appearances for every rich guy’s individual sport, meaning tennis and horse racing – though boxing is using a more standard look.

2011 Wimbledon 1st Round – Interview ESPN by jarimi1

2011 Wimbledon 4th Round – Highlight ESPN by jarimi1
As for the actual score graphic, I admit I was expecting something closer to ESPN’s baseball graphic, at least in terms of fonts and popping in and out. But I do think I understand why this graphic is this way, and why it didn’t debut until the French Open.

And it has to do with why ESPN changed its baseball graphic. I was mystified by this move when I first saw it. It ditched the disastrous use of dots to indicate balls, strikes, and outs, but it also made the box bulkier, gave pitch count (along with pitch speed) a permanent place in a tiny strip underneath the bases, darkened the colors, and perhaps most oddly, actually changed the other graphics for player info and announcers to a third style. (And give a big round of applause to MLB Advanced Media for finally making highlights embeddable!)

But as the season progressed and we hit the College World Series, something happened. ESPN moved the box to the far right side of the screen in HD (with most SD viewers at this point getting ESPN letterboxed)… and (at least for MLB) didn’t get rid of the box when displaying player info, attaching that info to the box in a manner reminiscent of TNT’s past and present NBA graphics.

And that’s when it hit me. ESPN had planned this move out from the start to steal Turner’s ideas. I had felt the way the old box had to keep popping in and out to allow for player info jarring, and evidently ESPN felt the same way. In fact, I got the feeling that this was only the beginning. Far from being an outlier, I suspect these new MLB graphics will soon become the standard across most of ESPN’s sports. (Yes, this means another year of a different graphic for the NBA Finals, whenever the NBA finally has a season!) ESPN was a pretty firm believer in boxes before adopting the parallelogram when its NFL package moved to Monday; this MLB graphic may herald a return to boxes across sports, especially with Fox also retreating to the box. In fact, I’ve drawn up some mock-ups of what we might expect these boxes to look like:

I would expect the rollout to start at the beginning of the new Monday Night Football season – the introduction of the new MNF logo would seem to be an appropriate occasion to overhaul the other graphics, and in fact the actual “MNF” part of the logo looks to be roughly the same size and shape as the box. It would also minimize the number of games afflicted by the odd variable size of the strip in place late last year. That’s just one of several things to hint at this being the future of all sports on ESPN, from the change in ESPN’s overall NBA scheme (to something with more than a few similarities to this new box) to the bars above and below the score in the box itself that would be an opportune place to put timeout indicators. (ESPN could finally get those things to stop looking tacked-on!) Even the new tennis box has a detached “ESPN” box that isn’t much different from what it would look like in the above mock-ups. ESPN’s MLS and NASCAR coverage has enlarged the size of the player info to look more legible in letterboxed SD (which looks jarring even in letterboxed SD, and especially so on ABC’s Indy 500 coverage where SD isn’t letterboxed yet). Don’t expect that to expand beyond that. (What I do expect to see expand is the style of introducing starting lineups I’ve seen on MLS and baseball coverage.)

(ESPN’s Women’s World Cup coverage, surprisingly, adopted these larger in-game graphics where it used the new studio graphics for the men’s World Cup last year, despite not having any real opportunity to use them on the world feed, and despite not accompanying any real change. And their score graphic was basically the same one they finished the men’s World Cup with, awkward jersey-color indicator and all, just color-corrected to keep trying to match the world feed.)

Fox’s MLB graphic doesn’t solve many of the issues with the NFL graphic, other than the return of abbreviations, and in fact looks generally awkward – the arrows above and below the inning number make it look asymmetric when it’s not applied the way ESPN did, pitch count hasn’t been added unless you consider the constantly-on-screen strike zone on some broadcasts (in a context I’ll get to in a sec), and not only does the count and number of outs look awkward, Fox still hasn’t learned from the times using dots to represent anything has tried and failed before. (And why are there three out dots? The third will NEVER be used…)

However, what is notable about this is that this is not only the new baseball graphic for Fox, but for FSN as well. (One odd side effect is that “Root Sports”, the new name for the regional sports networks Fox sold to DirecTV a while back, is now using graphics originally developed by Fox, and for the most part appears to be the only ones using them.) Until recently, FSN has been rather distant from the rest of the Fox family, but since rebranding them to remove the “Net” from their name and adopting their graphics for baseball on Fox, it’s apparent there is an effort to drag them back into the fold, and Fox’s efforts to improve the Fox Sports brand across all their networks has become more and more apparent, with the new graphics appearing all over the place, whether it’s in races on SPEED or even MLS games on Fox Soccer. I expect FSN to adopt similar graphics for college football, as Fox had NFL-like graphics for the Cotton Bowl – and for both types of basketball, though I can’t imagine what those graphics would look like.

This is shaping up to be a surprisingly modest roundup. The only other network I know of whose graphics we need to look at are Comcast SportsNet and baseball, as they become the last baseball broadcaster to abandon the strip for the two-line box.

The realistic diamond and the placement of pitch speeds there seems a little gimmicky, but otherwise it’s very serviceable and hardly a surprise.

This may have been a relatively short roundup, but I suspect that, between FSN’s college basketball graphics and a potential new graphics package not only for ESPN, but for CBS (fixing their awkward NFL logos and making their shared-with-Turner NCAA tournament graphics less different from their other graphics) and NBC (they have the Super Bowl and are getting ready to rebrand Versus) as well, the next one will be substantially longer…

3 thoughts on “The latest in baseball, and ESPN’s potential coming sports graphics revolution

  1. In other news, ESPN just unleashed a new football scoreboard today ….

    except it looks like just a tweaked version of the old one (doesn’t look as tall, a tad wider, looks a little trimmed, and the L3’s are in the style from the MLB ones.

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