Rethinking American Sports Leagues’ In-House Graphics

With the Bally Sports RSNs careening towards bankruptcy, and with Warner Bros. Discovery issuing an ultimatum to teams that it intends to shut down the AT&T Sportsnet networks at the end of the month, America’s (non-NFL) major sports leagues are being dragged towards their post-RSN future faster than they probably hoped, with MLB setting up an in-house production arm in the likely scenario that they’ll have to take over production of some teams’ games, at least on the AT&T networks. That makes it look especially likely that once everything shakes out, said post-RSN future will follow, to some degree or another, the template set out by MLS’s deal with Apple TV with leagues producing games in-house for distribution on streaming services.

There are a lot of dimensions to this that I could get into, but for this post I want to focus on perhaps the least important element of it: the aesthetics of it. Every major sports entity has their own in-house production arm with their own graphics package, if not to produce games for their own network then at least to produce them for the international market, but as the leagues have typically relied on the networks (both national and regional) as the primary production and distribution mechanism for their games, they haven’t tended to devote resources towards the graphics of their in-house production arms, which as a result tend to be somewhat sub-par, okay for the relatively lower-tier games (less prominent than what the national networks get, and for the NBA, NHL, and MLB, blacked out in the local markets and usually not even using their own production as opposed to taking the RSN feed) but not necessarily suitable for being the full-time graphics package for the primary means of distribution for a local team’s games or for a league’s most prominent games. Sports entities that produce coverage that they actually expect to be seen by a significant portion of their audience, like most European sports leagues, FIFA, or the IOC, generally put enough effort into their graphics packages that they actually can claim to be worthy of being the primary graphics package for their sport, even – perhaps especially – if they’re exceedingly simple. (Notably, a prominent exception is the Premier League, whose UK partners have their own graphics packages as does NBC in the United States, and which has devolved into this mess for their international productions.)

I haven’t made a post in the Sports TV Graphics category in forever, but I have been making more comments on new and existing graphics packages, and presenting my mock-ups for what new graphics packages might look like, on Twitter in recent years. I decided to take a stab at redesigning the graphics packages for every American sports entity with more than $1 billion in annual pre-pandemic revenue, setting that as the baseline for a league with the resources to put some effort into their graphics packages if they want to. I could have gone lower – the Pac-12 Networks have a surprisingly good graphics package, though that may be partly a function of their location in the Bay Area – but that’s about the point where the quality of international graphics packages starts to deteriorate, and where the American sports leagues involved are either difficult to design a unique package for, fractured across multiple entities that can vary widely in revenue if you can even find out what that revenue is (horse racing and boxing), or that I just don’t want to address for various reasons, including their revenue being set to decline precipitously under the assumptions I’m making (individual college conferences). That leaves the traditional four major sports, plus the post-expansion CFP, PGA TOUR, MLS, NCAA, UFC, and possibly NASCAR, with some other leagues and entities getting new graphics as after-effects of the others; we’ll ignore the UFC because they already produce their own coverage for everything and have a good enough graphics package as a result.

For each sport I sought to balance the competing imperatives of simplicity, aesthetics, accommodation of advanced statistics, and mobile/old-person-friendliness, with this last resulting in certain minimum font sizes that constrained some of my design decisions and might make some people unhappy with what I came up with. I also have some thoughts about how the production might be set up, including general availability of games, main commentators, and theme songs, with the assumption that each league would poach the networks’ commentators and themes for their own coverage (despite Fox putting their own commentators and graphics on top of MLS’ feeds), but these are mostly fanciful and the emphasis is on the graphics. Without further ado: 

Read moreRethinking American Sports Leagues’ In-House Graphics

A very, VERY belated sports graphics roundup.

I probably should have done this before the baseball playoffs started. I definitely should have done this before basketball season started, I certainly should have done this before the NHL lockout ended, and I sure as hell should have done this before the Daytona 500. I probably should do this before spring training really gets going.

It was only a few months after going logo-only on its baseball graphic that Fox pulled a surprising and disappointing about-face, debuting a football graphic that hearkens back to the very earliest incarnation of the Fox Box. Fox went from being a pioneer of the logo-only approach to the only NFL partner not to use logos at all, at least on the constant version of the graphic, and from having perhaps the best integration of timeout indicators to the worst.

I guess this is part of Fox’s preparation for the launch of Fox Sports 1 – the same graphic also appeared on FX’s and FSN’s college football coverage, introducing more NFL-college consistency than existed last year, and a similar graphic debuted during Fox’s coverage of the NLCS, complete with pitch count (once a pitcher has thrown about 40 or so, that is, which leaves an odd space below the diamond before that). But if that’s the case, it surprises me that FSN’s basketball and certainly hockey coverage continues to use the old graphic. Hockey in particular seems perfectly suited to this new graphic.

Fox’s move looks especially bad in the wake of what CBS trotted out during the Super Bowl. In the past, I might have thought this graphic was a one-time deal because of the Super Bowl, but not only do I expect it to start taking over CBS’ other sports full-time, I’d actually prefer if this was the basis for the graphic used during the NCAA Tournament, instead of the abomination CBS and Turner trotted out last year (and was still present on truTV during the Coaches v. Cancer Classic).

CBS adopts the same font ESPN and several other places have been using, and should make Fox the only major sports entity not to use the two-line box for player information in some sport. Furthermore, its use of timeout indicators goes from worst in the league to at least on par with the primetime partners.

I trust Turner to improve on last year regardless, judging by their new NBA graphics. It’s a bit bulky (especially in SD widescreen), and I could do without the massive tab showing whether a team is in the bonus, but even that is miles better than what Turner graced us with during the Tournament.

Although maybe Time Warner Cable SportsNet managed to come up with what TNT’s graphics should really look like, with one of the best implementations of not only timeout indicators, but even the bonus indicator, I’ve yet seen.

Now let’s take a quick trip through the league-owned networks, shall we? Sticking with basketball, NBATV seems desperate to suggest their games aren’t just ripped from local broadcast partners with their own graphics slapped on, but the end result ends up playing distracting animations a bit too often, though it is a more professional graphic otherwise. Though I do have to ask what those extensions below the team names are for; unlike NBC with Sunday Night Football, NBATV doesn’t have the excuse that timeout indicators haven’t come along yet.

It’s not quite as professional, though, as the NHL Network, which manages to almost completely hide its ripped-from-the-RSN nature. Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of it…

NFL Network, meanwhile, moved to a more conventional banner, and as always there’s not much I have to say about it.

And of course, we have a new player in the sports network landscape, the Pac-12 Networks, and with it a new graphics package. It’s a serviceable package that you can tell really stresses the Pac-12 logo shape. It’s very good considering the Pac-12 was launching a new network from scratch without a partner.

The basketball version, though, is oddly asymmetric, with the team names always on the left side of the score despite the graphic itself being centered. The result is that the bonus indicator is under the team name for the road team but under the score for the home team. The fact that it’s italicized for the double bonus only only adds to the distraction.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention NBC’s Olympics graphics, as well as the new graphics introduced for the world feed, which I don’t particularly like. I see what they’re trying to do, but the slant on the flags seems too cutesy for something that’s going to be seen all over the world, the font is surprisingly generic, and graphics for showing scores for head-to-head sports just look ugly:

Meanwhile, NBC decided to make only minor changes to its new post-NBCSN graphics package for the Olympics.

Michael Phelps Talks With Bob Costas (July, 1… by ananula
Comcast SportsNet has been updating its own graphics packages to match that of the rest of the NBC Sports family… but the actual score graphics are basically straight template swaps of the old ones, with a slight exception for baseball I’ll get to next time (hint: CSN has adopted pitch count).

Of course, I’d much prefer NBC itself adopt these instead of the bulky numbers they have now, but I’m not feeling how it looks for a box on basketball.

Root Sports has added logos to its Penguins hockey coverage.

Finally, in the middle of last year NESN changed graphics again, to something not entirely unlike ESPN’s baseball graphics. It might be the best graphics package in baseball right now.

Hopefully the next roundup will come in less than half a year’s time!

Sports graphics roundup on the eve of the Olympics

I’m way overdue for a sports graphics roundup, so let’s get a quick one out of the way before the Olympics start.

You may recall how mystified I was at FSN’s new basketball graphic, wondering why they would spell out team names and use a bulky tab for bonus indicators on the NBA but not college. Well, said graphic subsequently appeared on FSN’s college basketball broadcasts, complete with timeout indicators. I think FSN may have even gone as far as to put timeout indicators on its NBA graphics.

But I said last time that we would get some ugly graphics, and CBS proved me right twice over. First, we got this graphic during the regular season, with the spelled-out “DBL BONUS” that appears towards the end of overtime. (Not all CBS games used this graphic with the bulky tab, so it was probably a late addition that the graphic wasn’t designed for.)

That was nothing, though, compared to the graphic that appeared for March Madness with the bulky tab hanging below the otherwise-fairly-elegant banner. I kinda-sorta like how the bonus indicator would change to read “1-and-1” or “2 Shots” after a foul (though I am worried about dumbing things down), but with the extra vertical space the network logo takes up, couldn’t you have nudged the score up and added a full-length tab below it?

Onward to baseball, where Fox’s return to using logos only to identify teams in its NFL graphic has proven so successful that they surprised me by letting it spread to its baseball coverage, including on its FSN affiliates.

The Mets’ SNY has gone to the same sort of two-line box used by its Northeastern brethren YES and NESN, though for some unfathomable reason they decided their use of dots to indicate balls and strikes would be so much more successful than when ESPN tried it.

Root Sports’ baseball graphics reflect baseball’s status as their only major professional sport shared across multiple RSNs let alone all three, with the use of logos alongside abbreviations. Clearly economic use of space was a priority, with the use of dots to indicate outs (though they seem to have missed a lesson Fox learned, that the third dot isn’t necessary) and the use of just a number to indicate pitch speed.

TBS’ regular-season logo fits oddly in the graphic introduced last postseason, but we all know the trouble with finding a source for that.

ESPN’s attempt at mimicking the Euro 2012 world feed graphics was surprisingly accurate, considering how ornate they were (and considering how off they were at Euro 2008 and how they didn’t even try at the 2010 and 2011 World Cups), with the only way of telling which was which being how they came in and out. But the score graphic was just plain weird. (And yes, this was the best video I could come up with to show it off.)

Nothing much to say about Root Sports’ soccer graphics…

…or about NBC Sports Network’s either.

NBCSN’s graphics for IndyCar and the Tour de France are pretty much straight swaps of Versus’ graphics.

For completeness’ sake, here’s NBCSN’s graphics for its boxing cards.

Overall, my opinion of NBC’s new graphics hasn’t changed; I’m still greatly disappointed. After seeing their application for the French Open, I really do think they’re transitioning out of tennis after losing Wimbledon.

And that’ll be it until next time, which I suspect will be after the NFL season starts.

My One-Month Review of HDTV

I finally joined the twenty-first century earlier this year: our household finally got HDTV. Specifically, we got it the day before the Super Bowl, but couldn’t get actual HD service until the day after, meaning there was a period of less than 48 hours where we had to watch TV in pixellated stretch-o-vision, a period that just so happened to include, oh yeah, the single biggest reason to get HD in the first place. Oops.

I have to say I was never as swept off my feet by HD before as some people might have claimed. I was impressed at how certain graphics looked in HD when I happened upon various public displays of it, but I never felt the picture quality was such an improvement that I couldn’t bear to watch in SD, though as more and more channels (especially those showing sports) have gone letterboxed in recent years I could tell the writing was on the wall. To me, HD is just another way of saying “big”, as in, it keeps the effective picture quality of a big TV about the same, maybe a little sharper, as my old SDTV of half the size. If anything, I can say that I would never want to watch SD on an HD set.

But even though graphics were the thing that most impressed me about HD before, now that I’ve had a month of up-close-and-personal experience with it, I’ve gotta say… I’m not that impressed with the state of HD graphics.

Part of it is that a lot of graphics on a lot of channels are still designed for SD. They leave a lot of awkwardly-used space on the sides of the screen if their channel isn’t letterboxed, and they make the type too big if it is (which can affect even SD viewers). But a potentially bigger issue is that a lot of times, text in HD is just too sharp. It creates an odd air of artificiality that can come off as jarring, especially when it’s against raw video as a background.

Maybe I just need to get used to it, but I’m not sure that I totally agree with xkcd that we only see higher-quality video as somehow more fake only because of what it’s been used for. I think there definitely comes a point at which higher quality starts to become oddly artificial, perhaps even falls into an uncanny valley. At the very least, I would think any use of Helvetica on television should probably die pretty quickly.

Not that the opposite problem doesn’t exist; it’s one of my beefs with the March Madness graphics, but I’ll get to that at a later date. Also, while my own mockups of my own sports graphics concepts have often used black-on-white only because of my lack of creativity with colors, I now find it a rather stark contrast when I see it on ESPN and TNT’s basketball coverage. I’d say any use of solid blocks of color should probably be re-examined.

Finally, I have long bemoaned the lack of respect broadcast television receives, and how cable’s unfair advantages threaten the usefulness of free over-the-air television. When I grew up, there were broadcast channels and cable channels (and premium channels and pay-per-view channels), and they were all very well defined. But now… now I get the sense that HD really dissolves the distinction between broadcast and cable for the uninformed viewer, to a greater extent than before, even considering the effect of local stations and how iffy their graphics can be. Part of it may be that broadcast channels can have odd differences in quality from any cable channel on my cable system in SD, which disappears in HD. But if nothing else, it helps me realize how someone might not care so much for the declining state of broadcast.

Quick sports graphics update

Two new developments and something I forgot from last time add up to a short new sports graphics update.

I have to say, I’m not a fan of NBC’s new post-relaunch graphics package, which looks really bulky and amateur. It almost looks more designed for Comcast SportsNet’s purposes than anything else. The text is off-center enough that it actually looks like some of my PowerPoint mockups.

On the plus side, NBC learned their lesson from their last change to their timeout indicators and this is some of the best I’ve seen from a graphic designed for them.

Also, NBC, ESPN, and Turner are all now using two-line boxes for the display of player info, leaving only the NFL’s main partners, CBS and Fox.

On the NBA front, ESPN continues to tweak old graphics to fit them into the new graphics package, continuing to make me wonder what the point is because aesthetically, it looks worse than the old one. And the NBA package continues to use the two-line format for whatever reason. On the other hand, there appears to be some sort of weird drop-shadow effect, and the specific graphics used for player info is the same as for college basketball.

Oddly, FSN went to spelling out team names for its new NBA graphics. I call it odd because if there’s any version of basketball (or really any sport) where the use of full names over abbreviations is justified, it’s college basketball. So why did FSN decide to continue wasting space for the college game but fill the space for the NBA? I could see if the NBA graphic was redesigned later, because the NBA season started later, but does that mean FSN will change its college graphics to match?

Also, ESPN deciding to indicate when teams are in the bonus may be becoming a trend, because FSN’s new NBA graphics do the same thing… in one of the most awful ways I’ve seen. If you’re going to have such a space hog you might as well at least put timeout indicators on it. We’re going to be in for some awful graphics for the next couple years. Be afraid… be very afraid.

I forgot to mention the Big Ten Network on my last roundup, perhaps because I blocked out the hideous way they showed the down and distance the first week of the season. Who thought this was a good idea? WHO?!?

If they wanted to preserve the shape, shouldn’t they have designed it to begin with to shrink neatly like Fox’s graphics? Thankfully, they eventually came to their senses. Beyond that mess, the BTN’s new graphics mostly serve the purpose of bringing them closer to the rest of the Fox stable, without quite being the same thing.

This next video will mean we don’t have an all-YouTube graphics roundup, but thank god, because YouTube in Chrome coming from Google Video Search, which should be a harmonious homogenous experience, was a complete nightmare, and you can read my tweeter for the full carnage…

And with that, I expect us to be done until baseball season starts.

Getting some sports graphics out of the way before NBA season starts

The last time we talked about sports graphics, I noticed that by going widescreen, ESPN was able to attach statistics to the side of their baseball box rather than have it pop in and out, in a move reminiscent of something TNT had been trying with their NBA coverage. I wondered if that meant all of ESPN’s sports would move to the box, seeing signs of the potential of this everywhere.

Sure enough, when college football season started it came with a new graphics package… that was essentially a smaller, streamlined version of the previous banner using the same design as baseball for statistics display.

(By the way? Not a fan of the way ESPN is transitioning into replays that it introduced during bowl season.)

However, ESPN may be making some more modest, but still interesting, changes. The display of statistics during college basketball games uses a different color scheme and font than the other two sports, perhaps trying to be more in line with the graphics that don’t have to fit the general package. Also, ESPN has added an indicator for whether a team is in the bonus or double bonus below the score, next to the timeout indicators, almost daring CBS, Turner, and all their competitors to keep up.

Meanwhile, Monday Night Football decided to go in a completely different direction for its graphics package. Structurally, it’s the same, but if it weren’t for the ESPN logo you’d never guess it was an ESPN production. The display of stats even abandons the whole two-line scores-and-stats-in-the-same-space gimmick ESPN’s been pushing, aside from getting rid of the banner.

Turner continued the trend of graphic standardization when the baseball postseason hit, with a few extra, in my view unnecessary, flourishes.

CBS has finally started rolling out the style of their NFL banner and go-to-break score display of the last two seasons to other sports and their other graphics. It seems a little jarring for college sports, where the type seems a little small, and feels a little dark for statistics graphics and on-field down-and-distance indicators (and cramped in the former case). Also worth noting that the go-to-break score display for college football is very different from the NFL one, and bears more than a passing resemblance to the one used in the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, the college basketball graphic is basically a tweaked version of the previous one, with not much done to make it look any more like the March Madness graphic. And the go-to-break graphic has its own differences from the college football graphic. Is sport differentiation all the rage now? Is Turner going against the grain?

The most obvious change to Fox’s NFL graphic is to make the timeout indicators even more naturally integrated by extending them into bars. Later in the season Fox also changed how it indicated which team has the ball, making it more visible, but I prefer the old way. I think there’s also something else different about this box. Is it me, or is it darker? Also, Fox has moved its scoreboard from the Fox Sports logo to a ticker at the bottom of the screen, allowing them to include more info, such as statistics and score alerts.

It looks for all the world like Fox will go the logo-only route only for the NFL, although abbreviations look different for college football than they do for MLB, looking lighter.

Can’t say I’m a fan of how Fox adapted their college basketball banner to the new graphics package.

Versus’ new graphics package is basically NBC’s package with the NBC logo replaced with the Versus logo. Yes, for both college football and hockey. I’m really surprised at the latter; I would expect the rebrand to come complete with a new graphics package, especially considering the logo is changing as well. But it’s occuring at an odd time, when NBC has its Wild Card Saturday slate of games. It’s just kind of odd that Versus would change its graphics package for the four months it has left before it becomes NBC Sports Network, complete with the Versus logo substitution.

I’m surprised that CBC went as all-out as it did on its new graphics package.

“Root Sports” finally got around to getting its own graphics package. Honestly, parts of it make it look a little second-rate. But I do have to admit, their timeout indicators are better than most.

And finally, we end at a look at the new graphics for the ACC Network, formerly Raycom, which moves to a box and a weird logo shape and effect for touchdowns. The timeout indicators aren’t ideal, but they aren’t too intrusive.

There. That should tide us over for a few more months, shouldn’t it?

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…

Catching up with sports graphics in the NFL and more

Well, if I put this off any longer than I already have, I’ll have to include baseball graphics and that means dealing with MLB Advanced Media not knowing how the Internet works, so:

Back in 2003, Fox introduced something new to their NFL score banner: rather than represent teams with abbreviations, Fox represented them solely with the teams’ logos. I fell in love with it immediately: abbreviations are arbitrary, cooked up solely for the benefit of graphics packages, while the logos introduced a sublime simplicity to Fox’s graphic. I’ve continued to go logo-only in my own fantasies ever since.

Sadly, Fox got cold feet – I guess they got complaints that people who weren’t familiar with NFL logos were getting confused – and dropped the logos during the playoffs, replacing them with these ugly abbreviations that were obviously slapped on in place of something else. In 2004, Fox used abbreviations alongside the logos on what was fundamentally the same graphic, and after that Fox stopped using logos as a permanent element of the graphic entirely. Fox would continue to evoke the logo graphic for years by having team logos appear in place of the abbreviation when the banner first comes onto the screen.

For a while, it seemed as though that would be it for using logos and relegating abbreviations to the dustbin of history (or updates on games you’re not watching). But then a funny thing happened: the NFL Network started using logos alone, and did so in two different incarnations for years. And now, in 2010, apparently the NFL Network’s success has convinced Fox to return to using the logo-only approach. In fact, they arguably take it too far; only the logos are shown even when going to break, providing no opportunity for newcomers to associate a logo with a team.

Fox also shows the potential of designing graphics with the timeout indicators in mind from the start, even to the point of turning the timeout indicators into Christmas lights during the holidays. If I had a problem, it’s with how awkward the graphic is arranged, with the logos on top of the scores and the scores arranged lengthwise.

Ironically, NFL Network decided to incorporate abbreviations into their graphic at the same time. This graphic isn’t much different from graphics I’ve made on my own time, so I can’t complain too much about it, even the excessive space between teams’ scores I’ve called the Portland Trail Blazers out for in the past. One spiffy new feature is that the indicator of which team has the ball also shows the direction the team is moving down the field (though that just makes the on-field down-and-distance indicator that much more redundant). On the downside, the timeout indicators are still on a tab slapped on to the graphic, though it’s a much less jarring tab than on NFL Network’s previous graphic, and down-and-distance and statistics feel almost as slapped on.

Still, with Fox’s new graphic and ESPN’s changes to its existing graphic, all of the NFL’s TV partners now use logos in their graphics, though CBS’s logos still look awkward. ESPN removed the “MNF” from their graphic and instead replaced the “40th Season” in the down-and-distance area with the same “MNF” wordmark. They used the space they saved from removing the “MNF” to add logos to the team names. Later in the season, they increased the font size of the time left, the down and distance, and the stat line, which I found jarring, and its inconsistent application gave away that the graphic wasn’t designed for it.

This move pretty much doomed the fate of the way ESPN’s new scoreline had previously popped itself in, with the “ESPN” sliding into its box and opening up to reveal the rest of the scoreline, which had been complemented with “MNF” doing the same thing. Now the whole scoreline “zooms in” to view. It’s not too bad for MNF, where the scoreline now pops in as a black field saying just “ESPN MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL” and then turns into the rest of the scoreline. But in other sports it just looks amateur. While I prefer turning the colored box into a triangle for college football to what they did during last year’s bowl season, the way the box pops onto the screen leaves a little to be desired.

Other than my continuing issues with the timeout indicators, I don’t really have an issue with ESPN’s new college basketball graphic.

On the other hand, ESPN has become the only NBA TV partner to have timeout indicators on their NBA graphics as well. One wonders if this is their way to continue their streak of having a different graphic for every NBA Finals.

For a while I wondered if Fox was going to go the way of Turner, and have a different graphic for every sport – their old graphic for NASCAR, their new graphic for the NFL, and an FSN-inspired graphic for baseball. I was proven wrong when both Fox and SPEED went with graphics inspired by Fox’s NFL graphics for NASCAR. My biggest problem is that the little pods for the cars in the running order look bulky, and call to mind the problems I’ve long had with ESPN’s current NASCAR graphics, even though Fox doesn’t try to cram intervals or other stats onto the same line.

Turner, meanwhile, introduced a new graphic for its NBA broadcasts, fixing the problems with their last abomination. In fact this version arguably outdoes ESPN on their idea to try to cram all graphics into the same two lines at the bottom of the screen, bringing out the advantages of that approach like nothing I’ve seen before. If I have a quibble, it’s the distracting way team logos appear whenever someone scores, which mirrors a general graphic theme that appears for highlight packages and the like. It’s a neat idea to try to de-genericize the score graphic, but still.

In fact, Turner may be moving towards graphic standardization, if the CBS/Turner graphics for March Madness are anything to go by. These graphics are a rather jarring change from the graphics CBS uses during the regular season (although some of the fonts are reminicent of the graphics package used by CBS before the current one), and contributes to the sense that Turner has taken over the tournament and nicely let CBS play with them. (However, overall the tournament keeps enough of a CBS sense that I really don’t get the synergy with “Inside the NBA” from Kenny and Charles’ presence in the studio that was intended, or from the presence of other TNT NBA personnel calling games, except maybe Reggie Miller alongside Gus Johnson at the regional semifinals.) The graphic is rather odd, but servicable, and my lack of problem with the timeout indicators may be a sign I’m growing resigned to the fact of iffy incorporation of them.

It’ll be interesting to see if similar changes are coming to Turner’s coverage of NASCAR and baseball.

Comcast, meanwhile, whipped out Versus’ new college football graphics, which are about as expected. If you’re going to put timeout indicators on a tab, you could do worse than what Versus did.

Comcast also introduced new graphics for Comcast SportsNet, rolling out a new standard for those networks that uses a shape once favored by ESPN. Thank God, too, because it means the graphics that made TNT’s look good on basketball are gone.

However, the hockey graphic looks a little amateur, especially with the way the team logos can sometimes disappear and reappear.

I’ve already seen the implementation of this graphic for baseball, but I won’t show it to you until I’m ready to deal with that can of worms. How the Comcast-NBC merger affects these graphics remains to be seen, but it has already affected one graphics package. NBC’s golf coverage has adopted the Golf Channel graphics and been rebranded “Golf Channel on NBC”.

They’re at least marginally better than what Golf Channel had before, enough that I can actually buy them being on a broadcast network, though it’s still a jarring change from NBC’s other graphics. It’ll be interesting to see how these look come the US Open.

A word of praise for the Sacramento Kings for trying something different – something I honestly had expected to see first in the NFL. Their new graphic uses team names – and not just team names, but team names taken from the teams’ jerseys. It’s barely noticable, so here’s hoping other networks (probably Fox or Turner) pick up on the trend.

By the way, NBA TV’s graphics are much less FSN-inspired than the last time I checked.

If you’re wondering, FSN is not going to a banner for all sports, instead adopting the most slapped-on timeout indicators possible for football. Check out the on-field down-and-distance that’s basically a cheap version of what Fox used for the NFL last year.

Finally, I don’t get ESPN’s rollout schedule for its new graphics. They still aren’t on tennis or NASCAR (tennis will probably get them for Wimbledon, NASCAR maybe by the time ESPN takes over the Sprint Cup schedule, but NASCAR in particular is still mystifying), but they are on MLS broadcasts and college lacrosse (which uses a variant of the college football graphic – and I should mention that college hockey doesn’t have these yet either). MLS has introduced us to a new variation of the graphic.

At the very end of the video, the graphic pops out of existence in a unique manner, a variant of how it pops in. I’m very impressed; I’d like to see that be the way it pops in and out for other sports. (I’m also seeing a trend reflected in this graphic regarding new implementations of ESPN’s new graphics package, but I’ll save that for next time.)

Sports graphics: Baseball, ESPN, Golf, and other things

Getting this out of the way before the NFL preseason starts in earnest:

A new element is all the rage in baseball graphics, pioneered by YES Network, with NESN changing its graphics shortly into the season to accommodate it, and starting to make appearances on ESPN. If the experiences of YES and NESN are any indication, this new element will effectively force already-crowded banners to become two-line boxes to squeeze it in. (How many banners are left on baseball coverage beyond Comcast SportsNet?)

I’m referring to the pitch count meter. The general trend seems to be to make the pitch count meter share space with wherever the speed of each pitch appears. YES and NESN have put the score and places of runners on the top line, and nothing else, with everything else going on the bottom line…

…while ESPN has put both elements in the same space as the positions of the runners on base. The pitch speed is displayed first for longer than normal, followed by the pitch count for a shorter period.

Incidentally, the design of YES and NESN’s boxes seems to suggest that Fox may want to consider a version of my original baseball two-line box idea. If Fox wanted to impose pitch count on its current two-line box, it would have to adopt an approach similar to ESPN’s and display both pitch speed and pitch count in the same space as the count and number of outs. (Incidentially, did anyone notice the red-white-and-blue theme all Fox and FSN graphics adopted for the positions of runners on base for July 4th weekend and reprised for the All-Star Game?)

In other baseball graphics news, MASN joins the box bandwagon, while SportsTime Ohio, whose graphics I’ve mocked in the past, creates a graphic easily mistaken for ESPN’s (using the same font and the same color down the sides of the team abbreviations seen in ESPN’s other new graphics) and may have outdone them in the process. The graphic still inexplicably disappears when not showing the pitcher-batter confrontation, and not displaying “MPH” on the pitch speed is jarring, but at least it doesn’t show a team logo when no one is on base for no reason anymore.

I get the sense that ESPN’s graphics for non-SportsCenter studio shows, which have been seen on “Winner’s Bracket”, “Baseball Tonight”, “The Decision”, and during ESPN’s World Cup coverage, were designed after the SportsCenter graphics and possibly following a change of priorities. Especially when a headline is shown at the bottom of the screen, the somewhat robotic look actually looks spiffier than SportsCenter, despite the latter supposedly being the flagship show. In addition, the graphics, especially the colors, look too specific and may have been designed for color symmetry with the World Cup world feed in mind; it’ll work for most sports, and worked really well during the World Cup, but it’s not meshing well at all on Baseball Tonight. BBTN could have done well to adopt the sport-specific look now seen on NFL Live and College Football Live; time will tell if that look survives the transition to the new graphics (though college football probably wouldn’t suffer from a full transition to them).

I much preferred ESPN’s actual World Cup score graphic to those on Univision and CBC, especially since ESPN didn’t try and fail to ape the world feed’s other graphics. But as the World Cup went along, ESPN first put up a display of team jerseys on the screen whenever it could, and then incorporated them into the graphic itself, at the expense of consistency with the world feed graphics. Had ESPN been thinking ahead, it could have added jersey colors in a way that created more flow, such as in a line underneath the team abbreviations.

During the World Cup, I noticed that ESPNews had dropped its larger BottomLine in favor of a BottomLine more like those in place on other ESPN networks. I haven’t been keeping up on my feeds so I don’t know if this has already gone through the sports media blogosphere (although SportsCenter will be expanding its presence on the News soon), but it seems odd that ESPNews is still using its old graphics, especially since they spill off the edges of the screen in SD. Might a change to get closer to ESPN’s other graphics be in the works?

If the graphics ESPN had during the British Open are its new golf graphics, they weren’t in place for the US Senior Open. They’re not dissimilar to graphics ESPN has sometimes added to other networks’ golf highlights during SportsCenter, and while they show the level of customization available across sports (even with changes in colors), they definitely reflect ESPN’s new graphic style… when displaying the leaderboard and studio personnel. I’d prefer the player-name-crammed-to-the-side style used in other sports than what ESPN actually used when showing player stats, involving the player name across the top in a jarringly different large Arial font. Look at the bottom video and tell me the front nine and back nine scores couldn’t have been shown consecutively – wasn’t the point of the new format to avoid taking up too much space? Even the World Series of Poker is using the name-crammed-to-the-side style!

Augusta National finally entered the 21st century, and adopted graphics for the Masters more like CBS’ current graphics for other golf tournaments, while still looking unique.

Versus’ new IndyCar graphics are a downgrade, and look too much like ESPN’s new motorsports graphics – complete with displaying time behind the leader on the same line as the name of each driver! On the plus side, shortly after (or maybe even before) my last roundup Versus did indeed shake up its other graphics – they’ve gone from aping old ESPN graphics to old Fox graphics, but it’s a start!

Finally, NBC… what are you doing, man?!? After how much I praised how you managed to get timeout indicators to mesh with the rest of your graphic, you go and adopt these bulky white things at the Hall of Fame Game.

A LONG-overdue sports graphics roundup.

When was the last time we had a sports graphics roundup, July? We’re very overdue for one, especially considering some major developments in the world of sports graphics in the interim…

I had to go outside this country, but I did eventually find a video that had Versus’ IndyCar graphics:I have to say, while I didn’t know how Versus would do racing, I’m rather impressed with the graphic they did come up with. The placement of elements is a little haphazard, and the lap count and current flag sort of stick out like a sore thumb, but everything looks rather natural and nothing seems forced. It also flows well with Versus’ other graphics.

Versus also introduced a new score box for college football, which lost the element of putting the two teams on opposite ends “VS.” one another. Switching from a rectangle to a parallelogram theme makes it look a little more professional, but I didn’t like the score to the left of the teams’ abbreviations on the old CBS box (more on that later) and it looks even worse here.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter, because it looks like Versus is in the middle of a graphics package change that will FINALLY unify its graphics packages – and it looks good enough maybe they don’t need NBC’s help. It started with coverage of Mountain West basketball, and although it looked a LOT spiffier than any previous Versus graphics package, they were off to a bad start by putting the teams and scores at the extreme opposite ends of the strip, which I’ve criticized before.The graphic Versus broke out for the NHL after the Olympics, however, works VERY well with the team logos flanking their abbreviations atop the team colors. At the very least, it’s a big improvement over Versus’ old graphics. Now if only they could change the rest of their graphics to match…If Comcast is planning on bringing Comcast SportsNet closer to its other sports properties, perhaps they should adopt a variant of the Versus graphic for it. Have you seen the abortion that is Comcast SportsNet’s new basketball score bug? Just look at this bulky number! TNT’s NBA graphic looks like a work of genius!

As promised, we finally get a look at TBS’ baseball graphics, and I get the impression they were designed more for the playoffs than the regular season. See the top line, with the triangle indicating the side of the inning, the inning itself, and the game number? During the regular season, “TOP” or “BOTTOM” is spelled out across that entire space. TBS knows people only watch their coverage for the playoffs. Then again, Fox also gives the inning more space than it needs, and I suspect this graphic was designed to maximize solidarity with Fox…

Kuo 2009 NLCS Game1 from Erised on Vimeo.

…except BOTH of the pioneers of the two-line box seem to be abandoning it. FSN went back to a banner for basketball this year, and that’s not the only change, which tells me similar changes are coming to other sports. While the basic elements of the player info are the same, same font and basic design, it looks undeniably different, and seems to take a cue from the philosophy of ESPN’s MNF two-line box, because all of it comes out of the banner itself. It also looks not unlike what I thought ESPN’s graphics for non-NFL sports were going to look like, complete with area on the right side telling you exactly what kind of basketball broadcast you’re watching.

ESPN also introduced a new graphic for MNF this year, keeping the basic philosophy of last year’s banner – stats appear in at most two lines with the name of the person displayed crammed into one side – but going back to a single line for the banner itself, with a small area above it for displaying stats. When I first saw it, I almost didn’t recognize it as an ESPN graphic or even an ESPN broadcast – there was no BottomLine, the fonts didn’t look right, and the colors certainly didn’t look right. ESPN’s color is red, not gold!

But there was evidence that this was, in fact, THE new graphic for all sports – one of the fonts is the same as that being used on SportsCenter, and the on-field down-and-distance graphic was basically lifted whole-cloth with less color when college football season started. It was confirmed when the same banner showed up for college football, first in the South Florida-Connecticut game, and then in all bowls. I’m guessing after seeing how bad last year’s MNF banner translated to the NBA, ESPN hastily decided to change course. For college football, ESPN basically removed the “MNF” wordmark (which incidentially, changed to an “NFL” wordmark without surrounding logo for the Pro Bowl) and stretched the space for the team names to fill the space. To further create space for the team names, ESPN shrunk the font size for them, making the whole graphic look bulky, which is probably my biggest quibble. ESPN also replaced the colored line on the side with a little arrow indicating possession.

Might this be why the score graphic for the SEC Network – one of the most widely distributed syndication packages in recent memory – has a rather sloppily slapped-on SEC logo on a black parallelogram on top of the ESPN logo? Might it just be a stopgap for the introduction of this new graphic and its more professional application? Regardless, I can’t wait to see how less standard ESPN logos (ESPNU, ESPN RT) look on this new banner – the ESPN logo is a little crammed as is.

You know what all this means: yet ANOTHER year of a different graphic for the NBA Finals! But ESPN surprised me when I first saw the NBA version of this graphic earlier today. I had anticipated ESPN would stick an “NBA” logo on there, similar to the “MNF” wordmark (and the final ABC Sports NBA graphic), which it could then remove to create a college basketball graphic. Not only did they not do that, they tried to have it both ways: moving to the new graphic but keeping its two-line character with a permanent statline below, not above, the main line. (I prefer the football approach.) I have a feeling the college basketball graphic is going to be very different, and I wouldn’t rule out yet ANOTHER change before next year’s Finals.

That changes a lot of my speculation as to what this graphic will look like for other sports, since they could have quite a bit of leeway. I still imagine the baseball graphic will look a lot like the football graphic, given how much stuff needs to be crammed in there. But how this will work for racing is anyone’s guess, and they may take more after basketball – especially since my old mock-up of a two-line NASCAR banner may be out of date for another reason. I don’t know if this is new, but TNT is now showing the current leader constantly on its graphic. (I can’t show you because NASCAR seems very protective about videos showing their broadcast partner’s full graphic and it doesn’t appear on the genericed-out version. Incidentally, ESPN moving most of the Chase races from ABC to ESPN makes “ESPN is killing sports on ABC” rumors a lot more plausible. Same goes for making the SEC Tournament the only college basketball on ABC, which is weird because the SEC is the only conference ABC doesn’t show football for, and in fact this may be the only part of “the SEC on ESPN” that’s on ABC.)

On a related note, ESPN’s move to add timeout indicators to its college sports graphics seems to be catching on. ESPN, CBS, and NBC all added them to their NFL graphics a few weeks into the season, though at first, it was hard to tell between taken and not-taken timeouts on ESPN’s graphic. (Incidentially, I don’t think timeout indicators are coming to the NBA.) One thing remained constant: just as with ESPN’s college football banner, all the networks couldn’t find a way to make it fit with the rest of the graphic – not even CBS. After clinging to an alternating-sides box for the NFL even after its own SEC telecasts moved to a banner, CBS suddenly took a great leap forward with a banner so tricked-out it might presage more changes to all the other sports, probably because it had the Super bowl this year. Only the score display as it comes in to and out of commercial changed to fit the new banner; all other graphics remained unchanged, which is sad, because the inconsistency between having just the name come out of the logo and the entire graphic has always bugged me. But as much as the design of the timeout indicators (showing up not only on CBS’ SEC coverage, but its college basketball games as well) meshed with the design of the rest of the banner and as much as they tried to make it fit, they still stuck out like a sore thumb.

NFL Network had an easier time of it, but that big tab it stuck the timeout indicators on still looks awkward, even with the tab filling in the remaining space.

NBC came out the best of the bunch purely by chance. Imagine my surprise when NBC used its Super Bowl XLIII graphics at the lowly Hall of Fame Game after sticking with the old graphics at the Pro Bowl. I have no idea why NBC had those little things hanging underneath each team’s spot on the banner, as it was only used for things like penalties and who took the last timeout that didn’t require them to be on the screen all the time, but it gave them the perfect spot to stash timeout indicators when it came to that.

Fox is the only NFL TV partner that hasn’t added timeout indicators to its graphics yet, and as much as I hated them aesthetically when ESPN introduced them on college football I actually missed them practically watching the NFC playoffs. But presumably, with Fox having Super Bowl XLV, they’ll take a CBS-style great leap forward with both Fox and FSN moving to a new strip complete with timeout indicators.

There. Unless CBS introduces an NFL-style graphic during the NCAA tournament we’re set ’til baseball season, and hopefully my next round-up won’t be so massive.