Getting ever closer to the action

Chelsea’s Didier Drogba takes a selfie with fans after winning the Premier League.-REUTERS

Television and newspaper play a much smaller role in the consumption of world sports. Equipped with a moderately fast internet connection and a couple of crooked website links, an American living in cricket-crazy India can watch the New York Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox in a Major League Baseball encounter, live. By Ashwin Achal.

Not too long ago, if your favourite sporting event was not live on television, you had little chance of following the action. And if your local newspaper gave it a miss the next morning, you were completely left in the dark.

Now, television and newspaper play a much smaller role in the consumption of world sports. Equipped with a moderately fast internet connection and a couple of crooked website links, an American living in cricket-crazy India can watch the New York Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox in a Major League Baseball encounter, live, on one of many electronic devices — laptop, tablet or even a mobile phone. Television networks — finally awake to the threat of losing their viewership — have stepped up their game. The most striking development has been the advent of high-definition (HD), which is now a standard feature on any new TV set.

A one-handed backhand from Roger Federer — crisp even without digital aids — is that much more appealing in HD. To go back to a non-HD channel is like returning from Wimbledon to watch the neighbours play on the tennis courts of their apartment. With Ultra HD (roughly four times better resolution than HD) and 3D technology set to take over soon, the visual revolution is only expected to get better. As the size of television screens increases, there is more room to accommodate informative graphics to supplement the action. When Chelsea’s Eden Hazard prepares to take a penalty, viewers are made aware about the direction of his last five spot-kicks. The weak and strong zones of a batsman are analysed in detail — the viewer, sitting comfortably, in his/her drawing room knows as much about it as the opposing bowler. And when the batsman lifts one up for a thundering six, the distance travelled by the ball is measured in a jiffy and the world can marvel the extent of the pyrotechnics.

Formula One followers can now well don the role of a team principal, with projected pits tops and race data available in real time, alongside the live telecast. On most occasions, sounds from the field can be far more interesting than graphics. In the 2011 edition of the Big Bash Twenty20 League, a microphone fitted on Shane Warne’s jersey gave viewers a rare glimpse of the genius at work. Before delivering the ball, the leg-spinner proclaimed to the television audience that he would get Brendon McCullum bowled around his legs. Warne promptly delivered as promised.

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), players are ‘Mic’d Up’, and all the trash talk, team speeches and arguments with the referees are beamed out to millions of viewers. And how can one forget F1 driver Kimi Raikonnen’s curt response — “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing!” — to instructions from his Lotus bosses over the radio.

In 2014, fans got one step closer to the real deal when retired Australian great Adam Gilchrist wore a GoPro camera on his helmet, while batting in a MCC versus Rest of the World match. The point-of-view footage of the wicketkeeper-batsman hooking the express Shaun Tait — as seen by Gilchrist himself — evoked a whole new appreciation for his batting talent. For all the improvements in the viewership experience, there are a fair number of drawbacks as well. The spider-cam, used in IPL matches, often distracts the batsman. Cricket purists do not care for the bails lighting up when a wicket falls — a gimmick that is too flashy without substance.

In North America, the pioneers of broadcasting innovations, networks showing American football (NFL) have received a huge amount of flak recently for cluttering the screen with inane graphics. Consumers, who can now access the same content through various mediums, have very little patience for flashy additions which serve little purpose.

Social media, too, has played its part in bridging the gap between a fan and his/her favourite player. Players regularly take to various platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook to stay in touch with their followers and offer millions a rare access to their personal space. Roger Federer’s twitter campaign ahead of his trip to India last December created quite a buzz online.

“I need some help from my supporters in India. I’m only in Delhi for a few days, so can’t visit all amazing places that I’d like.” “Maybe you guys could help #PhotoshopRF? Show me where I should visit and I’ll retweet the best pics!” the tennis star had tweeted.

His Indian fans were on a roll and many a morphed images — Federer leading camels in a Rajasthan desert, driving a truck, posing at the Taj Mahal, a keeper of a dancing monkey — were soon all over the worldwide web. “Too many to pick favourites, but I had to make a collection,” Federer later tweeted.