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Local VP has game-changing role

Chen helps call the plays that create sports graphics millions can watch from their living rooms

Posted: January 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia resident Ted Chen displays a first-and-10 arrow for a Stanford football game, which was taken from from a miniature one-eighth scaled-to-size football field at Sportsvision in Mountain View. Chen is the vice president of operations for Sportvision, the company which produces on-air graphics for all televised football games.

Imagine sitting down with family and friends two Sundays from now one of the most-watched television events of the year, the Super Bowl, and the game-changer isn’t necessarily which team scores the most touchdowns.

The real game-changer is the now-familiar, yellow and blue, virtual first-and-10 lines superimposed on the television screens as millions of viewers follow the plays.

Some fans might even argue that the virtual first-and-10 lines are more valuable than the lines painted on the field to pinpoint the end zones where games are won or lost.

Valencia resident Ted Chen, vice president of operations for Sportvision, ensures that viewers see the on-air virtual lines for every football game broadcast in the country.

“The concept was originally invented to help the entry-level football fan or the casual sport viewer better understand the game,” Chen said.

Developed in the ’70s
Sportvision, an Emmy-winning graphics production company, produces the on-air graphics to help viewers recognize the distance needed for a team to achieve a first down.

First developed in the late ’70s, the technology was not originally adopted by early broadcasters. The lines were first broadcast by ESPN in the late ’90s. Today, all networks use Sportvision’s system.

A blue line shows the line of scrimmage, an imaginary line on the football field showing the spot where the ball is placed after the end of the most recent play.

The 10-yard virtual yellow line points out for viewers the spot on the field players must reach as they rush the football down the field.

The first-and-10 lines make it easier for viewers of all skill level to follow the plays and progress on a football field.

Fan uprising
Sportvision works under contract with networks and cable networks supplying graphics and competition data in multiple sporting categories.

While the patented “1st-and-10” lines were introduced to televised football games in the late ’90s, one broadcast company took the graphics off the air as a cost-saving measure in the fall of 2001.

Fans rapidly organized an online protest, basically leaving the network no choice but to put the virtual lines back on the screen.

The first-and-10 lines have remained rooted in broadcasts ever since.

Today, the first-and-10 lines are a staple of television broadcasts — part of the on-air graphics for every football game televised, whether its professional or collegiate.

“The lines have become embedded into our viewing style,” Chen said.

Sport enthusiast
A sports fan himself, Chen said he loves his job. He gets paid to watch football.

A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with degrees in geography and sports management, Chen played baseball when he was young. In college, he learned there were more avenues into the sporting industry than becoming a player himself.

After college, Chen realized a career in operations was attractive to him after he interned for a local baseball team. But another opportunity soon came Chen’s way.

“My college roommate’s uncle was a consultant at ESPN,” Chen said. “He called me up one day to be a ‘first and ten’ technician for Sportvision.”

Chen had no background in television production, and he was the only technician in the San Francisco Bay area at the time. The rest is history.

Having worked with television broadcasts since 2000, Chen admits he finds it hard to watch a sporting event today without noticing all the essentials that go into a broadcast.

“I can’t just watch a game and enjoy it for what it’s worth, without noticing all the elements,” Chen said.

Always working
Chen’s work week starts early every Monday morning as he flies out of Burbank to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View. He returns home on Thursdays. Some weeks, Chen heads out to the football stadiums to oversee the operations and ensure viewers see the first-and-10 lines for every game.

He returns most weekends to spend time with his wife and three sons. But Chen said he is never really off the job.
“I’m always on,” Chen said. “I’m always working.”

Logistics are key to the success of his company. With 25 football games a weekend, Chen must figure out how to get about 150 people to every game in the country.

Chen said as his children grow older, he misses his sons’ practices and shows. He said missing out on his children’s activities is hard.

But he doesn’t get tired of the work.

“It’s so interesting,” Chen said. “Every show is different. You never know what to expect with a live broadcast. The technology is cutting edge.”

NASCAR and more
Football is not the only sporting event to use Sportvision’s technology. The innovative company is involved in a number of sports, and has products for most any event.

NASCAR signed up to put cameras in every car on the track. Sportvision also installs units to measure how fast the car is going, and how much the driver is braking.

It provides arrow graphics to broadcast on air, showing where the lead race car is positioned on the oval tracks.

In baseball, Sportvision captures the speed of each pitch, and teams are now using the data to analyze players’ performances. The company is installing its equipment at minor league ballparks as well.

“Changing the game” is Sportvision’s motto, Chen said.


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