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How Has Technology Changed Sports Fandom? Part I

This is the first in a three part series of posts sponsored by Samsung on how technology has changed our lives as sports fans. No, they're not giving us televisions, but they are giving us money which we will be using to buy Abner's for our Red Tent Rebellion tailgates, so that's neat.

I doubt that any of us can imagine what struggles a diehard fan had to endure just 60 or 70 years ago to follow their favorite teams. Black and white images of families huddled around a gigantic, crackling radio or friends and neighbors congregating at a local drug store or courthouse to watch the ticker tape machine rattle off scores - interesting aside: the rolling of Toomer's Corner allegedly began when people would hang the ticker tape spat out by the machine from I'm guessing Toomer's Drugs in the trees for passers by to see to winning Auburn score - immediately come to mind. Essentially, if one didn't have the means or resources to see a game in person, one truly missed out on the game experience.

And that's still mostly true today because, let's be honest, nothing will ever be able to replicate being within just a few dozen yards of the action on the field, surrounded by your friends and family, and taking in the ebbs and flows of the collegiate football fan experience alongside thousands of other similarly persuaded people. But technology sure has tried, and gotten closer, to enhancing and widening the college football experience for the diaspora amongst us.

I can't imagine what I, a Rebel fan who is 900 miles and a timezone away from Oxford, would have done with my Autumn Saturdays 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. What I and all of my football-watching friends are able to do on Saturdays is truly a remarkable feat of humanity (really, I mean that). At the expense of very little resources on our part - a few bucks here and there on your cable or satellite bill or a few beers at a watering hole which offers football watchers a reprieve from their home lives - we can watch the game, cheer, boo and drink nearly simultaneously with our friends and fellow fans back in Mississippi.

Think about the circumstance, coordination, and technology involved therein. On the field, the players and coaches aren't fundamentally doing very much than they would be were this the 1940's or 50's, but off of it a vast, vibrant network of cables, signals, and engineers give conceivably anyone in the world a chance to see the action.

And as I understand it, that goes something like this -- photons, ultimately all originating from the sun, bounce all over the damn place off of everything they touch. Our eyes take these and interpret them into signals we can then then understand them. The former is "light," the latter is "vision." Simple enough, right? Well how about we take said light from the football game and turn that into someone's vision a long ways away, say my personal vision as I sit propped on a stool at Gin and Tonic in Northwest DC.

You know how they do it, but the concept is still a wild one to grasp. What happens on the field is first picked up by cameras, dozens of them either affixed, carted, or carried throughout the stadium. These cameras take in light and therefore moving images of the goings on and converts them into an electrical signal. I don't know how, but that's what they do. It's just some sort of pulsating, coded signal that is sent over a cable or wirelessly to one of those production trucks that park on the western side of the stadium. In there, a bunch of people who make a pretty good living watching football, do stuff. I don't know what stuff, but I imagine a lot of switches are flipped, dials are turned, buttons are pressed, et cetera. They pop in some computer animated graphics, flip from camera to camera, insert appropriately timed commercials, and package all of that, in real time, into one comprehensible signal which is - are you ready for this - broadcast into space.

I've never understood how satellite technology works. I get the rudimentary elements of it; that signals are sent to a satellite which then re-distributes the information to maybe some other satellites or some other receivers back on good ol' Earth. But I don't get how all of this isn't totally compromised by silly things like the planet's rotation or the satellites' orbits. Regardless, it's interesting, complicated stuff.

So that happens, and then somewhere on the ground, perhaps your personal satellite dish or the dish of your local cable company (yes, that's how they all work), the signal is picked up and sent via wire to your television which then takes the original signal coded by the cameras and reinterprets it into light imagery which becomes a part of your vision.

And all of that happens in less than a second, in high definition.


Next week, one of us will look at the perils or frustrations brought by increased sports technology. The week after, we'll guess as to what the future may hold. Get excited and buy a Samsung.