The legend of the yellow line


The famous yellow line: this is the line that appears during every football game showing audiences at home how far the offensive team has to go to get a first down.

As kids, fans looked on in amazement and now regular viewers count on it as a basic necessity for watching football. But how did the yellow line become a staple of every game?

The yellow line has come a long way since it was first introduced in 1998. Today we also see the line of scrimmage, play clock, field goal distance, and much more.

Many NFL broadcasts today include graphics for the down and distance, line of scrimmage, first down marker and play clock. Photo courtesy of NFL/YouTube

Many NFL broadcasts today include graphics for the down and distance, line of scrimmage, first down marker and play clock. Photo courtesy of NFL/YouTube

These are all computer generated on the field for a more enjoyable viewing experience at home.

And this technology isn’t just limited to the football. In fact, the NBA just introduced their newest feature which illuminates the three point line anytime a three point shot is taken.

But when and how was the yellow line created? For that we have to go back to the mid 90s and NHL hockey. Believe it or not the NHL was in fact the first sport that introduced added graphics for TV viewers.

The NHL teamed up with Fox Sports and developed a software that showed a small blue ring around the puck that would light up with a red trail if shot over 70 mph.

Fox was able to do this by putting several sensors inside each game puck which was then tracked by a computer program. However, the idea was met with great criticism by hockey purists and was eventually scrapped when Fox lost their broadcasting rights to NHL games.

Luckily for football fans the team of engineers that created the glowing puck weren’t discouraged and eventually split off to create their own company called Sportvision.

In 1998 the company came to an agreement with ESPN and introduced the yellow line for the first time.

The yellow line is a complicated program that took a dedicated team of engineers to make.

This line appears at all times from all different angles, but at its root it’s a pretty simple idea.

Engineers at Sportvision created a way to track the angle and zoom of each camera fixed to the field.

By combining this data with a survey of the field, the Sportvision team was able to create a 3D map of the entire field and consistently produce a the yellow line.

While the yellow line was met with great reviews and the fans loved it, the line as we know it almost disappeared in 2001. At that time Fox held the rights to most football games and needed to cut costs.

Fox announced that it was going to cut the yellow line which at the time cost them $25,000 per game. However after an outcry of fans Fox decided to keep the yellow line.

Senior Telly Korbakes thinks the yellow line not only enhances how regular fans watch, but also makes it easier for new fans to get into the game.

“I think it enabled new fans to understand and learn about the game” Korbakes said. “It is an amazing thing they can do.”

Since the creation of the yellow line companies such as Sportvision have influenced how almost every sport is broadcast.

From the pitch tracker in the MLB, to finish line in Olympic rowing and sailing competitions, the technology has had a great effect.

The technology has gone past just helping viewers watch the game however.

Now when you watch soccer and baseball games you can see advertisements generated on the side of the field or on the walls.

The technology that was once viewed with great skepticism has become a staple in everyday televised sports. The innovation of sports television by Sportvision won them an Emmy and has changed a fan’s viewing experience forever.

Although the NFL has refused to allow advertisements to this day one thing is for certain, the yellow line is here to stay.