After Further Review

November 3, 2010 by Gary Heise

The Instant Replay booth at NFL games is a fascinating place.  I know first-hand because I’ve spent many Sunday afternoons over the past 20 years working on the NFL’s replay team on game days. 

What football fans don’t realize is how much preparation, detail and scrutiny go into the highly successful replay system developed by the world’s most powerful sports league.  Every single play is watched, logged and discussed in the booth.  Even if there’s no coach’s challenge, the replay officials are actively analyzing every second of every game.

The NFL was on the leading edge of instant replay, adopting a “test” system way back in 1986.  Many people didn’t like it.  Even some of the owners, coaches and teams weren’t in favor.  There was much debate.

Instant replay was a huge change.  And, many people don’t like change.

The early years of replay were decent, but certainly had some glaring issues. The NFL studied it constantly, learned and tweaked the system.  Add in new and improved technology as it became available, and today you have a rock-solid system that has improved the game.  It’s not perfect.  There will always be a human element.  But it’s very good.

Bottom line, love it or hate it, instant replay is here to stay.  It’s become a staple of the fan’s game experience, both in stadium and at home watching the telecast.

The NFL was the pioneer in instant replay.  Now, it’s beginning to crop up everywhere. It’s in college football (although that system, in my opinion, has a long way to go).  Other major league sports are beginning to experiment with it.  Fans are demanding it.

The phrase “after further review” has become one of the most anticipated announcements in all of sports.  It’s actually quite ironic.  Years later, after further review, instant replay is one of the most important changes of the last 20 years to pro football – and now other sports.

Change can be hard.  But usually, change is good.

Parlaying that to the business side of sports, the change forced on sports marketers the past two years due to the economic climate has been difficult.  Corporate struggles have been well documented.  The sports world has taken a hit.  This has been a real life challenge!  But, “after further review,” I think it’s actually been good. 

Corporate sponsors are changing the way they spend their dollars.  More companies and brands are seeing the need to take their sponsorship involvement way past just landing the “official” status.  Strategic and efficient activation is becoming a must.  It’s forcing all of us to be creative and client-focused.  It’s forcing rights holders to produce.  It’s forcing sponsors to negotiate better deals so budget dollars are available to create platforms to maximize their spend.

Change is the instigator of improvement.  Sometimes we only make changes when circumstances around us give us no other choice.

I think that 5, 10, 20 years down the road, we will all look back on America’s economic crises as a turning point for the sports business (and certainly for life in general – but that’s another whole story!). 

Everyone from pro sports franchises, universities, conferences, coaches and players associations, major events – the entire sports world – is making a correction.  And, I think we’re finding out that we are better.  We’re finding new methods of reaching target markets, such as the amazing tool that social media is becoming to gain touch-points.  We’re discovering that tighter budgets don’t necessarily equate to less effectiveness – maybe just less clutter.  We’re seeing properties and sponsors come together in true partnership, leveraging each other’s assets, like never before.

Yes, it truly has been a challenging economic time for the sports world. But just like a controversial play on the gridiron, once that red flag is on the ground indicating a challenge, people and technology come together to make it right. 

That’s exactly what’s happening on the business side of sports too.  After further review, I’m confident the sports marketplace has adjusted and is headed in the right direction.