Durham company behind 'yellow line' technology preps for Super Bowl 50

For Durham sports technology company SMT, the 50th Super Bowl is “a big darn deal.”

That’s according to SMT founder Gerard Hall, whose company is responsible for that yellow line you see on your television screens when watching football broadcasts.


The pressure to deliver is intense, especially with the possibility of North Carolina’s own Panthers being a Super Bowl contender. After Sunday's win against Seattle, the Panthers could be one game away from the "big game."


SMT, which has been partnering with CBS, providing graphics for Thursday night football games, is ready for the challenge, he says.


“The standard stuff we do for CBS will certainly be in play,” he says. “Just a lot more of it.”


Typically, that yellow line (along with other on-field graphics) works on four to five cameras. But, come Super Bowl Sunday, it will be on nine cameras. And that includes what insiders call “the wildcat camera,” the aerial unit that’s attached to a cable over the field, providing its own implementation challenges.


“That’s a difficult camera to put the yellow line on because it moves,” he explains.

It’s more intense than just overlaying an image with a line. Sophisticated algorithms and image processing comes into play, and this year, that’s only part of the Triangle technology being spotlighted.


The NFL has invested in putting chips on each player, so that they can be tracked in real time. And SMT is at the “epicenter” of that investment, he says.


“We’ve designed a product that takes that tracking information and adds a layer of what we call the ‘football intelligence system’ on top of that,” he explains. Sensors placed around the stadium act like ground-based GPS systems, tracking where a player is, but it’s SMT’s technology, applying real-time data to that information, that gives it a narrative. “We can say player 22, for example, was involved in 15 plays.”


While the technology has been present in other NFL games, “for the Super Bowl it’s going to go on steroids,” he says.


This year, the game is hosted in San Francisco on Feb. 7. CBS trucks will arrive in about two weeks, followed by SMT’s crew, which will be doing preliminary set up and trials of the technology throughout Super Bowl weekend. Seven of its operators will be on site. Training cameras alone takes 1.5 days for a typical game.


Double the cameras mean double the time required to set up. And there’s absolutely no room for error. That's why SMT is already working on simulations offsite.


But if errors do pop up, expect SMT to know what to do. After all, team members scurried to action a few years ago when the Super Bowl went dark.

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