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SailGP’s LiveLineFX charts a new course in on-screen graphics

SailGP’s Emmy Award-winning in-house broadcast graphics package helps explain the in-race complexities to a growing worldwide television audience

Since its launch in 2019, SailGP has fast become one of the most exciting series of events in the international sporting calendar. The competition pits ten national teams against one another, as they race aboard identical F50 foiling catamarans throughout an action-packed season of grands prix meetings in locations across the globe. Dramatic coverage of each race has undoubtedly been key to the competition’s success, with the broadcasting technology proving as essential as the craft and crews that sail them. 

Helping to capture the drama, and to explain the in-race complexities to a growing worldwide television audience, is SailGP’s Emmy Award-winning in-house broadcast graphics package, LiveLine FX. To find out more about the technology behind how the series engages with its viewers, TVBEurope spoke to SailGP’s Melissa Lawton, chief content officer and Tom Peel, head of graphics.

To begin, why are graphics so integral to telling the story of a sport?

“Graphics are the signposts for what is happening in our sport,” said Lawton. “For new viewers, we need to ensure they can immediately understand the basics of what is happening with the sporting moment, speed, boat direction, leaders, and time to catch up with leaders clearly and simply. The core fans receive a deeper understanding of what each team needs to achieve to finish as fast as possible, with additional information about foiling height and velocity. Between the basic and the complex, the graphics drive the storytelling to ensure that there are no barriers to entry for any viewer.”

Delivering a viewing experience that viewers can easily understand can present challenges in a fast-moving environment. How has the development of AR and VR helped broadcasters tell their story?

“We use Augmented Reality wind direction indicators, the best point to hit the start line, speed of boat indicators, and distance between boats, in particular, to help give meaning to the knowledgeable fan,” said Lawton. “But for the newest viewer, the casual viewer, the AR ladder lines are the most precise indications in the sport of who is winning, who is challenging and where the drama and battles are unfolding. It gives immediate clarity to a complex sport that is competed on water.

“The Ladder lines are our storytelling graphics. Ten boats start, and those AR lines tell you everything else you need to know about who is leading, with the live speed indicators as the cherry on top, adding to the drama and educating the viewer about the importance of catching the wind.”

Delving deeper into the technology behind LiveLineFX, Peel explains how it works: “LiveLine leverages a number of different technologies. Inertial RTK GPS is the key enabler for our system, allowing for the 2cm accuracy, which allows us to draw the AR graphics, enabling the digital umpiring and high-quality data analysis. We use giro-stabilised cameras both on the water and in the air; there have been significant improvements in the data we can get in the last five years, so using this to enable more features like the 3D LiveLine boundary has helped us realise more commercial real estate on the screen.

“We have been working with a partner, RT Software, on using AI to track the athletes on the boats; this is a new feature which should make it to air in the very near future, but it’s great to be able to use this technology to solve a complex problem to solve with hardware and not just be riding the AI bandwagon. As you can imagine, a lot goes into the system. Some of it is a little nuanced, and some of it we don’t want to do too much  about, but we have a team of both software developers and graphics developers, and so we are able to realise a lot of projects quickly with the teams working so closely day to day.”

SailGP recently announced its graphics overlay will be made available to other sports.Lawton explains how the company envisages LiveLineFX being used by other rights owners: “Sports outside structured venues always have difficulty with storytelling, identifying the athletes in mass participation sports, speed for multiple athletes at once, and identifying factors (unseen to the eye) that will impact the outcome (wind direction is a perfect example).”

Given that sports fans everywhere have a seemingly insatiable appetite for on-screen statistics, there are already several graphics packages on the market. Outlining the benefits of LiveLineFX, Peel says, “The LiveLine FX system is much more than just a graphics system, and with the rich data available from the SailGP racing, we have been able to build a homogenous data, analysis and graphical display system all under one hood, all running in real-time.

“Most other solutions are much more product-based, so there is a lot of work to do to bring the whole system together. This time-saving allows us to focus on getting the information on screen rather than plumbing in the background, and that leads to better storytelling and richer stories.”

Considering what the biggest challenges have been in developing the system, Peel continues:“It’s been a lifetime in the development of the LiveLine project since SailGP had to turn from project to product with the increased demands on the system and the added need for efficiency and effectiveness for events.

“We have and still are putting a lot of work into making it more topic-agnostic and able to use a broader range of cameras and equipment, so the main challenge is time, getting all this done while meeting the needs of SailGP and our other partners and building the product of the future.”

Finally, how does SailGP see the solution developing further?

“We are working on expanding our range of equipment to make it easier, cheaper, and more flexible to integrate us into other broadcasts,” saiys Peel. There are some ideas up our sleeve for SailGP, but the exciting developments will be realised in helping new partners unlock data and stories that they have yet to hear. We have also been moving into the mobile space, using the rich data we have to provide a unique new second-screen experience in real time to fans in the venue and at home; watch this space.”

Capturing the drama of high-speed, wind-powered watersports and delivering it to fans around the world is certainly one way of helping SailGP achieve its stated ambition: to be the world’s most sustainable and purpose-driven global sports and entertainment platform.