The America’s Cup is the world’s oldest championship and, historically speaking, arguably its most inaccessible. Long viewed only from land with binoculars and on rare television broadcast screened only in closed circles and yacht clubs, the race took place in open water far from fans and spectators. The result? One of the most devout, dedicated fan bases in sports. And hardly a single casual observer.
Enter Stan Honey and AC Liveline. Honey is the guy who developed the 1st and Ten computer system, or football’s yellow line. Now he’s changed the way we watch sports once again. For this year’s AC, television (and YouTube!) viewers are treated to onboard audio/video feeds featuring surround sound, angles from multiple third-party vessels, a bird’s-eye view of the race supplied by helicopter–plus (for the first time in the race’s history–a graphic overlay outlining everything from vectors of the craft themselves to the boundaries of the racecourse.
So how does it work? Given that the 2013 America’s Cup employs the world’s fastest boats, it’s no easy task. Applying the most advanced GPS system ever in sports (for which they’ve already won an Emmy) the Liveline system uses signals from every boat in the water, including umpiring vessels, as well as helicopters to track the racing yachts down to as little as 2cm in real time. To achieve this feat, a sector antenna mounted on the boat sends data to and from the land-based broadcast booth. Another land-based antenna maintains communications with the helicopter tracking the race from the air. The result is something almost as spectacular as Team Oracle’s improbable comeback itself.
Weather permitting, the world’s oldest championship will end today in a do or die 19th race important enough for Forbes’s third-wealthiest American to blow off his Fortune 500 company’s annual conference to watch (in his defense, he’s defending his title and financed the boat). At 4:00 p.m. ET, the race will simulcast on NBCSports and YouTube in what may well be the most technologically sophisticated broadcast in sports. It’s only a matter of time before the world catches wind of it.
UPDATE: In one of sports’ most improbable comebacks, Team Oracle overcame an 8-1 race deficit in the 2013 America’s Cup, including an expulsion and a two-race penalty applied before competition began, and won the 2013 America’s Cup. Even the harshest sanction in the race’s history couldn’t stop the American team from defending its 2010 title successfully.