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Super-Smart Super Bowl Replay Technology

What happens on controversial plays when referees “send the call to New York”?

Dan Carney

February 7, 2024

4 Min Read
The Las Vegas Sphere welcomes Super Bowl 58 to Sin City.
The Las Vegas Sphere welcomes Super Bowl 58 to Sin City.Sphere Entertainment

At a Glance

  • Controversial plays go to the NFL's Art McNally GameDay Central review center in New York
  • Video is managed by Hawk-Eye Innovations’ Synchronized Multi-Angle Replay Technology (SMART) system
  • SMART is used by 23 of the top 25 sports leagues in the world

If the game is on the line in a very close play, the National Football League can analyze what actually happened in amazing detail thanks to impressive technology provided since 2021 by Hawk-Eye Innovations, a Sony subsidiary.

Did the ball break the plane of the goal line on that possible touchdown? Was the runner down by contact before apparently fumbling the ball? Is a tackler subject to ejection for using the crown of his helmet to strike the ball carrier?

 referee Jerome Boger #23 reviews instant replay on a Microsoft Surface tablet during an NFL football game

To address these questions consistently, in 2014 the NFL opened the Art McNally GameDay Central review center. When officials “send a play to New York,” it goes to the AMGC for review by the league’s top officials using the most sophisticated technology available.

Since 2021, that has been Hawk-Eye Innovations’ Synchronized Multi-Angle Replay Technology (SMART) system, which combines all available live video feeds from the league’s broadcast partners in one place to give NFL replay officials quick access to multiple angles of a play for faster, more accurate replay review decisions.

The NFL coordinates with the TV networks to “pre-set” certain camera angles so that AMGC officials have quick access to the four best camera angles that are frequently used for rulings. Those are the streams sent to the Microsoft Surface tablet computers used by the referees on the field.

Related:Why Patrick Mahomes’s Helmet Shattered on National TV

Of course, there are more than four cameras covering NFL games. For the Super Bowl, there will be 59 cameras watching the action! Hawk-Eye’s SMART system collects and synchronizes every camera angle of every play in a game on a Cisco network and sends that video to both the replay review booth in the stadium as well as to the AMGC in New York.

Before the SMART system, intervention by replay officials and designated members of the officiating department to assist on-field officials was limited to specific, limited game situations. With the incredible volume of data and imagery flowing into the AMGC, now the NFL’s officiating department can advise on-field crews based on clear video evidence that SMART has gathered.

“Hawk-Eye is a video system that captures all the network camera angles,” explained Perry Fewell, senior vice president of NFL Officiating in a video posted on NFL.com. “This allows our replay staff in AMGC to access these views in real time. This is different than the old process of waiting on whatever camera views that our TV networks would show us.”

Hawk-Eye started in cricket, but became popular by automating line judge calls for tennis, in a bid to quell John McEnroe’s iconic “You cannot be serious!” complaint on calls of whether balls were in or out. They’ve since expanded to include supervision of 23 of the top 25 sports leagues in the world, covering track and field, badminton, basketball, motorsports, golf, horse racing, hockey, soccer, rugby, baseball, and volleyball.

Related:He’s One of Us: NFL Quarterback is a Math Major at ODU

While the technology had obvious potential for NFL football, Hawk-Eye had work to do to create SMART. “Hawk-Eye really did a nice job of customizing its technology,” Fewell noted. “This customized technology gives us the camera angles to assist Replay in the confirmation or change of an unfair ruling.”

The main complaint from fans in the age of replay has been the time required for officials to issue a verdict, but the SMART system has reduced that delay, according to Fewell. “The primary benefit of Hawk-Eye has been really to reduce the required amount of time to confirm or change a decision,” he said.

League officials in the AMGC get involved and potentially pause the game when there is clear and obvious video evidence to proactively address specific objective rulings, such as:

  • Penalty enforcement

  • Confirmation of the proper down

  • Spot of a foul

  • Game clock administration

  • Possession of a loose ball

  • Complete or incomplete pass

  • A loose ball touching a boundary line, goal line, or end line

  • Location of the football or a player in relation to a boundary line, line of scrimmage, line to gain, or goal line

  • Player down by contact (when not ruled down on the field)

Related:Amazon Web Services Quarterback Passing Score

So, theoretically, the 65,000 people who’ve paid an average of $11,000 for a ticket to a seat in Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to see Super Bowl 58 in person will not have to wait too long for play to resume following a close call.

But hopefully not so quickly that the 115 million or so viewers at home don’t have time to make a quick visit to the bathroom and return before the next snap of the ball.

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