NFL Considering Real-Life First Down Laser Marker

When an inexperienced football fan attends his first game, he might wonder aloud why there’s no yellow first down line on the field — while everyone laughs at him. An inventor has nailed down some technology that may eliminate such awkward circumstances.

CNBC reports the NFL is considering souped-up first down markers that emit a broadcast-like laser marker across the width of the field. The technology, which could come into play in a preseason game next season, could revolutionize the way the game is watched and played. The laser line could cut down on game-delaying measurements and allow the cash cow league to haul in even more money.

From the story:

“We estimate that the referees measure for a first down at least once per game, which is at the very least a minute and half,” said the inventor, who is awaiting FDA approval. “We looked at how much that was worth from preseason through the Super Bowl in advertising time and we came up with $325 million.”

Do you welcome or fear the prospect of a laser first down marker? What other technology should the NFL add to its repertoire?

Inventor Betting His First Down Laser Will Come To Stadiums [CNBC]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Phanatic says:

    I don’t follow the inventor’s objective. A minute and a half during the game is time that the network can broadcast advertising, just like they do during time-outs. If this laser system eliminates the time spent during a game measuring for first downs, then that’s *less* time during which advertisements can be sold. How is this going to make more money from advertising? Sounds like it would decrease it, instead.

    • MattO says:

      this is exactly how i read this….this would COST them money because that would be a minute and a half LESS of commercials…

      • milrtime83 says:

        @MattO It’s been stated, but they don’t show commercials during that minute and a half.

        They should use that time to shorten the game length and not use it as an excuse to cram in 3 more commercials somewhere.

        • smartmuffin says:

          No, it still doesn’t make sense. If you watch football regularly, you’d know that they don’t just “randomly cram in” commercials. Commercials happen only on specific events. Time-outs (injury or called), end of quarter, two-minute warning, following a score, or following a change of possesion. All of these stoppages are strictly timed, and other than end of a quarter or two-minute warning, entirely variable based upon random in-game outcomes.

          So how are they going to turn this “extra” 90 seconds into more commercials? Increase every current commercial break by five seconds? Invent a new occasion on which to insert a commercial? Good luck with that…

          • scokar says:

            During the regular TV timeouts they would add additional commercials. That way the games would still essentially go three hours.

            • smartmuffin says:

              I still don’t see it. Various in-game outcomes already dramatically alter the amount of time a broadcast takes to the extent that an additional plus or minus 90 seconds is statistically irrelevant.

              Ever watch the Red Zone channel? All the morning games kick off at the same time. Somehow, despite all games taking “about three hours” the first game usually finishes a good 15-30 minutes before the last game does. I don’t think finding a way to save 90 seconds of “measurement time” would result in the NFL completely revamping it’s television commercial procedures.

              Note: As a football fan, I’m still highly in favor of this. Anything that keeps the action going without additional stoppages improves the quality of the product, and ultimatley, providing a higher quality product that gives fans more enjoyment is of a net benefit to the NFL, even if you can’t measure it in “x amount of dollars from an additional 90 seconds of commercials”

          • GR00316 says:

            Yeah there is what they call TV Timeouts where they will cut to commercials even though there is no official timeout called, change of possesssion etc. Or something a change of possession “timeout” will be extended to fit in commercials. The number of commercials that will be shown in a game are basically predetermined to some extent and you can bet the NFL isn’t going to lose money if there aren’t a lot of change of possessions or timeouts and therefor they make their own.

    • Kitten Mittens says:

      They don’t go to commercials during a first down measurement. Viewers sort of have an interest in seeing that. Instead by saving an extra 90 seconds, they can cram in 3 extra commercials at other times.

    • Krusty783 says:

      I think they mean it would be an additional minute & a half of commercials. They always show when the refs measure for a 1st down. If they didn’t have to do/show that, they could show commercials instead and have roughly the same amount of play stoppage per game.

    • SpendorTheCheap says:

      Jeff said If you’ve never watched a football game in your life. . .sit this one out.

    • Cetan says:

      It’s obvious! At each first down of the game, the announcer cuts in

      Announcer: “Tonight’s first-down laser is brought to you in part by X-Company! Making fine quality Xs since 1908.”

      Then cycle to the next sponsor the next first down.

  2. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    F-ing lasers, how do they work?

    Miracles, I tell ya.

  3. lolBunny says:

    wouldn’t this distract the players? I hope it doesn’t shine in their eyes.

  4. iggy21 says:

    New technology means more commercials?

  5. WiglyWorm must cease and decist says:

    Call me a purist if you want, but that minute and a half where they drag out the chains and do the measurement… waiting for them to stretch the chain and set it down… I love that anticipation “Did my team make the stop?” “Did my team get the down?” I think the game would lose something.

    That, and Phanatic is right. They usually cut to commercial when there’s a measurement… that break in the action is what lets the league show a commercial or two.

    • obits3 says:

      Football lives and dies on controversy. I have wanted to put a radio sensor in the ball for years, but my Dad was like “But what will people talk about then?”

      • AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

        I’m with you. I’ve always found it odd that the ref says, “The ball was down somewhere around here,” then brings out the chains to measure if his estimated spot was exactly enough for a first down.

    • Kitten Mittens says:

      This makes no sense – you get all excited to watch the measurement, but you can’t because they’re trying to sell you a McRib at the time? No, they rarely cut to a commercial during the measurement.

    • magus_melchior says:

      How about this: Let the refs do their jobs, and if the coaches still don’t think they got it, use the spiffy high tech to shut them up.

  6. quijote says:

    I think it would be an interesting if the lasers were powerful enough to ‘down’ players.

  7. kingofmars says:

    They talked about doing this once before and the players union shot it down because they had a hard time believing there was a minimal risk. You know because players are never laying on the field face up, sometimes unable to move.

    • kingofmars says:

      I’m guilty of not reading the article. This is the same guy that tried it before, but instead of installing it on the stadium lighting, it would be on the first down markers. It’s and interesting idea, but it’s still dead for the same reasons as before. They are more likel to string a piece of tape across the field, than they are to put a laser on it.

  8. cryptique says:

    Considering that a typical outdoor football-only field is slightly crowned down the center to allow for drainage, how can lasers be used for such a purpose?

    • ResearchGuy says:

      I am guessing the “sticks” would have the units mounted on them a foot or so from the ground. But then how do you align the sticks with ball placement to start a possession series? There’s always room for human error.

      • I wumbo. You wumbo. He- she- me... wumbo. Wumbo; Wumboing; We'll have thee wumbo; Wumborama; Wumbology; the study of Wumbo. says:

        This room for error already exists. The margin or error, however, is small (inches, if that).

  9. milrtime83 says:

    And I took equally as long to determine it is worth $2.

    It does sound cool if it works, I just think their numbers are BS and inflated so they can use it to push the NFL to adopt the technology.

    • RandomHookup says:

      The number is guaranteed to be pulled from his ass. There is no economic value to eliminating measurements because they don’t run real commercials there (maybe a promo for “Sixty Minutes”, but that’s it). The only thing you get is a more accurate measurement (one assumes) and a slightly faster game, neither of which make anybody any profit.

  10. Snoofin says:

    It would probably bring them more money that that because you know they will sell sponsorship of the laser to make even more money. It will be the Doritos Laser Line or some such. Even at a Million dollars per game. There are on average 16 games a week, and 17 weeks of play would be 272 million just in sponsorship and Im sure it would cost more than 1 million per game

    • Cetan says:

      Will the lasers project little Dorito triangles across the length of the field?

      THAT would be interesting.

  11. failurate says:

    I don’t like this. I don’t want the refs to have an exact visual of where the first down mark is before or while they spot the ball.

  12. mirrorball says:

    If they use sharks with lasers, I’m sold.

    • clownsRcreepy says:

      Are the lasers “frickin”? I won’t settle for regular lasers, I want sharks with “frickin” laser beams on their heads…

  13. KillerBee says:

    Their advertising dollars argument doesn’t make any sense. Eliminating the delay of the game to take a measurement just shortens the game. If there’s no break in the action there’s no time to fill with advertising.

  14. Red Cat Linux says:

    The laser line could cut down on game-delaying measurements and allow the cash cow league to haul in even more money.

    Am I the only one who disagrees with this statement? Wouldn’t eliminating game delays make for a shorter game, and therefore less opportunity to sell advertising — milk for the cash cow?

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      You’re not the only one who doesn’t understand the logic here. Wouldn’t making the game last longer = 1) more ad revenue for the network showing it, and 2) more concession revenue for the home team? I’m sure any NFL owner with 1/2 an ounce of business sense would have negotiated the concession rights to the stadium when his team plays in it. Therefore, the longer the game lasts, the more opportunity to sell mega-overpriced beer to the poor saps who spent boatloads for the privilege to be there.

  15. rbb says:

    Make it a CO2 laser for more fun. If the ball is just barely past the line for a first down, the laser will ignite the ball and burst into flames. It would also keep the players from intentionally walking in front of the beam ;^)

  16. failurate says:

    The NFL really needs to take instant re-play out of the hands of the coaches. If the goal is to have an accurately officiated game, having a guy 50 yards away on the ground guessing, with a penalty for being wrong, as to what happened is just asinine. Move the reviews to a booth and have the game constantly under review.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      But those same coaches can see the replay on the HUGE jumbotron zoomed in, and also have the input of the players on the field to aid their decision.

      • failurate says:

        If you are the home team you get Jumbotron review assistance, if you are an away team you get a dancing hotdog and a beer commercial.

        As a Bears fan I get to watch Lovie Smith mismanage this system on a weekly basis. Since we appear to be stuck with Lovie for the next few years (and extension is eminent) , my only hope is that they change the system in a way that removes him from the process.

        • Gramin says:

          I’m LOLing at my desk. I live in Chicago but am not a Bears fan but completely agree with you. Lovie needs to go.

      • Platypi {Redacted} says:

        They also have coaches in the skyboxes letting them know when to make the challenges, who have access to replays as well. You can see it in college football when there is a little delay after a play while the coaches decide whether to challenge, and you know they are asking the guys up in the box whether they have a valid challenge or not.

        I agree though, they need more review (perhaps just behind the scenes).

        • RandomHookup says:

          College football no longer has a coach’s challenge. All challenges are decided by a replay official.

          • Platypi {Redacted} says:

            That would be news to me, are you saying they changed that? They get to bet a timeout if they want to request a challenge before the next play happens. It happened in several games I watched this season, and as far as I know, is still in effect. Wikipedia says it too, is this wrong?
            See NCAA.

            • RandomHookup says:

              You’re right. They have changed the way they administered it and every play is automatically reviewed anyway. Not sure what good a coach’s challenge really does…you take a timeout and hope the official rules in your favor. Almost all the games I watched ended up with the replay official stopping play to review any controversial play.

              • Platypi {Redacted} says:

                Well, if they don’t catch it before the next play, constant review is not much use. The timeout and hope allows you to stop the game and force them to look closely at it. There was a play in the Oregon-Oregon St game (first one that comes to mind) that the ball was stripped after the knee touched the ground, Ducks coach didn’t challenge, but replays would have clearly shown that he was down before the fumble. No auto-review caught that.
                I like how it is, the officials can stop the game to review controversial calls, but coaches can call their attention to something if they feel it was missed. I just wish they would really get replay working in baseball, there is a game begging for it.

  17. iggy21 says:

    Does that mean Tecmo Bowl will be out of date?

  18. slim150 says:

    Everyone pay attention. Its chain and not chains. There is only one chain on the field, made up of links.

  19. osiris73 says:

    For games played in domes, couldn’t they mount GPS like devices on the ceiling and one in the ball? At that range, the accuracy would be pretty darn good.

    Or, they install something something in the turf like my dog’s invisible fence. Plus it would be cool if you could shock the players if the go out of bounds. That may actually get me to watch professional sports.

  20. SonarTech52 says:

    Mini Me, stop humping the “laser”. Honest to God! Why don’t you and the giant “laser” get a fricken room for God’s sakes?

  21. cromartie says:

    This is actually probably more important for goal line measurements (put a chip in the ball and set off a light when it goes off, then first down measurements. But anything that removes an element of error from the game works for me.

  22. Larraque eats babies says:

    Can we get a glowing football as well? I have trouble following that too — That’s why I stopped watching hockey.

  23. bruce9432 says:

    The Wall Street Journal had an article where researchers found that there is less than 12 minutes of actual play during the game, They need to speed it up with anything that helps.

    • RandomHookup says:

      But measurements don’t really affect game clocks. They stop the clock to measure. The game would be shorter in total elapsed time, theoretically.

  24. Bhockzer says:

    I still think they should just install a grid of wires in the field and put an RFID chip inside the ball itself. That way you know exactly where the ball is at all times and the ref booth can just call down to the field refs and tell them whether it was a first down, a touch down, or out of bounds. Just imagine the ability for the NFL to quickly render a CG instant replay showing the path the ball took.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Does RFID relate position? I was under the impression it contains information, and when you are within close enough proximity for the transmitter to power the chip, it sends out it’s info.

    • rmorin says:

      While it could seemingly tell you where the ball is at a given time, refs often are attempting to decide if feet where in/knees where down/they had possession or not, which is all still going to be on human decision. So while saying “the ball is at blank yard line” can help for deciding if it is a first down once a spot is settled on, they would still have a human deciding where they are down/forward progress stopped/stepped out of bounds.

  25. Spook Man says:

    Don’t we have enough commercial breaks on tv games anyway? I’m sick of all the commercials.. Someone calls a 30 second time-out and three minutes later, the game is back on. Kick-off and then a return and then another set of commercials.. A game which should take TOPS 3 hours seems to go on for 4 hours because of the breaks..

    Thank go for Tivo.. I’ll let tivo get it’s 30 minute buffer going then start watching the game. 30-second skip and I can go play to play to play and skip all of the commercials..

  26. HeadlessCow says:

    Most of the fields have fake grass anyways, why don’t they just use a material that glows when illuminated from below?

    • SpendorTheCheap says:

      Yeah. They just use any old material for the fields, anyway. They should just use one that glows.

      I think they should use a material that turns into candy and rainbows when you get a first down.

      • HeadlessCow says:

        The field is green plastic and rubber pellets. Theses are not exactly super-specific materials that cannot be replaced with something similar.

  27. Farleyboy007 says:

    There should be a sensor on the ball to note when they cross the goal line or the first down marker. Or even the ball spot in general would be nice. the only issue i can see is in a scrum where the ball carrier is already down near the first down/goal line, and sneaks the ball over after the fact.

    • smartmuffin says:

      The issue is the question of the player being down or forward progress being stopped. It’s easy with current technology to find out where the ball is, the question is usually “at what point was the player down and where was the ball THEN?” I’m not sure all the GPS/RFID/whatever technology in the world can help with that.

  28. SpendorTheCheap says:

    You don’t need it on all the time. Jeff said you can just turn it on when you need a measurement.

  29. smartmuffin says:

    This would also affect strategy a little bit. Some of the more sly coaches have been known to demand a measurement on any remotely close spot, even if they know it won’t come out in their favor, simply to give them more time to call the next play and to give their players a little rest.

  30. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    I like the current system of using video replay on disputed plays…it adds to the enjoyment of watching the game. And watching the video replays as the refs are reviewing is fun in and of itself…”oooo he totally didn’t get his second foot down! You can see it right there!”

    Or you could, you know, put a transponder at each end and the middle of the football, and place transcievers on the first down markers and the pylons at the goal line, and not ever have any reviews at all. And that would suck.

  31. u1itn0w2day says:

    The only thing is the player and fan safety from the lasers. The only consumer issue here is that the gambler ie consumer of bets illegal/legal can’t blame their loss on lousy or corrupt officiating.

  32. Crass says:

    Why does this require FDA approval?

  33. Chip Skylark of Space says:

    I want MLB to use lasers to call balls and strikes. THAT would revolutionize the game.

  34. soj4life says:

    The point behind getting the crews out to measure is to get a free timeout, it is just part of the game.