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This Superbowl is Brought to you by Mike Steavpack

I have never been a football fan, really. When I was young, my older brother would watch it every Sunday — the Bears, his favorite — leaving me to pout in the couch as he mastered the remote and my weekend TV. Yes, I could have gone read or play outside but it was more fun to annoy him by throwing small tantrums while I focused on the game simply being over. In those days you had to wait, what felt like ages, for the scoreboard and time-remaining graphics, which at this point in history took almost 85% of the TV’s real estate when they finally came up. The settings were probably — and I’m making this up for the sake of prose — 128 pt. Univers Condensed, -200 tracking, 100% Yellow, just tune in to ESPN Classic any day and you’ll see. How times have changed…

Without getting into too many details, the changes of on-screen graphics are obvious: small type purporting every single possible combination of statistical information, real-time clocks counting down every second, flying beveled metallic things that morph and make sounds, runners at the bottom of the screen that display scores and news from other games… oh, and the score and time always on. Thank you.

As a kid who grew up with Atari, then Nintendo and ultimately Playstation I can understand how this shift has occurred. The current crop of young(er) NFL — and sports in general — viewers can handle the onslaught of on-screen graphics, in fact, I would think that they require it in order to stay interested in the game — otherwise it just seems, well, flat. Electronic Arts’ addictive John Madden series alone has shaped a whole generation of gamers (aka People) and has defined the new face of TV sports.

In 1998 a revolutionary addition was made to TV’s Football-watching experience: Sportvision’s 1st & Ten� yellow line. Quite simply, through rather complicated tech whiz-bang, a yellow line is always there for avid fans to know how far their team has to go to achieve the coveted first-and-ten. Simple, yet award-winning… Emmy no less. Even my brother noticed the addition, adding in good Spanish slang, ’Ta cabr�n which loosely translates to Fuckin’ cool.

Since then, networks have kept adding visual features to enhance the game — to the point of redundancy at times. Even riding the yellow line’s success by instituting a blue line that denotes the line of scrimmage. “Can we all agree that we know where the line of scrimmage is?” asks Richard Sandomir, in an article for The New York Times. And, lastly, there is the red line, marking the spot from where the kicker could make a safe kick goal. “Surely,” Sandomir jokes, “our TV sets will implode one day when all three lines merge.”

While fans enjoy the game, beer, chips and cheap dips, there are hordes of people hard at work behind the scenes — and in tricked-up, hi-tech trucks — to make the on-screen graphics come alive. The “Fox Box” — the box score in unexciting terms — seems to need to be operated by guys like Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack in Pushing Tin, brave, fearless and a little cuckoo.

Reality, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth. In every issue, Fortune magazine highlights a somewhat obscure profession in their aptly named “You do What?” column. In the past, low-profile careers like Confetti Maker, Golf Ball Diver and Professional Tailgater have had the fortune of being brought to the limelight. In the most recent issue, a nod comes our way when, Mike Steavpack, a Fox Box Operator for this year’s Superbowl is featured. Good Mike, one assumes, responds to the “You do What?” question with “I’m a Super Bowl Graphic Designer”. What Mike does, he says, is “I’m responsible for all the information that appears in the Fox Box at the top of the screen during the Super Bowl.” So, technically, I would presume, somebody else did the actual design and Mike — who may or may not have a degree in graphic design or visual communications — simply punches in the numbers into a predetermined template, which, where I come from, we call The Production Guy.

I still don’t like football, I don’t gamble and the ads keep getting worse every year, so reasons to watch the Superbowl this Sunday are hard to come by. But this year, I have someone to root for, someone I can identify with, Production Guy or (the more correct) Broadcast Designer titles aside. This year, I’m rooting for Mike Steavpack.

Thanks to Nicole for bringing up the Fortune article during the morning meeting.

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ARCHIVE ID 2208 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Feb.03.2005 BY Armin
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Hmmm... should this discussion come back around to the definition of "graphic design"? I just don't think what he does should be considered "design" work. This just further proliferates the confusion with the general public of what we do.

It is interesting that you posted this. Just this morning I was chatting with a fellow designer about how I remembered almost 10 years ago when CNN first began to have mutliple windows in a grid fashion on the screen displaying different kinds of data. It was information overload! At the time I wasn't even getting online (where the influence surely came from) so that kind of interface was completely new to me.

Of course now there are almost no stations that don't incorporate that kind of interface. When flipping through channels and I come accross one that doesn't... I think it just hasn't caught up with the times yet. (And then of course I admire whoever's decision it is for not following the pack.)

On Feb.04.2005 at 12:05 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Hmmm... should this discussion come back around to the definition of "graphic design"?

No, not necessarily. The more interesting part is probably the on-screen graphics aspect of the post. I just had to work in that Fortune article somewhere!

On Feb.04.2005 at 12:11 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

It's quite frightening how accustomed we are to having all this information thrown at us constantly. As you mentioned in the article, Armin, when the info is not on the screen, something seems amiss. I recall watching baseball and always looking to the top left for the score and runners on base. The station - YES Network —�got into the habit of keeping the info off-screen for the first 30-seconds or so when they would return from commercial. Excruciating sometimes!

I think Bloomberg Television was one of the originators of the massive information overload broadcasts. I recall years ago their station showing all sorts of financial quotes and rates, along with a talking head in the top corner of the screen. It was all too much for me.

I have to say I really can't stand the news crawls that run under CNN, FOX, et.al. It's the motion that distracts when I'd rather be watching the main story. I find the ESPN method - changing the info at the bottom via fadeouts instead of scrolling — to be easier on the eyes.

On Feb.04.2005 at 12:35 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

should this discussion come back around to the definition of "graphic design"?

Oh, please, no! Worst. Idea. Ever.

Maybe Armin could dig up a few definitions from the last time that discussion came up and run them in a crawl at the bottom of the browser window.

On Feb.04.2005 at 12:36 PM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

> No, not necessarily.

Ha! I thought as much. I figured you didn't want to open up that can of worms.

> Maybe Armin could dig up a few definitions from the last time that discussion came up and run them in a crawl at the bottom of the browser window.

Oh please no.

On Feb.04.2005 at 12:40 PM
ben’s comment is:

i'm more interested in knowing if your brother is still a Bears fan. they suck right now.

On Feb.04.2005 at 01:16 PM
szkat’s comment is:

right now? try more or less (more) since 1986.

On Feb.04.2005 at 01:21 PM
szkat’s comment is:

sorry - a chicago heart can only take so much before the cynicism sets in :)

On Feb.04.2005 at 01:22 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> i'm more interested in knowing if your brother is still a Bears fan

Nope. Not really.

On Feb.04.2005 at 01:48 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

Maybe this discussion should come around to good Spanish slang.

On Feb.04.2005 at 06:24 PM
mogo’s comment is:

The dumbest sportscast graphic enhancement of all time: FOX's Glowing Puck. Red laser-beam slapshots! (oh the indignity!) I was soo glad when that tanked.

On Feb.04.2005 at 07:04 PM
Rob’s comment is:

I always felt overwhelmed when viewing a Bloomberg broadcast. I never understood how anyone could really pay attention to the talking head with all the other data on the screen in motion.

I even find the scrolling news reel on the bottom of my late night news (Fox) broadcasts distracting from the main stories, particularly when I catch a typo (at least a few times a week). But I'll admit my obsession with finding the scores I need on ESPN's 'Bottom Line' and who will ever forget the first time they were forced to view Catcher Cam? And now, get ready, SuperBowl fans for Fox Turf Cam.

I would suggest that most sports broadcasts are guilty of being overdesigned in an attempt to be more 'entertaining.' And gee, I remember when it was just a game. (Go Patriots!)

On Feb.06.2005 at 09:49 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

I'm nearly convinced that TV's cyclopsian eyeball morphing into a massive visual informational overload is designed to cause schizophrenia in humans by the evil space aliens..... just a theory.

On Feb.06.2005 at 11:52 AM
Jason T.’s comment is:

Pesky, I don't know about that, but I look forward to the SuperBowl as the one time of the year when the commercials outperform the station's programming. I worked all night listening to the game from my office, then when the commercials came on, I ran into see the ads. I was free of MSNBC-style graphics, exuberant 1st down arrows, and swooshy statistics visualized for the color commentary. Ah...commercials, what a relief. Entertainment. Who says I have to buy what they sell?

On Feb.07.2005 at 03:40 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

The dumbest sportscast graphic enhancement of all time: FOX's Glowing Puck.

They may have some competition... What IS the deal with the “This Way Dummy” outlined gradient arrow? Is that in case you confuse the new blue scrimmage line with the yellow one? Now you could watch the game while doing an inverted keg stand, and not miss a beat. It’s like adding a New and Improved bug to the football field. Just because they can, never meant that they should.

On Feb.07.2005 at 04:57 PM
Sao_Bento’s comment is:

>> I was soo glad when that tanked.

On Feb.08.2005 at 10:57 AM
Bill Kerr’s comment is:

Honestly... I think that FOX has the most annoying graphics and sound effects in the world.... am I watching football or Transformers?

On Feb.08.2005 at 01:15 PM
Albert B Jr’s comment is:

you have to admit that FOX's football graphics is 10x better than that of CBS. notice the overly dominant use of Myriad Bold on scores, stats, etc. on CBS football. when you see them, its like they're just there. all the time Myriad Bold, no variations. spice it up a bit, CBS.

staying onto football, one of the best graphics/sound effect combo i've seen is on ESPN's Sunday Night Football. when the game prepares for commercial break, you hear what sounds like someone teleporting on Star Trek, and you see the scores and competing teams appear in transparent bands from left to right (or vice versa). hard to explain, but its awesome to see it.

On Feb.08.2005 at 03:50 PM
heather’s comment is:

"i'm more interested in knowing if your brother is still a Bears fan. they suck right now.

right now? try more or less (more) since 1986.

sorry - a chicago heart can only take so much before the cynicism sets in :)"

growing up in chicago, i'm programmed to love the bears, even through the bad seasons (or decades). glad to hear someone else loves them too :)

I happen to LOVE football and the graphics just go with it. I kind of like the lines and arrows and all the junk... They never really bothered me.

Albert B Jr: I know what you mean about ESPN the sunday night football graphics! very cool...

On Feb.10.2005 at 03:09 PM
mike steavpack’s comment is:

Just for the record, it was the magazines copywriters that titled the aforementioned article, as i am certainly NO designer...it was just nice to get a little recognition, from Fortune, and your group as well.

Mike Steavpack

On Mar.01.2005 at 03:30 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Hey Mike, thanks for writing. Google is what brings everything full cirlce now, I guess.

I find it really interesting — or is it frightening? — that the editors would purposely choose graphic designer as a bewildering profession… in 2005. Oh well…

So, where do you go when you want to go number one (or two)? is there room for a john in the Fox Truck or do you have to run out and into those portables? (Sorry, just curious).

On Mar.01.2005 at 04:02 PM
Mike Steavpack’s comment is:

Hello Armin,

From what I was told Fortune was looking for a Super Bowl broadcast tie-in for this series. Fox PR gave them a list of options and "FoxBox Producer" (my actual title) is the position they went for...never mind that the photo they chose (from literally nine rolls shot, not too good for the ego) was taken in front of editing equipment I also know zero about.

Anyway, it was very funny to see the article you wrote (especially the title) and feel free to have any others from your group e-mail me as well.

Now that the NFL is over, I have moved onto NASCAR with trips to Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Darlington, SC on the horizon...trust me, you can't beat the glamour.

And to answer your question, you either hold it or use a port-a-john...even MORE glamour.


On Mar.02.2005 at 12:45 PM