‘Ref Cam’ Takes to The Pitch for MLS All-Star Game

Broadcast Sports Inc.’s (BSI) revolutionary wireless Ref Cam technology will be the production highlight during tonight’s Major League Soccer (MLS) All-Star Game at Sporting Park in Kansas City (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/UniMas/TSN/RDS).

VIDEO: Preview "Ref Cam" as MLSSoccer.com's Jason Saghini and Matt Doyle discuss the impact of the technology on the game.

VIDEO: Preview Ref Cam as MLSSoccer.com’s Jason Saghini and Matt Doyle discuss the impact of the technology on the game.

The wearable wireless camera system designed to capture the point of view of the referee during live broadcast productions will be used throughout the night by the ESPN2 production team.

Ref Cam has been seen on other televised sports events this year, including a WNBA regular-season game on June 8. According to BSI GM Peter Larsson, the system setup is similar to that in an indoor arena, and the larger, outdoor space offers few differences.

“With the actual technology of the microwave, if it gets into a much larger stadium, really the only thing you have to do is put an extra receive site out there,” he says, noting that two previous soccer tests of the system had gone successfully.

The wireless HD camera — which shoots in 1080i HD resolution and has full remote capabilitiy — is paired with an HD mini transmitter and positioned at eye level. The camera angle brings viewers onto the pitch with a first-person perspective that the game director can switch to in real time.

MLS VP, Broadcasting, Larry Tiscornia believes that it’s important to enhance the telecast with new technologies at signature events like the All-Star Game.

“We are always looking for ways to enhance our broadcasts, bringing the viewer closer to the game,” he says. “Ref Cam is that perfect tool that lets the audience see that interaction between the referee and the players on the field during a live game.”

Tiscornia adds that MLS was interested in the technology and had tested it on a couple of reserve-league games over the past month. The league views it as not only a fun production element for TV but also a valuable tool for the Professional Referees Organization (PRO). The camera allows the group to study the movement of the officials and also get to see what they see on the field of play during a game.

Ref Cam includes iris and paint functions, allowing the video operator to adjust color balance, saturation, black level, detail, and iris live during the game depending on the shot. The camera is small — 1.75 in. high by 1.125 in. wide by 3.5 in. long — and light, weighing only 3.77 oz.

The components are mounted on the referee using a customized vest and head strap. Many of the ref features can be customized. In June, WNBA referee Lamont Simpson chose to wear a set of glassless frames with the camera mounted to the side. In soccer, it’s more common to use a headband to keep the device in place.

“The guys who do a lot more running prefer that band because it allows their head to breathe properly as they run as opposed to having those goggles on,” says Larsson.

Transmitting the signal is done simply via radio-frequency (RF) technology built into a wireless transmitter worn on the referee’s body. The receive antennas are set at a high level in the stadium, facing down over the pitch to an RF-to-fiber box that delivers the signal to the production truck via TAC-4 fiber. There, the receiver converts the signal back to microwaves and spits out the HD-SDI and two audio signals.

Larsson says these profile events are critical in attracting the attention of viewers — especially when FIFA does not allow this type of technology to be used on any regular FIFA-sanctioned event. The “friendlies” are the only place BSI can make an impact, and company officials hope that, on nights like this, fans can get used to seeing these types of unique angles.

“It’s great to be able to get out there and try different technologies,” says Larsson, “and, hopefully, you will whet the viewing public’s appetite, and they will request these types of technologies be used during the regular season as well.”