The WNBA debuted a new camera Saturday worn by official Lamont Simpson during the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever game that was nationally televised. The camera was mounted above the ear on the right side of a device that looked like a pair of glasses. Simpson said it took a little while to get used to it.
“The first half, it took some adjusting to, especially when you started running and actually broke a sweat,” the veteran official said. “The goggles started to loosen up and the sweat around the band started to loosen up. The first half was pretty much just adjusting the headset.”
By the second half, Simpson said he barely noticed he was wearing it.
“It was fun. We made some adjustments at halftime and the second half it was almost like it wasn’t there,” he said.
It drew rave reviews from WNBA players.
“I think it’s hilarious when I’m not on it,” Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker said before her game Saturday night. “I think that’s a very interesting addition to the cameras.”
Parker, who quickly tweeted about the new innovation while she was watching the Mercury’s 82-67 victory, was surprised by the view when the cam was first used.
“I thought they were really close to the camera when I first saw it on television. I was like, `Why are they that close to the camera? Why are they yelling at the camera?'” she said.
The cam definitely got the fans a different view. While some of the images with Simpson running were a little shaky at first. It was much more solid when he wasn’t moving. ABC showed the angle during free throws and the cam even happened to catch Simpson giving the Mercury’s Candice Dupree a technical foul in the second quarter of Phoenix’s 82-67 win.
“Today’s broadcast was a great opportunity to be at the forefront in terms of providing viewers with unique perspectives on our game,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said. “The use of Ref Cam certainly offered a previously unseen point of view that really brought viewers into the action, adding a whole new visual and audio component to the experience.”
Broadcast Sports Inc. developed the camera and general manager Peter Larsson said that the idea came from two other projects.
“We were working on onboard cameras for NASCAR and also with the X Games and married the two of them together to come up with the perfect size for referees.”
Larsson said they had a number of different options for officials ranging from a hat to a strap that fits around the head like a headband. They finally settled on the glasses which didn’t have lenses, but seemed like the best option for a basketball official.
“It was good,” he said of the debut. “The whole concept is to get the viewer down on the court, get them as close as you can. Technology isn’t there to get the size down to put it on the player. So this was the next best bet.”
Larsson said that the camera has also been used in a European rugby game as well as an MLS reserve league contest. It might be a while before they can have it ready for a sport like baseball or football.
“We’re another generation or two away,” he said. “That’s on our developmental road map.”
For now it will just stay in the WNBA and Simpson said he’d be up for wearing it again.
“I’d like to see it done again,” he said. “I would gladly do it again. Seriously, I think it’s something they should really consider.”
ESPN, which broadcasts the league, and the WNBA will jointly decide when the cam will be used moving forward.
“The Ref Cam is the latest effort in keeping with our tradition of innovation,” said ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Mark Gross. “We are always looking for new ways to provide fans different angles and a feel for the game they may not have gotten in the past.”