"Ref cam" gives soccer fans new perspective

On July 31, Major League Soccer (MLS) and ESPN2 gave TV viewers a unique first-person perspective from the referee on the field with the help of a new ref cam system supplied by Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI), a Hanover, MD-based provider of wireless technology and communications systems. As part of a previously announced agreement, BSI and MLS worked together to develop and deploy the ref cam system during the 2013 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Sporting Park in Kansas City, KS. ESPN2’s broadcast of the matchup included exclusive footage from the ref cam system.

Peter Larsson, General Manager at BSI, said the concept behind the ref cam is to get the viewer as close as possible to the action on the playing surface and “provide distinctive angles and a different feel for the game.”

The compact video camera and wireless transmitter are worn by the referee and capture live 1080i HD video. The components are mounted on the referee using a customized vest and head strap that takes less than 2 minutes to set up. The system sends and receives its signal via radio frequency (RF) technology that is built into a wireless transmitter, which is also worn on the body. The small camera (1.75in high by 1.125in wide by 3.5in long, and weighing 3.77oz) is positioned at the eye level of a referee, giving viewers his first-person perspective of the field.

The ref cam features full HD image capture and virtually unlimited remote control capability — including 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. Images from the camera are incorporated in real time into a live broadcast production, giving viewers a first-person view of what the referee sees during the game.

Initially, MLS looked to BSI to support officials in their decision-making ease and accuracy, training and development. Peter Walton, General Manager of the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), called RefCam “a great tool for referee education in terms of referee positioning, acceleration, and play development.”

The system has been used during European rugby matches since April and first debuted with MLS at a reserve league match in May. The view from the ref cam was seen nationally in the U.S. through ESPN’s broadcast of the WNBA game between the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever on June 8.