Mar 23, 2017
By Mike Dyce, FanSided
Fans tuning into WSOF35 on NBCSN noticed a unique vantage point during the heavyweight title fight between Blagoy Ivanov and Shawn Jordan: the referee cam. The concept is as simple as the name suggests, a camera in a Google Glass-like device mounted to the head of the referee, who in this case was Dan Miragliotta.
While it allowed fans to get a close-up view of Ivanov putting the finishing touches on Jordan, and fans seemed to really enjoy and appreciate it, the applications could be tremendous. Controversial stoppage? Now you can see what the referee saw that motivated him to stop the fight.
“We can all go back to the yellow line, it was a big innovation for the NFL and really helped fans to understand how first-and-10 and second-and-10 worked,” World Series of Fighting President Carlos Silva told FanSided. “I think there is a whole bunch of things we can do at World Series of Fighting to continue to expand the fanbase.”
The idea for the referee camera was a collaboration between NBC Sports, the Oneida Indian Nation Athletic Commission and World Series of Fighting, before it was fine-tuned with the New York State Athletic Commission on site.
“We had talked about it with our colleagues at NBC because they had access to some technology and the [Madison Square Garden] was already a big show and there was a lot of stuff going on, so we reintroduced it and worked with the commission up at Turning Stone,” Silva said. “They liked it and did a little bit of testing in the couple of days leading up to it. Fixed a few things with the glasses so it would be secure with the referees.
“So we did what any promotion would do. We tried it out on the undercard to see how everyone felt with it and the referees were comfortable. We use it in almost every bout and decided to use it on the NBCSN broadcast, including the main event with Blagoy and Shawn and I thought it was great.”
— #WSOF36 (@MMAWorldSeries) March 20, 2017
Silva and the WSOF team isn’t under the impression the first run was perfect, though there were no noticeable issues to the viewer at home. The promotion is communicating with the referees who wore the device to get some feedback to relay to the vendor to make tweaks for future applications.
“I think the pilot was a success,” Silva said. “Like any production, we’ll look at the good and bad and how to use it and work with the director to get his feedback on what worked during the show along with our colleagues at NBC Sports.
“I loved it and we got a lot of great feedback from our fans. I think there are some different ways we’ll use it but it’s here to stay.”
The referee cam is just the first of the innovations WSOF has planned to alter combat sports broadcasts. Over the course of 2017 and into 2018, the promotion will continue to add new wrinkles in the broadcast to enhance the viewing experience.
“If you look at each fight we do this year, we’ll have two or three new ideas,” Silva said. “Some of the ideas that came from previous fights, we’ll continue to make them staples.”
Not all of the ideas will be as noticeable or impactful as the referee cam; some will be subtle modifications.
“We did something with a double inset camera, where we had just the sound coming from the corners during each of the rounds,” Silva said. “We did a little bit of new stuff with the walkout, the lighting and the way we announced it in the arena. We did a lot of things with social.”
WSOF wants to continue experimenting, and is willing to fail in an attempt to improve things long-term.
“We’re going to continue to do two or three of these, and like everything they won’t all work, and that’s okay,” Silva said. “Maybe some will be better than others, and we’ll start to gather the ones that really work for our partners, fans and the fighters, the whole experience.”
— Jazz Securo (@JazzSecuro) March 19, 2017
To weigh the impact or success of these innovations, WSOF is weighing feedback from a myriad of sources. The first is the fans on social media — Silva places big value on the viewer’s perspective. The next is broadcast and production teams.
Silva promises that one of these innovations could have a similar impact on MMA viewing to the one the yellow first-down line had on the NFL.
“Helping fans to really understand what is going on inside the decagon, what the fighters are going through, some of the rules and who is winning, creates excitement and helps casual fans understand the sport. That’s how you grow the sport,” Silva said. “We’re going to mix all these things together and we’ll definitely find that at World Series of Fighting.”
This includes incorporating some advanced analytics into coverage, following trends in most major sports these days. WSOF hopes these tweaks will craft a unique and superior product that attracts MMA fans of all levels.
“It’s all about creating a great product and expanding the fanbase beyond the core fans, as the sport becomes the fifth major,” Silva said. “How do you continue to expand the fan base for casual viewers too, so they can really understand what these fighters are doing, what it’s like to be inside the cage.
“All of those things, the different camera angles, certainly the ref cam and a whole bunch of other things we’re going to start rolling out throughout the year and into next year. Improve the fan experience and make it more exciting.”
FanSided is one of the fastest growing network of fandom-focused sports, entertainment and lifestyle sites on the Internet.