Behind The ScenesESPN Technology

Virtual Yellow 1st and Ten line debuted on ESPN 15 years ago today

An article from The Kansas City Star in 1998.
An article from The Kansas City Star in 1998.

Fifteen years ago today was a landmark day in sports television. ESPN’s Sunday Night Football telecast of the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals introduced a production enhancement that would forever change the way fans watch football.

The Virtual Yellow 1st and Ten® line magically appeared on the screen, displaying down and distance without interfering with the game so fans could easily identify where the first down marker was located on every play.

Click to enlarge.
The Press-Enterprise article from 1998. (Click to enlarge.)

SportVision, a then-fledgling sports broadcasting technology company, created 1st and Ten and pitched the idea to various networks. While others passed, ESPN saw an opportunity. Together, the two companies developed the technology, and ESPN secured exclusive rights to 1st and Ten for the entire 1998 NFL season.

“One of the things we’ve always said about ESPN is that we do see technology as a way to absolutely enhance our presentation when it’s done right, and to heighten the experience for our viewers; it also helps distinguish us from our competitors,” said ESPN Executive Producer Jed Drake, then the company’s Vice President of Remote Production, who made the decision and even suggested the yellow hue for the line’s color.

ESPN press release announcing 1st and 10 advancements. Click to enlarge.
ESPN press release announcing 1st and 10 advancements. (Click to enlarge.)

Today, nearly every NFL and college football telecast uses a version of 1st and Ten. In fact many young sports fans are so accustomed to seeing the line on their screens that they wonder why it’s not there when they attend a game in person.

The original ESPN press release touting 1st and Ten and some of the early media coverage is included with this post.

In addition, Mashable posted an oral history of 1st and Ten this week, and former SportVision CEO Bill Squadron shared a detailed first-person account on in July for fans who are interested in reading more. Today’s Newsday also has a story on the invention.

As fans sit back and enjoy all the games this weekend – and probably take the line for granted – they should think back to that game-changing night of September 27, 1998. Watching football without that magical yellow line just wouldn’t be the same.

Laurel Daggett contributed to this post

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