10 sports technologies to love and 5 to hate

Technology is changing the way fans watch and interact with sporting events. In some cases it?s changing the sports themselves

The best and worst sports-related technologies

Many technologies can enhance a fan's enjoyment of sports. Some others are just plain annoying. Before we get to the bad, here are 10 sports technologies we love.

Also see:

Computer modeling helps build solar-powered stadium
Dallas Cowboys deck out new stadium with Cisco video technology
Sport's networkiest moments

High-tech stadiums

High-tech stadiums

Sure, old-time ballparks like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have their charm, but fans are being treated to some really cool, interactive technology at state-of-the-art arenas such as the new Yankee Stadium and Cowboys Stadium. Both facilities make use of Cisco's StadiumVision, which "allows fans to interact with the event experience by taping and accessing instant replays on a handheld device and sharing it with other participants, or with anyone on the Internet," as Network World reports . The Cowboys stadium also features the world's largest HDTV and 3,000 HD displays featuring customized game footage and real-time information.

Streaming Internet video

Streaming Internet video

Let's say you're a Boston Celtics fan who lives in Scotland. Or a Celtic Football Club fan who lives in Boston. (It's a Scottish soccer team, trust me.) Twenty years ago, watching all the games would have been a near-impossibility. But now, with league- and team-sponsored video services, fans can catch live, high-quality game feeds no matter where they live, with an Internet connection and a fast enough computer.

Games on demand

Games on demand

The luxury of watching any game you want isn't restricted to your laptop. All the major U.S. sporting leagues now offer cable packages that let you watch every single game, all season long. MLB Extra Innings, NHL Center Ice, NFL Sunday Ticket, and NBA League Pass offer the most diehard fans a way to see their favorite teams and scout out the competition. You can even watch live action from a half-dozen games at once with a split-screen format. One quibble (at least with the NBA service, which I purchased last season): not enough games in HD.

Electronic pin locators

Electronic pin locators

You won't see Tiger Woods using one, but amateur golfers could shave a few strokes off their scores with new devices that calculate one's distance from the pin. One such device called the Leica Pinmaster shoots a laser at the pin to measure distance, helping you decide whether to use the six-iron or the seven. With any luck, lost golf balls will someday be a thing of the past as well, with new gizmos that help duffers find balls hit into the rough or woods.

Fantasy sports Web sites

Fantasy sports Web sites

These days, it seems like every football fan cares about two teams: the hometown boys and his (or her) fantasy squad. When rotisserie leagues were organized with pen and paper they were, frankly, more busy work than fun. But fantasy sports have ballooned in popularity thanks in part to Web sites like CBSSports.com and Yahoo, which offer live scoring, an easy-to-use draft application, injury reports, and detailed statistical analysis and player comparisons. Most importantly, the sites' chat forums offer a convenient place to hone your trash-talking skills.

Instant replay

Instant replay

Major League Baseball took its first, hesitant step into the 21st century last season by implementing instant replay on home run calls. Unbelievably, a sport that features advanced cyborg technology such as Barry Bonds had previously refused to implement a simple video replay system to determine whether home runs were called correctly. Safe and out calls on the base paths are still subject to flawed human umpires.

Luckily, the NFL implemented replay years ago, preventing many (though not all) football games from being marred by referee error. Perhaps the best replay system belongs to professional tennis, where player challenges can be resolved accurately and within seconds. If tennis replay existed in the 1980s, even a malcontent like John McEnroe would have been a perfect gentleman and never complained during matches. (OK, that last part is just wishful thinking.)

HDTV

HDTV

If sports isn't the reason high-definition television exists in the first place, it should be. Once you've gone to HD, standard definition seems like a Stone Age technology, particularly for sports such as ice hockey and football, in which a clear, life-like picture enhances our admiration of individual feats of brilliance and the intricacies of team strategy and positioning.

The yellow first down line

The yellow first down line

Watching a pro football game today would be inconceivable without the yellow first down line – a computer-generated stripe projected onto the field for the TV viewing audience. There's just something satisfying about seeing a runner blast his way past that line – and something frustrating when a receiver catches a pass and then steps out of bounds a half-step before crossing it. Although seemingly simple, creating the line is a relatively complicated technological feat , requiring the work of multiple cameras, eight computers and several technicians.

A similar technology in baseball shows the flight of the pitch through the strike zone. But instead of enhancing enjoyment of the game it seems to cause more confusion than anything, because the strike zone as called by umpires is often quite different than the electronically generated one shown to TV viewers.

Personal replay technology

Personal replay technology

Ever look up at the JumboTron and see a replay from a bad angle or, worse yet, no replay at all? Someday that won't be a problem. At Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games this year, a new service called " YinzCam " lets fans call up live video and replays from any angle they wanted with mobile phones and Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Expect this technology to spread throughout U.S. stadiums over the next few years.

Advanced prosthetics for disabled athletes

Advanced prosthetics for disabled athletes

"Performance enhancers" usually take on a bad connotation – but not when the goal is to help the disabled perform feats that would otherwise be impossible. One great example is South African Oscar Pistorius , who runs on blade-like artificial limbs and has been dubbed "the fastest man on no legs." After a court battle in which it was alleged that his prosthetic limbs gave him an unfair advantage over athletes without disabilities, Pistorius was allowed to compete in events against able-bodied runners. He did not end up qualifying for the Olympics, but holds several world records for double amputees and won three gold medals in the 2008 Summer Paralympics.

Five sports technologies we hate

OK, we've looked at the best sports-related technologies. Now let's examine five that change the fan experience for the worse.

Online ticketing systems

Online ticketing systems

Yes, it's nice that the Internet lets sports fans buy tickets from the convenience of their living rooms, and without having to deal with annoying telephone systems. But too often, fans end up getting shut out or feeling ripped off.

If you're lucky enough to buy tickets, Ticketmaster rewards you with the privilege of paying "convenience fees" and building charges that can make a $30 ticket cost $40 to $45. And if the event sold out on Ticketmaster, your next option is going to a ticket broker that can sell tickets for more than face value.

It's no surprise that fans are suspicious of Ticketmaster's relationship with ticket resale sites – since Ticketmaster happens to own one of the most prominent, that being TicketsNow. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the companies and a recent settlement forced them to "curb deceptive tactics and pay $50,000 for consumer fraud enforcement and education," according to the Wall Street Journal .

Ineffective doping tests

Ineffective doping tests

Fans want to believe sports are free of doping, or at least that professional leagues are making an honest attempt to catch cheaters. But while some athletes get caught, the evidence in front of our eyes suggests anti-doping technology is at least two steps behind the offenders. Without steroids, you probably wouldn't find many NFL linebackers who are 6'2", weigh 270 pounds, hit as hard as Hulk Hogan and run nearly as fast as Carl Lewis. Even worse, pro football and baseball don't even bother testing for the commonly used human growth hormone, because no urine test exists and players have lobbied against blood testing.

Crazy swim suits

Crazy swim suits

At this year's world swimming championships, 43 new world records were set – not because swimmers suddenly became more talented but because they got better swimsuits. Just as steroids have tainted the baseball record book, swimming competitions have become a joke because of full-body, speed-enhancing swimsuits made from polyurethane. The suits are water-repellent, reduce drag, improve buoyancy and use a corset-like grip to maintain optimal body position in the water.

Michael Phelps won eight gold medals and set seven records at last year's Olympics. He finally lost a race this year, to a swimmer wearing a suit even more advanced than the Speedo full-body LZR Racer that helped Phelps rewrite the record books.

Good news, though: the world's top swimming organization has banned the space-age suits, effective Jan. 1, 2010.

Text your vote in!

Text your vote in!

Unfortunately, technology has given TV sportscasters and stadium management new ways to annoy fans and distract them from the game. You can hardly watch a game or sports show anymore without being asked to text your vote in for some meaningless, sponsored award. Cast your vote for " Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year "! (offer available only for Sprint customers). And if you're at a stadium, and text a comment for the privilege of seeing it appear on the JumboTron – congratulations! You're just given the team permission to send text spam to your phone.

Twitter

Twitter

When you're a sports fan, you tend to think only the best of your favorite athletes. He's a great player – must be a great guy, right? That seems true until you read the athlete's Twitter feed.

The seemingly lovable Glen "Big Baby" Davis recently used his Twitter feed to blast the Boston Celtics for not offering him as much money as he desired, with whiny posts such as "Why is this taking so long!!! I really don't understand!!!!" and "Anybody know what's going on with the Celtics? Cause I don't!" The NFL even had to tell players not to use Twitter during games.

Twitter can be quite useful to sports fans, offering an easy way to track the latest news without obsessively conducting Web searches and refreshing the ESPN.com home page. But we can do without the Twitter feeds narcissistic athletes devote to their favorite topic – themselves.

Also see:

Computer modeling helps build solar-powered stadium
Dallas Cowboys deck out new stadium with Cisco video technology
Sport's networkiest moments