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Instant Replay and Jessica Simpson

Last night I flew from from New York to Los Angeles. The guy sitting next to me had been in many industries over the years, including apparel, insurance, tech, etc. Pittsburgh Steelers fan that I am, I was reading the current issue of Sports Illustrated, which is so black and gold this week that it looks like a Steelers newsletter.

He and I got to talking about football, and he told me that years ago, when the N.F.L. was bringing back instant replay (I believe this was 1998, but I may be wrong), he was working with one of four companies trying to win the contract for the equipment the refs would use.

His company’s version lost out, he said, but as described by him, it sounds like a beautiful little piece of equipment: a handheld unit, about the size of a Blackberry or video iPod, which the ref could use to watch the replay in multiple angles, zooming in and out, tapping on the screen to highlight certain elements, etc. And I thought, Boy, wouldn’t that be a nice tool for everyday consumers to have too, especially for sporting events and especially for live games, though it would be fun to have the same technology for watching at home.

And then, lo and behold, in this morning’s USA Today, there’s an article about a 17-oz. WiFi deviced called Skybox. If it works as promised, it might well eliminate some of the vast advantages that home viewers have over the people who actually attend sporting events. Here’s what Edward C. Baig of USA Today writes about SkyBox:

“Unsure which player has a higher lifetime batting average? You can check the numbers in real time. If you think the umpire erroneously called a strike, you can check the 4-inch display and see where it crossed the plate. Plus, you can tap replays from any stadium camera.”

Vivid Sky, the St. Louis company behind the Skybox, is trying to get things going with all the major sports leagues as well as NASCAR. I would image that some of the leagues, particularly the NFL, will be very nervous about putting a device into fans’ hands that will give them even more ammunition in their argument that officials, even with instant replays, get too many calls wrong.

On a separate note, another passenger on this same flight was Jessica Simpson. Without going into too much detail, I will say this: if you are a fan of hers who complains that the media unfairly portrays her as more obnoxious than she really is, you need to come up with a new line of defense.