How creative marketing saved the NFL’s yellow first down line

Sep 25, 2017

At the start of the ‘01 NFL season, a startup named SportVision faced a crisis. They just lost a major client.

The company was only founded four years earlier. Their first product, AirFX, was a camera system that displayed how high basketball players jumped. It never really got off the ground.

Some people on the team also worked on a similar project: the infamous glowing hockey puck. If you’re too young or don’t remember, it was an augmented reality system that made pucks glow on TV. It was supposed to make it easier for viewers to follow. Fans hated it.

Having failed at two sports, SportVision turned to football. This time, they made a huge hit – the virtual first down line.

The surprisingly sophisticated system debuted on ESPN in 1998. It promptly won the network an Emmy. The other NFL broadcasters scrambled for it.

The only problem was pricing. The crew and technology necessary cost between $20,000 and $30,000 per game.

That was eventually too much for Fox. It cut the 1st and Ten® line.

SportVision wasn’t losing again. They commissioned a survey, finding that 92 percent of people wanted the marker on every telecast. They also launched a website called, encouraging fans to voice their support.

“It’s obvious which networks care about the fans and which one doesn’t,” read one fan submission. “Vote with your wallet – support the advertisers on the good networks, boycott and WRITE the advertisers on the bad one.”

It was a marketing masterstroke. Fox relented. Now the line’s a permanent part of the game, and SportVision’s alive and well, providing graphics for at least a dozen major sports.

SportVision got some positive PR as well. Here’s an archived clip from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Long story short: the best defense is a strong offense. SportVision’s a perfect example of how an aggressive, creative marketing approach wins business.


This article was written by Lee Procida. It first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short.

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