Big step forward: EMG Italy unveils basketball Instant Replay Center

The Instant Replay Center is part of a wider remote production project for championship rightsholder Eleven Sports

EMG Italy has created a centralised remote basketball refereeing service in a new control room within its production centre in Cologno Monzese, Milan.

Officially inaugurated on the 16th day of the championship, before the second round, and called the Instant Replay Center, the control room is being used by Lega Basket Serie A (LBA) and the FIP Italian Referees Committee. It is part of a wider remote production project for championship rightsholder Eleven Sports.

All incoming signals from the fields of play are received in the centre, allowing precise control of the action to support the decisions of referees, who are connected live via audio and video from courts around Italy.

Building on experience

While the Instant Replay Center is new, it builds on the solid basis of EMG Italy’s experience in remote production and the systems installed derive from those already widely used by EMG for other sports.

EMG Italy proposed a centralised arbitration control centre after seeing a similar setup for the NBA in the US. “From a technical point of view, this is an enhanced structure that required investments in infrastructure and connectivity: in fact, dedicated connection lines were installed with Fastweb, which created a 1GB A link and a second 200MB B link,” explains Francesco Donato, CTO of EMG Italy. “In addition, at the Cologno headquarters, two 10GB links were installed to guarantee the management of [up to eight] matches at the same time. This has allowed us to enhance the contribution loops to and from the playing fields.”

The project also involved the fixed fibre optic cabling of 16 arenas. In practice, EMG Italy has created a network dedicated to basketball instant replays which handles eight signals coming from each of the basketball arenas to connect these to the Cologno Monzese production centre.

How it works

“The installation is full IP”, continues Donato. “In fact, we start by taking the signal from the cameras in the field, which is conveyed through a system architecture which then allows us to use the content both to feed the instant replay solution and to supply signals to the remote production centre.”

In the Instant Replay room each operator for each of the stations is in constant contact with a ‘spotter’ on the field, a person in charge of the judges’ table who facilitates communications.

The request to intervene in a match can be made by the coach or the referee, who can ask to review game action. The operator in the Instant Replay room collaborates with both.

Each of the stations receives signals from all the cameras on the court using a monitor and multiviewer to operate the system. At the centre of this mosaic of simultaneous images, a further picture-in-picture box shows the scoreboard so the timing of the match can be checked.

“The Instant Replay Center is a big step forward for this great sport”

The instant replay operator has a control panel and a hardware interface to move the images forwards and backwards at various speeds, frame by frame, and they can share one or more shots with the referee in real-time, depending on the request.

Each referee on the field receives a service signal in audio and the images requested in the video. These images are also available for airing.

Dario Marra, head of graphics at EMG Italy, says: “System latencies and two-way remote communication were some of the potential difficulties to face in remote production. So we launched the appropriate technical standards, trained the instant replay operators and added a project manager, who is a dedicated project leader and co-ordinator.

“He takes care of the co-ordination of the service, maintains relations with the clubs, takes care of the preventive installations at the arenas, the alignment of all the signals, and verifies a dedicated checklist pre-match.

“Furthermore, thanks to his technical preparation on the system, he is able to help the refereeing team by proposing the best shots to the operator and becomes the reference for the customer in the project, to update staff in a co-ordinated way.”

Leading from the front

The instant replay service has been used in Italy for many years, operating locally on courts and often managed by personnel delegated by the host clubs. However, EMG Italy wanted to lead the way in Europe and improve the level of operations.

“We wanted to improve the whole structure of the arbitration control from a technical point of view, increasing the quality standard, and from an operational point of view with a new level of preparation and management,” adds Marra.

The system has all the functions required by FIP for federal approval and is a crucial tool for referee management.

EMG Italy’s Cologno Monzese production centre

Umberto Gandini, president of Lega Basket, says: “After being the first European basketball league to use instant replay in all matches starting from the 2014-15 season in agreement with the Italian Basketball Federation, we continue to introduce technological improvements giving clubs and referees increasingly advanced tools to ensure certainty and uniformity of decisions at each match.”

Luigi Lamonica, commissioner of the Italian Referees Committee, adds: “The new system will facilitate the work of the referees above all by speeding up the time taken to reach decisions subject to verification. The hope is that this work will continue and that, thanks to technology, further possibilities may be developed to increasingly facilitate the decisions of referees.”

“It’s certainly big news,” underlines Donato, “because we have introduced this tool for a sport other than football. Only the NBA in the US has already proposed such a system. The system fits into a broader strategic context where EMG Italy has dedicated resources over many years to developing the architecture of working remotely. The Instant Replay Center is a big step forward for this great sport.”


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