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The Bubble’s Best TV Innovation Deserves a Longer Look

  • August 12, 2020

Webb said it was the first time any league had provided such an intimate window into a video-review decision to fans in real time — a small but significant moment in the evolution of video review in sports.

“I think what fans don’t like is a lack of understanding of how a decision is reached, and then they sort of form their own conclusions,” said Webb, who in three decades as a professional referee officiated hundreds of matches, including both the World Cup and Champions League finals.

He’s not alone in hoping this new era of transparency catches on outside M.L.S.

The use, and misuse, of video replay has been a major story line in global sports in recent years, awarding (or negating) home runs in Major League Baseball, touchdowns in the N.F.L. and goals in hockey.

In soccer it has introduced fans to the job of the video-assistant referee, to the advanced geometry of computer-generated offside lines, and to heated debates about the relative scoring position of an armpit, or a backside. A separate but related discussion, about whether it’s really wise to rely on officials located hundreds of yards (or hundreds of miles) away, may never end.

Mostly, though, the rise of video review has left some of sports’ most important decisions shrouded in mystery.

“The irony of all this is when V.A.R. came in the one thing I heard from fans was that this will remove all the controversy, and we aren’t going to have any arguments about referees’ decisions,” said Derek Rae, a television commentator whose work includes international broadcasts of Germany’s Bundesliga. “Well, the reality is we’re having just as many debates.”

The debates are not just philosophical, either; in England, Bournemouth fans are still fuming about a blown call in a game involving two other teams that may have cost their team its place in the Premier League, a price that will be paid not just in pride but in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

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