2000s: Innovations we loved
High-definition TV and DVRs have changed the way fans view the games
ShotLink and Hawk-Eye have been welcome technological advances
The XFL and Big Dance play-in game were among the worst innovations
1. First Super Bowl broadcast in HD (2000)
Since HDTVs ranged from $2,700 to $110,000 at the beginning of the 2000s, it's estimated that just several thousand households watched the Rams and Titans play in the first major sporting event broadcast in high definition. Early HD proselytizers included Associated Press sportswriter Alan Robinson, who watched the high- and standard-def telecasts side-by-side, and wrote the technology "startles the senses much like color TV did to those who grew up in the black-and-white age."
2. ShotLink introduced on PGA Tour (2001)
A joint venture between the PGA Tour and IBM, the ShotLink scoring system captures and reports real-time information on every shot by every player in every tournament. Through a combination of laser triangulation, GPS technology and walking scorers (who transmit stance, lie and club information through handheld Palm Vx computers), ShotLink provides information that's changed the way fans watch and understand the sport. A handful of prominent players like Tiger Woods and Greg Norman campaigned against it -- making the not-unreasonable argument that club selection information gives afternoon players a competitive advantage over those with morning tee times -- but progress ultimately prevailed.
3. "Player Mic" lets fans in the dugout (2002)
Ramon Hernandez turned into a footnote in broadcasting history on April 7, 2002, when the Oakland A's catcher became the first player to wear a microphone during a regular-season game on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Hernandez wore the one-square-inch, one-ounce "Player Mic" on his uniform and the network edited taped audio segments from the feed for a "Sunday Night Sounds" feature. It's since become a staple for coverage of a range of different sports on different networks.
4. Dual-tuner DVRs introduced and popularized by cable providers (2003)
Digital video recorders first surfaced when ReplayTV and TiVo unveiled devices at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1998. But the technology didn't become commonplace until 2003, when cable and satellite providers began offering affordable dual-tuner DVRs, which enabled viewers to record one live program while watching another. The TV listings that once enslaved sports fans are today an afterthought.
5. Madden goes online (2004)
The launch of Madden NFL 2005 on Aug. 9, 2004, was a coup for gamers everywhere. As the first installment in EA Sports' long-running football franchise with online capabilities, head-to-head games against flesh-and-blood opponents no longer required a second person in the room. Online Madden enabled lonesome gamers to open their home consoles to the wider world and lifted the franchise to new heights. Looking for a game at 4:30 a.m. against a real-life opponent? Somewhere there's an 11-year-old savant already waiting to take you to school.
6. Hawk-Eye approved for professional use (2005)
Serena Williams' controversial loss to Jennifer Capriati in the 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinals prompted the adoption of Hawk-Eye, an electronic line-calling technology first used in cricket. The system reconstructs the ball's trajectory and most likely path within three millimeters using multiple high-speed video cameras around the court. Hawk-Eye's impact has gone beyond officiating: It's also enhanced telecasts, since the system can measure the speed of the ball at any stage of a rally, service placement and bounce points. Most fans and players have embraced the system, though Roger Federer remains a vocal skeptic.
7. Twitter launched (2006)
Although the microblogging tool didn't crack the cultural mainstream until nearly three years after the first tweet (on March 21, 2006), Twitter's public launch remains a watershed development in the modern-day consumption of sport. If you flip on your computer or cell phone, you can watch any sporting event with thousands of your closest friends, a unique experience in groupthink. It's aso given sports fans an unfiltered, behind-the-curtain peek into the lives of their idols, whether it's a Shaquille O'Neal zinger, a Mark Cuban gripe or a Larry Johnson meltdown.
8. UStream/Justin.tv founded (2007)
The two most popular Web sites for user-generated live video streaming -- which incidentally launched within weeks of one another in March 2007 -- have been game-changers for office-bound fans who want to watch out-of-market (or out-of-continent) sporting events for free. The almost-always-illegal streams are often taken down, only to be replaced by other intrepid users. Within minutes, a user can dial up everything from blacked-out NFL games to the early rounds of tennis tournaments to Champions League ties (if you're lucky enough to find it in English).
9. First live 3D telecast of an NFL game (2008)
3ality Digital and RealD chose a Thursday-night game between the Raiders and the Chargers for the first live 3D broadcast of a pro football game. Shrewd choice: By removing the variable of drama from San Diego's lopsided victory, the technology itself took center stage. If a one-sided snoozer of a game can be that engaging, one can only imagine the excitement of a postseason game or a Super Bowl in three dimensions. The production uses completely foreign camera perspectives to create a new standard of immersion and viewer engagement. It's radically different from the norm, and the break from tradition pays off. It's one thing to read Darren Sproles' listed height of 5-foot-6 in your program. It's another thing to watch the waterbug tailback surrounded by his redwood teammates in the huddle. It may be another decade before 3D telecasts hit your living room or multiplex, it may be another two years -- but the brilliant final product is a testament to their inevitability.
10. NFL RedZone launched (2009)
The NFL Network introduced a revamped RedZone channel for this year's regular season, a channel that switches to any game when a team moves inside the 20. The nonstop medley of live look-ins and highlights -- commercial-free! -- can satisfy the appetite of the most insatiable fan. "RedZone is a dozen kinds of fantastic, a first-ballot inductee into the I-Can't-Believe-I-Ever-Lived-Without-This Hall of Fame," read Phil Taylor's love letter in last week's Sports Illustrated. "[It] is, one fan tweeted, 'as if God was holding the remote control.' "
Honorable Mention: StubHub (2000), QuesTec (2001), SkyCam (2002), SAFER barriers (2002), Slingbox (2005), Wii Sports (2006), MLB instant replay (2008).