The age of big data gives us myriad tools for investigating the most minute details of games. But amid all the instant replays and sophisticated analytics, there’s sometimes too much information. Two data artists have taken what they think is the most essential intel about every Super Bowl game—the distance a ball travels on each play—and turned that into gorgeously simple, 3-D printed sculptures that reveal the strategy of each game.
Media artists Margarita Benitez—an assistant professor in fashion design at Kent State University—and Markus Vogl—an assistant professor in graphic design at the University of Akron—embarked on their VERSUS :: 0.02 [gridiron] project knowing that it would be an aesthetically driven data visualization of competitiveness.
“First and foremost, it is an art project so there are subjective decisions in how to condense the data,” Vogl says. “What we definitely wanted to make is a sculpture where you can view a single game as a moment frozen in time.”
Vogl and Benitez decided to use the distance a ball traveled on each play, which they turned into a series of arcs. While the actual trajectory of a ball’s path isn’t recorded or known for every play, the starting and ending yard lines are. The artists used those fixed points and creatively interpreted the height of the arc based on that. The smaller the arc, the shorter the distance; the taller the arc, the further the distance. Passes, kicks, conversions, and running plays are all reflected in the series of arcs. For consistency, the kickoff team is always represented on the right side of the sculpture and the receiving team on the left.
“You can see the push and pull of the teams,” Benitez says. “Teams playing in the earlier Super Bowls had a different way of pushing and pulling throughout the games so you can see the changes in strategy.”
Each of the plays is organized linearly from the beginning of the game ’til the end. The more plays in a game, the longer the sculpture. “You can immediately see the intensity of the game, by the back and forth and the arcs,” Vogl says. “Especially if it has been close [where there’s] lots of back and forth or a blowout. For example Super Bowl 48, when Denver played last, was a very different looking sculpture then 50.” (Super Bowl VII, in 1973, was the shortest sculpture; Super Bowl XXIX, in 1995, was the longest.) Depending on the number of arcs, you can tell who had a good defense and who was dominating a game.
“It’s about competition and how two sides are fighting for a win,” Vogl says of the art project. It’s also an artful way to represent a brutal sport at a glance—an analog reprieve from boisterous commentators and garish graphics that typically accompany broadcasts of the game.
All Images: via Margarita Benitez/Markus Vogl