When ESPN introduced the "BottomLine" as an experiment on its new ESPN2 channel nearly 20 years ago, few expected the feature to become as ubiquitous in sports broadcasting as it has. Today, nearly every cable sports net has its own version of the scores ticker, and in an industry that clings to convention it's astonishing how few standards exist for what's now commonly called a bottom line.
With the attention given earlier this week to ESPN on ABC's lousy use of screen real estate during the final laps of the Indy 500, we decided to look at every available cable sport net's ever-present score crawl to see which network has the most-intrusive one—and which takes up the least space. (We ranked them from biggest to smallest; percentages refer to number of pixels used vs total screen size.)
1. SNY (1080i, 12.41%)
The New York Mets-majority owned regional sports net, like its home team so often, finishes worst.
2. NFL Network (1080i, 10.83%)
3. Univision Deportes (1080i, 10.68%)
4. ESPN / ESPN 2 / ESPNU / ESPNNEWS (720p, 10.10%)
5. Fox Sports 1 / Fox Sports 2 (720p, 10.00%)
6. ESPN Classic (SD, 9.97%)
7. MSG (1080i, 9.91%)
8. Fox Deportes & Fox Sports Regionals (720p, 9.86%)
Fox Deportes uses a different graphics package than its brethren, but it's the same size as that used on Fox Sports regional nets. It's also a lot better looking.
9. ESPN Deportes (720p, 9.86%)
How is the ESPN Deportes Bottom Line smaller than its otherwise-identical pals at ESPN/2/U/NEWS? Because ESPN Deportes is framed "4:3 safe" for non-HD export markets, and so that little open space on the upper left part of the ticker is a few pixels bigger.
10. Golf Channel & NBC Sports Network (1080i, 9.81%)
Both networks are owned & operated by NBCUniversal/NBC Sports TV, so it's not a surprise the score tickers are the same size—even if they bear no resemblance otherwise.
11. NHL Network (1080i, 9.75%)
12. SportsNet LA (1080i, 9.63%)
13 (tie). NESN (1080i, 9.44%)
13 (tie). YES (1080i, 9.44%)
These two competing networks, home to rival teams, are the only two not from the same parent company to have identically-sized score tickers.
15. MLB Network (720p, 9.28%)
MLB Network regularly uses the right corner of the screen to promote upcoming broadcasts, but not always. When the promo box isn't in use, its ticker uses just 7.62% of the screen—second-least of all the channels we looked at.
16. NBA TV (1080i, 9.14%)
17. Time Warner SportsNet (1080i, 9.07%)
You'd figure a network that seems identical to "Time Warner SportsNet LA" would have the same score ticker. You'd be wrong.
18. Comcast SportsNet Regionals (1080i, 8.89%)
19. Big Ten Network (720p, 8.89%)
20. CBS Sports Network (1080i, 8.64%)
21. Tennis Channel (1080i, 7.87%)
22. Pac-12 Network (1080i, 6.67%)
It should not surprise you at all to learn the best-looking score ticker is also the smallest.
Why does this matter? In 1995 the BottomLine was a welcome innovation; few people had easy access to instant sports scores and Twitter was still ten years from being invented. The value of the information shown along a score ticker has depreciated greatly since then, and you'll notice they're used as much for advertising and promotion these days as they are for reporting news, scores, or stats.
We included the broadcast formats up above, but it turned out that there's no correlation between whether a network is 1080i or 720p and how big their ticker is. In many cases, it comes down to how much room the network allows for "overscan," the antiquated approach to dealing with tube televisions that's somehow remained in the HD era. (Many modern televisions arrive set to "overscan" or cut off the edges of the picture; since many people don't or won't turn it off, networks still make titles & graphics overscan-safe. This is to the detriment of everyone.)
But maybe we should be happy with where things are. Here's how the original ESPN2 BottomLine looked upon its introduction; it took up a whopping 12.8% of the screen.