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Presenting... the Wisden Hawk-Eye

It's one of the more puzzling IT acquisitions since eBay bought Skype. The Wisden Group announced today that they have bought the manufacturers of the Hawk-Eye ball-tracking technology.

What can be their motive? Unless they are shifting to that corporate category known as "diversified industrials"?

Here is the text of the press release issued by the Wisden Group a few hours ago:

Wisden Group acquisition of Hawk-Eye adds new dimension to presence in global sports markets

The Wisden Group today announced that it has acquired the business interests of Hawk-Eye Innovations Limited, the global pioneer in ball tracking technology for sports broadcasting and officiating.

The agreement reached with Tinopolis Plc adds Hawk-Eye to the Wisden Group's market leading portfolio of sports brands which already includes Wisden Cricketers™ Almanack, The Wisden Cricketer and Cricinfo.

Wisden Group director Mark Getty said that the acquisition of Hawk-Eye was a coup for the group which would strengthen its presence in the global cricket market and provide an entry into tennis and other major international sports.

“In a relatively short space of time, Hawk-Eye has achieved a major impact in the way cricket is presented and appreciated by fans around the world. It already has enormous recognition in the sport and is now making a similar impact in the world of tennis.

“Wisden is cricket’s most famous publisher and Cricinfo is the game’s largest global website, so the addition of Hawk-Eye as the most innovative technology provider in sports broadcasting is a development that will reinforce the group’s presence and influence,” said Mr Getty.

Under the terms of the agreement, Paul Hawkins, the originator and creative mind behind the development of Hawk-Eye, will remain as managing director of Hawk-Eye Innovations and join the senior management team at the Wisden Group.

“Wisden is perhaps the best-known name in cricket and I’m personally delighted that Hawk-Eye is now part of a business that is totally focussed on providing excellence, innovation and entertainment to its many millions of readers, surfers and viewers. There are enormous opportunities for ball tracking technology to revolutionise the way sport is televised and officiated and with the backing of the Wisden Group I am confident that Hawk-Eye can play a major role in making that happen," commented Paul Hawkins.

Hawk-Eye’s global impact on international cricket is reinforced by the quality and status of the broadcasters who have used it to enhance their coverage. Broadcast partners include BSkyB and Channel 5 in the UK, Nimbus in India, Channel 9, Australia, SABC, South Africa, Taj TV in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, TWI in the West Indies and ICC events including the Champions Trophy.

While cricket was the first sport to take advantage of the ability to accurately track and predict the path of a ball, tennis has since followed. The technology has now been used by telecasters covering major tournaments including Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open, the US Masters series, the Davis Cup and the Stella Artois.

With the recent announcement that it will also be used as an official umpiring aid in the US Open and US Open Series of tournaments, tennis has now moved ahead of cricket in placing its faith in line-calling technology.

Tom Gleeson, chief executive officer of the Wisden Group, believes that the successful use of Hawk-Eye in cricket and tennis will pave the way for its use by other major sports.

“Hawk-Eye has added a new dimension to sports broadcasting and created a demand for increased viewer information and entertainment. With an established track record in cricket and tennis, we will now be looking to develop into other televised sports.

“The increased pressure and scrutiny on sports officials in decision making is another area with great potential. Tennis has taken the initiative in the United States and other sports will be closely watching to see how that works out,” predicted Mr Gleeson.

About the Wisden Group
The Wisden Group is a privately owned company specialising in traditional and new media sports publishing. Its portfolio of leading brands includes the famous Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Cricinfo and The Wisden Cricketer magazine. Each business is a market leader in its sector. The group has an international presence throughout the cricketing world with operations in the UK, India, Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

About Hawk-Eye Innovations
Hawk-Eye is a revolutionary sports tracking device which has helped transform broadcast coverage of cricket and tennis since making its debut in Channel 4’s 2001coverage of English cricket. The technology, developed by Paul Hawkins, uses sophisticated image processing techniques to process the output of a series of cameras posted around a sports ground. Designed to follow the tracks of balls and competitors, it has applications in many sports for both visual entertainment and officiating assistance for umpires and referees.

Allow me to reprise one of the quotes from Hawk-Eye Innovations MD Paul Hawkins from that release:

"There are enormous opportunities for ball tracking technology to revolutionise the way sport is televised and officiated and with the backing of the Wisden Group I am confident that Hawk-Eye can play a major role in making that happen."

And officiated. Could Wisden be buying their way into the administration of the game? Perhaps the correct comparison here is not to eBay's takeover of Skype, but News Limited's 50% stake in the National Rugby League...

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