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A Hard-Hitting Guide to Sports Lower Thirds

By Chris Salters
After EffectsPhotoshop

No sports package is complete without lower thirds. So lace up those cleats; it's time to take a deep-dive into the world of lower thirds.

Welcome to our next installment in our series of articles getting you game-ready with sports motion graphics. After swinging through headshots, lower thirds are now on deck.
Lower thirds get their apt name from appearing in the lower third of a video’s frame and are heavily used across all media, not just sports. They're typically used to display names and titles for persons seen on screen or provide context to what the viewer is watching. Free lower third templates can be found all over the interwebs, but are also easy to make yourself.

Sports Lower Thirds

Another piece of an INCREDIBLE graphics package designed in part by the guys at Ukramedia.
The thing to remember when you're making lower thirds for a sports content is flexibility. Your lower thirds should be able to accommodate for different sizes of names, numbers, and special characters. Remember, if you are creating lower thirds that will be used live at a stadium or on-air your lower thirds will likely be pre-rendered. This means they will be a 'background' with text overlaid. If you're looking for some lower thirds inspiration, check out this article.

How To Create Sports Lower Thirds

So you're ready to create some lower thirds on you own huh?
If you like those team names, check out these other Awesome Sports Logos.
The matchup lower third above lets the viewer know what game they're tuning into. Sometimes instead of lower thirds, you'll see a full screen graphic of the matchup. Feel free to download the example above and follow along with the free project file:

Matchup Lower Third Template


1. Have a Game Plan (Stay Organized)

Title look familiar? Similar to the first article in this hard-hitting series, a good workflow for creating baseball mounds of lower thirds is essential. Keep your project clean and organized utilizing good descriptive naming conventions.

2. Design the Lower Thirds

Lower thirds can be as simple or complex as you like. From basic static graphics created in Photoshop to complex animations intricately keyframed in After Effects or Cinema 4D, the main objective of your Lower Third is to convey information clearly. Looking pretty is definitely a plus though.
Start with defining the purpose of the lower third. Are you identifying someone onscreen? Then you could give their name, title, social media handle, or jersey number (if applicable). Are you giving context to something onscreen? That could be a location, chapter marker, hashtag, matchup, what's coming next - literally anything that provides the viewer with additional information.
This NBC redesign from Troika is an oldie but a goodie. Some good lower thirds examples can be found in here.
After determining the lower third's content, jump into design mode to make it look clean and pretty. Decide a clean way to animate the lower third on and off screen. In some cases, a simple fade in and out is the best approach. It's good practice to keep lower thirds on screen for at least 3 - 6 seconds. That gives the viewer enough time to process what they're seeing. A good rule of thumb as an editor is to read the information twice before pulling it off screen.

3. Render

The key thing to keep in mind when rendering your lower thirds is where will they be going? Are they being dropped into an edit in an NLE like Premiere or are they being used with specialized broadcast equipment/software? The answer to that will dictate the specs the lower thirds need to be rendered at.
Generally speaking you're safe to render a lower third at its frame size in a quality intermediate codec, like prores 4444, that supports an alpha channel. If that sentence just gave you a concussion, get the low down on codecs here.

Screen Bugs

Key & Peele Sports Graphics
Screen bugs or just ‘bugs’ are the simplest of sports related graphics and aren’t as creepy crawly as they sound. They get their name because they’re usually small and located in the corner of the screen. Bugs, similar to lower thirds, aren’t exclusive to sports. They can be any number of things from a small static sponsor or channel logos to an animated score bug.
In the case above, the Comedy Central mark in the lower right of the frame would be considered a bug. The trick to bugs is getting their size and transparency just right – keeping logos legible, but not obtrusive to the main action on screen. People get cranky when their sports are covered by a 'Burgers-R-Us' sponsor logo...

Score Bugs

One of the most prominent bugs you see on TV is the infamous score bug. Would you believe these little score boxes weren't developed until 1994?! Though score bugs can be created in After Effects or Photoshop, they’re typically made in special broadcast graphics software to allow their information (scores) to update live, without rendering. That said, the template below is great for making a quick score bug to place on a recap video of a game (props to Clayton Regian of TCU Athletics).

Free Score Bug Template for Motion Designers

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We only have a few more articles left in this series! Hopefully you've been practicing, you never know when coach... err um... the client will put you in the game!