Target Field Audio Gets a Boost With Dante Networking

Use of venues for non-sports events strains sound systems

Sports venues are being asked to host a much wider variety of events than they might have originally been designed and built for. Music concerts, in particular, increasingly put stadiums on their tour schedules. Last October, for instance, country crooner Garth Brooks did the first-ever concert in Notre Dame’s football stadium, and that show, which played to an estimated 80,000-plus fans, was the first in a planned three-year tour that will play stadium venues only. Managing the audio in these venues has become a major undertaking.

The 39,000-seat Target Field, home to MLB’s Minneapolis Twins, has its own concert series during the baseball season and hosted shows by the Eagles and Jimmy Buffett & His Coral Reefer Band this past summer. And there is no shortage of corporate and other non-sports events using its club seats, luxury suites, and Budweiser Roof Deck.

Pushing the Tech Envelope
What was happening was that the venue’s use beyond baseball games was straining its technology, with many subnets in the facility and all audio transport done via a CobraNet system. Additionally, demand for a better fan experience required moving audio to and from areas not originally planned for audio support, including distributing audio out to various areas or pulling signals to the control room for mixing and processing: for example, bands performances before ballgames and during breaks.

Besides the MLB’s Minneapolis Twins, Target Field hosts a series of concerts during the baseball season.

Although the CobraNet system is still in place to transport DSP audio data over fiber to and from fixed locations — amp rooms, clubs, press areas — the system had reached its maximum capability, and a new solution was needed.

“We would have a band performing on the other side of the stadium, and there was very limited connectivity,” says Jeff Pedersen, lead audio technician, Minnesota Twins Baseball, who manages and operates the sound systems and audio equipment for all games and special events. “I could get only two audio lines to use: one for an intercom connection so we could communicate with our technician located with the band, who would then send me a submixed signal back on the other audio line. We were able to get the job done, but it was a difficult process, to say the least. My dream was to have control of all of this in front of me on my console, with separate channels for mixing. I finally got to do this by adding Dante connectivity into the system.” The Twins had the new system up and running by midseason, in July.

Dante Domain Manager Upgrade
Pedersen and Tim Habedank, AV technical manager at integrator Parsons Electric, which has partnered in the past with the Twins, set out to upgrade and expand the audio experience in the venue. Dante and Dante Domain Manager were critical elements of that effort.

For instance, Pedersen needed a way to easily and inexpensively expand the number of inputs and outputs to his main console to provide a better fan experience and a better mix and to manage and control the total system. The next step was to install Dante-enabled equipment, immediately upgrading the system by expanding channel counts, expanding audio infrastructure, and reducing latency.

Dante also allows Target Field to tap into the existing networking structure, without having to install extra infrastructure to get audio where it needs to go. For instance, Pedersen added wireless microphone receivers, mixers, and input/output racks as a base for the Dante system.

The stadium’s audio system comprises a control room tied to multiple locations. Three amplifier rooms support the stadium speaker system, as well as 18 other locations that receive audio feeds from the control room.

“We started by using Dante to connect the control room to the band stage,” says Pedersen. “This step alone brought 16 channels from the band to my main console — a huge improvement for us. Our plan now is to get Dante into all of our remote locations and bring all the control and mixing to our main control room. If we need more remote support, I can easily plug in a network cable and jump on the Dante network to my console. There’s a lot of flexibility now in being able to share inputs and outputs with different mixers in different areas.”

Once the Dante network was in place, the next step was to implement Dante Domain Manager, network-management software that enables user authentication, role-based security, and audit capabilities for Dante networks while allowing expansion of Dante systems over any network infrastructure. This enabled the stadium to integrate its many separate subnets into a single, manageable, and secure audio network.

For instance, Pedersen and Habedank needed to integrate audio into areas of the stadium that were not originally designed for audio, such as where the band plays. Instead of adding an audio pathway and thousands of dollars of cabling, they used an existing data drop at these new locations, adding a Dante input/output box and plugging it into the network.

However, these new locations were not on the same subnet as Pedersen’s control room. With some configuration and help from the stadium’s IT department, Dante Domain Manager was deployed to bridge the various subnets, passing Dante audio from the new locations to the control room.

“At Target Field, they have a Layer 3 network at the closet,” Habedank explains. “That means every closet has its own subnet, and the control room on the opposite side of the stadium was in a different subnet than the live-band location. Dante Domain Manager allows us to bridge these subnets and pass Dante from one corner of the stadium all the way back to the control room and really save the day without all of that cost of cabling.”

Broadcast Accommodated, Too
Target Field works with television-broadcast trucks during games. More and more, production companies bring their own Dante systems to connect into the stadium’s Dante system. Dante Domain Manager ensures that both the visiting and the stadium’s audio channels are secure, crisp, and clear.

“We want to protect the house Dante network to make sure that no one inadvertently makes changes,” said Habedank. “Without Dante Domain Manager, that protection is not possible: we essentially open up our whole Dante network to outside companies. But, with Dante Domain Manager, we’re able to create those domains. Outside companies stay in their domain, the house network stays in its domain, and we can bridge the audio between those two as needed. That way we can still have a lot of functionality and can pass as many audio channels back and forth as we want, but we also maintain that protection of the house Dante network.”

Pedersen explains that, although he is currently limited to a 16×16 Dante-enabled console, a new console is in the upgrade plan and he looks forward to expanded channel possibilities. He also wants to extend the Dante network to the broadcast trucks.

“After our facility audio is completely networked,” he says, “I want to move toward Dante and Dante Domain Manager-managed audio with our broadcast. Right now, we send the trucks a full audio program, and they return a full program. We need to get to where we can send just selected channels or submixes. We’ve always had difficulty transferring things back and forth from the trucks to our control room, and it almost takes six people to do it. This whole process will be much easier when the trucks can simply pull either the live or recorded audio of what they need from our Dante audio network.”

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