At New Stadium, Giants Increase Video Presence Five-Fold
At the old Giants Stadium, Don Sperling’s biggest challenge was finding ways to work creatively using the old technology that saddled his control room. At New Meadowlands Stadium, the VP/executive producer of New York Giants Entertainment and his producer of game entertainment, Christine Baluyot, have exactly the opposite problem: so much state-of-the-art technology is available that, on game day, they are tasked with running five shows simultaneously.
“This is probably the biggest challenge that any team has ever had to put on game-day entertainment,” Sperling says. “We’re given this amazing technology, but we have five shows going on at once.”
The first show greets visitors before they even enter the stadium. Twenty video screens of varying sizes — from 40 to 60 ft. in height — are mounted on pylons along the outside of the stadium. Each of 10 two-sided pylons is highly visible from the parking lots and pedestrian walkways, so it is important to Sperling that those screens make a good impression.
“We are actively programming those because that’s the first thing that greets the fans when they arrive,” he says. “There are so many things you program there, from entertainment, Giants shoulder programming, messaging, and interactive games to photos and the live pregame show. We are the only stadium that has this, and you can see them from a far distance. It’s a great way to draw people in.”
When the Giants have a 4 p.m. kickoff, Sperling has access to the NFL Red Zone channel and can program those pylons with live video from other games around the NFL. The pylons can also be programmed separately, so that different areas of the stadium get different content. The video on those Daktronics screens is driven from the main stadium control room. When programmed properly, Sperling explains, the pylons serve as friendly sentries that guard the stadium while engaging fans and sponsors.
The second show under Sperling’s control is the 2,200 IPTV flat-screen monitors mounted in suites, concourses, and concession stands throughout the stadium. Controlled by Cisco, the IPTV system enables Sperling and his team to activate targeted messaging and zoning by location.
“It’s like a cable box; you just have to decide what channel you want on,” Sperling explains. “If we score a touchdown, every monitor in the entire stadium will activate as a touchdown. You can have zone coverage, where you just take over one stadium section. We can do the L-wraps on the monitors in flat 2D; with Flash, which gives you a little bit of movement; or we can do full animation, depending on how the sponsor wants to activate.”
A Two-by-Two Attack
Inside the stadium bowl, Sperling has three concurrent video shows to oversee. The least taxing of those is the 360-degree LED ribbon board. That show is a sponsor-heavy, fan-driven interactive presentation that will showcase the latest and greatest in graphic development but “does not break a lot of new ground,” in Sperling’s words.
With the four 32:9-aspect-ratio in-stadium video boards, however, the Giants are blazing a brand-new trail.
“The NFL has a new campaign to give fans information that will get them out of the house and into the stadiums, so we’ve split the scoreboards up into A and B boards,” Sperling says. “The A boards are what you’re used to seeing: camera angles of the game, replays, animations, fan prompts, everything that you see during the game. The B boards, however, are informational, with a menu that shows out-of-town scores, fantasy stats, game summaries, fan messaging, etc.”
The four scoreboards are located at each of the four corners of the stadium — with the two kinds diagonally across from each other, or one A and one B side-by-side at each end. The B board has plenty of sponsorable elements — such as drive summaries and out-of-town scores.
Any advertising on the B boards is not obtrusive since the Giants’ organization does not believe in running commercials. “It’s a disservice to us, to our fans, and to the sponsor,” Sperling says. “We have an advantage in our team culture that getting the fans into the game and creating a home-field advantage is much more important than running TV spots. Not every team thinks like that.”
With that in mind, Sperling’s team has the option to allow the A show — the content-focused highlights and replay show — to take over the B video boards.
“If we’re at a big third down, then the A show will take over,” he says. “I would say the B show will be up about 60% of the time and the A show will take over for the other 40%.”
Eyes High, Team Low
Inside the control room, Sperling has two technical directors, one assigned to each show. The A show is much more labor-intensive than the B, which uses many pre-programmed elements. The A show TD has full control to take over the B show switcher and rundown when necessary or when Sperling calls an audible from his perch in the press level.
The control room is located on the field level of the stadium, where the production trucks are parked, so game-day staffers in the control room don’t have the advantage of seeing the field as they work. To add atmosphere to the broadcast, Sperling provides additional eyes and ears from the press level.
“I have a giant multiviewer so I can see all of my cameras and control-room elements, and I’m on headset,” he explains. “If I see Justin Tuck doing something and camera four should get on that, I’ll call an audible. Christine Baluyot is producing the show from inside the control room. She’s making sure that the rundown is followed, but I’m upstairs hearing, seeing, and trying to keep a feel for the game.”
Inside the control room, Sperling’s team has access to all the technology that a network truck would have: two EVS replay servers, a Sony 8000 switcher, two Harris G7 Inscriber character generators, Apple Final Cut Pro, and EVS IP Director, among other elements. There are four hardwired cameras and two RF cameras for the in-house show, as well as access to as many network cameras as necessary. The A1, music director, and two PA announcers — one for promotions, one for down and distance — sit in the press level with Sperling; the rest of the production team works out of the control room.
“In this stadium, with all of the technology that we have, you have to pay attention constantly,” Sperling says. “You really have to troubleshoot. If it’s not on camera, the guys in my control room can’t see it, so I have to be the eyes and ears up there.”
Baluyot found new rundown software that can handle five rundowns at a time. Sperling’s team is using that on game day to keep their eyes from crossing. “Once the season starts, the production team will be able to find a rhythm, and things will fall into place because there will be a routine,” he says. “It’s a little hard right now because the Jets and Giants have games so close to each other and are sharing the same facility.”
Besides the game-day efforts, Sperling’s group also oversees TV programming, radio, Website, publications, and promotions. All in a season’s work.