Pittsburgh Steelers Aim To Connect Fans to the Game Via Haivision Video Systems
When the Black and Gold return to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, Steeler fans occupying the stadium’s 129 luxury suites will be treated to more than just great views and private restrooms. The Steelers, looking for a more fan-friendly and robust way to deliver premium video content to luxury suites, have replaced the suites’ existing touchscreen systems with Haivision’s Furnace IP video system.
Used primarily for television distribution on college campuses, Haivision’s video system combines low-latency, HD broadcasting with multichannel streaming, allowing the Steelers to distribute encrypted content to set-top boxes in luxury suites throughout the stadium from a centralized location.
“It functions much like digital cable, so it’s a convenience to the fans,” explains Scott Phelps, technology coordinator for the Steelers. “It has an onscreen, black and gold, customized menu, so you can choose” among channels featuring live content, archived programs, and game replays. Using a remote, fans can access this on-demand content at any time during the game.
“You’re not just hitting the up arrow,” he says. “You actually have a TV guide on the screen.”
Phelps plans to take full advantage of the system’s ability to store and play on-demand content by incorporating the weekly feature programs currently produced by the Steelers’ in-house production department. As players warm up on the field or hit the locker room at halftime, fans in luxury suites can tune in to the latest episode of The Mike Tomlin Show or Steelers Kid Zone.
However, content is not limited to prerecorded features. Throughout the game, big and controversial plays will be clipped and posted to the video system for fans to review on demand.
“The beauty of the system is that it can play back and synchronize the archival footage as if it were a private television broadcast,” says Scott Katzenoff, VP, U.S. commercial, for Haivision. “The system inherently has the ability to take stored files in a synchronized fashion and play them on one display, a group of displays, or all displays, as chosen by the operator.”
After integrating the Haivision system into the stadium’s existing A/V infrastructure, the Steelers wanted to ensure that, by improving one fan’s experience, they weren’t taking away from another’s enjoyment of the game. A trial run was conducted last season, with the system implemented on the television in the back of selected suites while the TV in the front continued to broadcast the live HD feed of the game.
“We weren’t sure how the fans would react, and we didn’t want to impact how they watched the game on the front television,” Phelps explains. “[But] we found that, [in] all the suites [that had] the system in place, the fans were asking for it on the front television as well. And the suites that didn’t have [the system] found out that the suites next to them had it, and they asked for it.”
By the end of last season, in response to fan demand, the system was implemented on the back television of every suite. Going forward, the Steelers hope to include it on the front televisions as well. Ideally, says Phelps, the team would like the system on every television in the building and will further explore possibilities for digital signage.
While the Steelers are the first to apply Haivision’s Furnace IP video system to the in-stadium fan experience, Katzenoff believes that sports venues are a natural fit for the technology. Video content is distributed with low latency to set-top boxes throughout the stadium, which will be particularly important if, as the Steelers hope, the system is eventually implemented on every television in the stadium. The centralized location of the system allows the latency to be fine-tuned, so that the slight delay caused by video transport is identical from screen to screen.
“Think about two different angles as a pass is being thrown,” Katzenoff explains. “If, on one screen, the pass is caught before it is on the other screen, you’re not even sure if you’re looking at the same content.”
He hopes to expand the fan’s ability to review plays by enabling the system to record multiple HD feeds of the same play, in perfect synchronization, that could be played, paused, slowed down, or sped up on the television.
Instead of disconnecting fans from the action on the field, both Phelps and Katzenoff see the new video system as a way for fans to further engage with the game.
“People’s psychology — their mindset — is to be plugged in, everywhere, wherever they go,” Katzenoff says. “You’re giving the fans a much more immersive experience into something that’s happening then and there.”