Venue Technology Summit: Control-Room Upgrades Cause Ripple Effect for Teams

With the release of each new instant-replay server, production switcher, graphics device, and IP-based communication and control system, stadium control rooms advance. As control rooms are outfitted with next-gen equipment, the capabilities of these rooms resonate throughout each venue and beyond.

At the Venue Technology Summit this week, SVG brought together four industry leaders involved in recent control-room upgrades to discuss their equipment installation and capabilities, design process and execution, and overall vision.

Moving on Up
Following the 2010 season, the Houston Astros decided to upgrade their control room and video facilities. Because a new HD LED video board required a new HD control room, the Astros could choose to upgrade the room at its current location or build an entirely new room.

Upper management opted to convert the room’s current location directly behind home plate to luxury suites, which meant space for a new control room (and adjacent postproduction room) had to be carved out.

Diversified Systems Senior Manager Stuart Reynolds kicked off the panel discussion by detailing the transition of the Astros’ control room from behind home plate to the President’s Suite.

“On the third-base side, left-field foul-pole area, the last suite they had is called the President’s Suite, and they gave it all over to [Astros Senior Director of Creative Services] Kirby Kander. Very rarely in an existing renovation do you get this kind of space to work with.”

Three Times the Upgrade
At Penn State, Director of Broadcast Operations Jim Nachtman sees room for improvement at every facility on campus. The Bryce Jordan Center, home to Nittany Lions basketball and built in 1996, received a new center-hung scoreboard in 2000 and LED ribbon displays in 2008.

Last month, the center-hung scoreboard was replaced with a new one featuring four Mitsubishi Electric 10-mm Diamond Vision video screens measuring 12 x 16 ft., with a 16-mm halo both atop and underneath the structure.

To supplement the new boards and courtside digital signage, Penn State renovated the control room in the Bryce Jordan Center and two control rooms in Recreation Hall, the oldest building on campus.

“One of the control rooms [in Rec Hall] is going to take care of all the video operations [for the building],” explained Nachtman. “We do expect to also control video-board operations in other venues like softball, baseball, and we’re building a new lacrosse stadium. The main purpose for the second control room is to duplicate what trucks do when they come in.”

Rec Hall — home to Penn State Men’s & Women’s Gymnastics, National Champion Men’s & National Champion Women’s Volleyball, Men’s and Women’s Soccer, and Men’s Wrestling — has limited parking availability. Rather than turn trucks away, Nachtman and his team opted to create a space that could be used by the Big Ten network and other visiting broadcasters.

“With the advent of regional sports networks really taking hold, be it the Big Ten Network or the Pac 12 Network, these universities are [wondering], ‘How can I repurpose my content and reinforce my athletic department brand?’” said Jeff Volk, CTS, Alpha Video Systems. “As networks become more and more hungry for content, that gives [Penn State] a great avenue to say, ‘We have the facility here ready to go. We can produce content out of here for you and provide content to the network that we can then use to promote some of our sports.’”

Never Too Early To Start
Arizona Cardinals Video and Scoreboard Operations Manager Michael Conner described his team’s approach to stadium upgrades as “a constant stage of evolution.”

“We’re in a very fortunate position in that our ownership is not waiting for the facility to become 15 or 20 years old,” said Conner of the University of Phoenix Stadium, which opened in 2006. “When we moved into the facility, we were a multidefinition stitching facility, so we continue to have standard-definition cameras and our multicam live-switch situation, [but] we’re also using Sony XD HD cameras for our acquisition.”

Two years after the stadium opened in Glendale, AZ, the Cardinals were already in upgrade mode, adding Cisco’s StadiumVision IPTV system and two nine-monitor arrays in premium-seating areas before Super Bowl XLII in 2008. According to Conner, repurposing content through the IPTV system and monitor arrays allows teams to capitalize on content and turn it into another revenue stream for the team while enhancing the fan’s game-day experience.

“[Teams are] viewing their stadiums as not only a sports venue but an entertainment venue,” said Conner. “[With] screens outside, such as the pylons at MetLife Stadium, [teams are] trying to engage the fan from the moment they park their car in the parking lot until they get back to their car [after the game]. Groups of products that create those types of solutions to engage the fan are really the most important things, whether in new construction or renovation.”

Living in the Future
When upgrading the control room — whether to support a new board, connect to a remote facility, or facilitate a regional sports network’s production — an eye on the future is essential.

Technology is always evolving, but the panelists stressed the need to use existing equipment to its full potential before replacing everything, particularly if, as at Penn State, three control rooms must be furnished instead of just one. In any case, the panelists urged, stay on the forefront of new technology, get involved with the design, see how it integrates with existing equipment, and upgrade to enhance both fan experience and revenue.

“Sometimes,” said Reynolds, “the way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the Venue Technology Summit!

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