HD Upgrades Give New Life to Syracuse’s Carrier Dome

As the largest domed stadium on any college campus in the U.S., the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University is one of the more popular venues in the NCAA. However, prior to this season, even the most hardened Orange fan would admit that the building needed a facelift.

Behind each end zone are boards that measure nearly 21 ft. high by more than 40 ft. wide.

This summer, Syracuse successfully installed several indoor LED video displays and a 360-degree ribbon display  along the upper fascia of the Dome. In addition to bringing HD video to the venue for the first time, the boards add life and color to a stadium that was beginning to show its age.

“I think it’s better than we had even imagined,” says Dr. Renee Baumgartner, deputy athletics director/chief of staff, Syracuse University. “It lights up the Dome; it’s a great way to get social networking, stats, and the score out and obviously showcase our fabulous sponsors.”

Highlight of the new integrated system — which was designed, manufactured, and installed by Daktronics — is two end-zone displays that measure nearly 21 ft. high by more than 40 ft. wide. Each display is flanked by two others measuring more than 12 ft. high by 10 ft. wide with all boards using Daktronics 20-mm pixel spacing.

“It’s going to be great for them,” says Robert Jordan, managing partner of Venue Research and Design, who served as an advisor on the project. “It allows them to really expand where they were from both the Syracuse brand and their sponsors’ and partners’ brands. It really gives the fans something that they’ve never seen before.”

The boards are graphically flexible, allowing technicians to design various scoreboard displays; split the screen into various windows; run live video, replays, and preproduced elements and segments; and display the time, score, and additional stats.

In-game video-production team: (left to right) audio board operator Richard Jarrett, director Jacquie Ontano, replay operator Bob Gerbin, technical director Brian Anelli, show control operator Mike Kaminski, and executive producer Roger Springfield

“The players love it; the fans love it,” says Roger Springfield, director, media properties and production, at Syracuse. “I think the ribbon boards help us cut down on the sponsorship clutter, which is important so every commercial break is not wall-to-wall sponsorship messages. Now we have more time for the band, the cheerleaders, and other elements to let it breathe a little bit.”

Springfield also adds that using the ribbon boards for crowd prompts (for example: First Down, Get Loud) eliminates having to interrupt the main display on the video board.

The upgrade required installation of multiple strands of fiber and dark fiber throughout the Dome, but the key to the infrastructure of the upgrade — as with many production upgrades these days — was to future-proof the technologies.

“I think the most important thing that we did was to set a platform that allows them to grow the system over time,” says Jordan, who also helped lead the design and build of MetLife Stadium. “This wasn’t going to be a one-time buy and just close the book on it and move on. We needed to make sure that we put the infrastructure and the base-foundation components in place so that, as the school grows, each year they can add onto it and each year they can increase the amount of video consumption that’s going to happen across the campus and across their new conference.”

The upgrades included construction and integration of a control room inside the Carrier Dome where both the video-board shows and live-streaming broadcasts can be directed. Equipped with a Ross Video Carbonite 2M/E switcher and a NewTek 3Play replay system, it’s there that Springfield directs a team of six while remaining in constant contact with other point people around the stadium, including the band director, cheerleading coach, marketing director, PA announcer, and stadium DJ.

As with any new technology or workflow, there’s a feeling-out period. Prior to the Orange’s season opener against Northwestern on Sept. 1, the video-production team went forward with a plan to use uncompressed AVI. It was quickly discovered that that format wasn’t working well, causing a stuttering look to the display. Working with their Daktronix partners, both sides began to troubleshoot.

A new 360-degree ribbon board displays video and graphics in uncompressed AVI.

First, they tried QuickTime H.264, but it still wasn’t quite right. According to Springfield, it turned out the video was at 29.97 frames per second (fps). A quick tweak up to 30 fps proved to be the solution. So, on the night before the season opener, all the videos and graphical elements had to be reconverted to QuickTime H.264 in 30 fps. The ribbon boards remained steady, using uncompressed AVI.

On top of that, the graphics team wasn’t completely satisfied with the position of the score display on the primary video boards during the game against Northwestern and, two weeks later during the Orange’s game against Stony Brook, tried a new configuration that was much more acceptable.

“There’s a learning curve in having such a broad pallet of areas that they can program,” says Jordan. “In a multipurpose facility like the Carrier Dome, with so many different video elements, you have the ability to change to what your fans expect and want and what works best for you. I think it’s a positive for them that they realize that just because they did something this way one game might not mean it’s necessarily best for the next game. They are working from the perspective that they’re not set in stone in that things have to be done a certain way. They’re willing to move things around and look at the different options, which is exactly what the fans want.”

The control room is the center of production for both the in-venue boards and live online streaming — when the game’s broadcast rights permit. Syracuse technicians went with Haivision’s encoding and transcoding system KulaByte for streaming. The tools allow Springfield and his team to encode the coach’s postgame press conference live, thanks to the infrastructure with fiber connecting to the press-conference room.

The newly installed control room is the nerve center of both the in-venue video-board production and live-streaming broadcasts.

The games live-streamed from the Dome are typically men’s lacrosse and women’s basketball games. According to Springfield, the team uses four cameras for lacrosse games and two or three for women’s basketball. Syracuse’s acquisition format is Sony XDCAM HD. For live streams, the broadcast uses the in-venue scoreboard feed with a scorebug overlay and the radio feed included.

“It’s great for our fans that can’t make it out to the game to be able to see it,” says Springfield. “It’s not an ESPN-caliber broadcast, but it’s not bad.”

The HD upgrades were made possible by the athletic department’s renegotiation of its sponsorship contract with Pepsi last fall. Pepsi’s logo is prominent throughout the Dome, and two large Pepsi displays bookend each of the large end-zone video boards.

“I think everyone has done such a great job just rolling up their sleeves and diving into a project that’s really unknown on this campus,” says Baumgartner, who came on board at SU in summer 2011, while talks with Pepsi were already under way. “A lot of people had to learn new technology in order to pull this off and to know the right people to help us do the animation if we couldn’t do it ourselves.”

The upgrades were not limited to just the Carrier Dome, either. As part of a campus-wide initiative, several athletic venues received new displays. SU Soccer Stadium has a new scoreboard and message display, while the volleyball team’s home court at the Women’s Building also got a new message display, scoreboard, and statistical displays. Coyne Field, the home of SU field hockey, SU Softball Stadium, and Tennity Ice Pavilion, home of the Orange ice-hockey squad, also were fitted with new Daktronics scoreboards.

Photos courtesy of Roger Springfield, director, media properties and production, Syracuse University.

To learn more about the latest in venue technology, including HD boards, DAS, and Wi-Fi, register today to attend SVG’s Venue Technology Summit from Marlins Park in Miami, Florida on Oct. 23.

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