NFL Replay, Films Operations Take Next Step With Bexel

The NFL season is under way and, with it, a couple of new league-wide technology initiatives that take advantage of engineering and integration capabilities of Bexel Engineered Systems and Solutions and high-capacity data circuits.

The two biggest changes are, first, the NFL’s launch of a centralized replay operation, which allows officials in New York to provide an additional layer of support to the replay officials on the field and in the booth at the stadiums. And then there is NFL Films’ transition from shooting on film to digital media, moving it into a digital age whereby content can be acquired and delivered as a file directly from the stadiums to the league’s production arm and other business units.

Both developments relied heavily on Bexel expertise. Over the past 18 months, the company provided design and development support to the NFL, integrated the hardware into venue technology cabinets, and deployed the new technology at each of the league’s 31 stadiums. Diversified Systems provided technical and integration support for the additions and changes to the NFL command center.

“This is the continuation of our growth into providing specialized systems that require a fair amount of design work, establishing specifications and budgets and then executing the final design,” says Scott Nardelli, SVP/GM, Bexel ESS. “This is our unique ability: to provide consultation, budgeting, and implementation of a specialized system with a fast-track deployment schedule.”

Nardelli and Bexel, which installed the current system in 2007, became involved with the project more than a year ago, beginning with an analysis of capabilities of the existing replay operations, looking at what enhancements can be made to improve performance, and settling on a plan to implement a system that allows a centralized replay review in New York City.

“What we did change was that now the game officials can talk to NFL officials in New York,” says Nardelli. “We connected the new official-to-official communications system on the field to the existing communication system.”

A mix of wireless, wired, and IP-based communications technologies maximizes the use of existing facilities while providing a way for officials to communicate directly with the game-day command center in New York. Haivision encoders are used to deliver video signals from the replay booth at the stadium to the command center via a new NFL Venue Technology cabinet located near the traditional truck compound.

For 2014, the core replay system at each of the venues remains the same Harris Broadcast system that has been in use since 2007.

“One of the most interesting aspects of the project was working with the different NFL entities, like the NFL officiating office, game-day operations, NFL Films, and NFL IT as everyone worked together to provide a unified solution for the NFL’s sideline operations,” adds Nardelli. It was truly a team effort, with the goal of sharing services, equipment, and resources to maximize functionality while controlling overall costs.

Those operations extend beyond just replay. The move to digital by NFL Films required SSD card readers be installed in the technology rack in the stadium, allowing cards to be inserted into card readers and the content transferred to the NFL Films facility in Mt. Laurel, NJ, as well as to other NFL facilities. “They can get game-day footage to NFL Films and the network 48 hours faster than they used to,” Nardelli points out.

One of the challenges was finding a suitable location within each stadium for the rack, which weighs 900 lb. Each stadium is unique given the history of stadium construction, and, even in newer stadiums, that space is at a premium. Therefore, the rack needed to incorporate things like cooling, power, and security in a small footprint. In addition, the racks have remote diagnostic and control functions so that everything from data-transfer rates, equipment operating conditions, humidity, and temperature can be monitored and, if necessary, components can be turned on and off from anywhere. About 20 Bexel staffers were involved in the buildout, which took place in about 30 days for all 31 stadiums.

“Not every stadium had the space available, so we had to be creative; others had different environmental conditions that impacted the installation requirements,” explains Nardelli. “Input from each of the teams and stadiums was essential to the completion of the project.”

This expansive project involved a lot of collaboration between NFL departments, manufacturers, and the stadiums to pull it all together. In addition, it provides a platform for the NFL to initiate new services, products, and solutions in the future.

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