Arizona Cardinals Prime University of Phoenix Stadium for NFL’s Biggest Stage
When University of Phoenix Stadium opened its doors in 2006, the NFL’s oldest continuously run professional-football franchise received the league’s newest facility. The Arizona Cardinals’ move from Sun Devil Stadium, where they had played since leaving St. Louis in 1988, energized the franchise and the fan base, and the venue, with its retractable roof and field, quickly earned a Super Bowl.
Now, with a second Super Bowl on the way, University of Phoenix Stadium continues to wow fans — thanks to the support of Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA), which owns the venue — with upgrades to in-game video and much more.
“The great thing about this stadium is that it’s gotten better since we moved in. It continually gets upgraded, and that’s [because of the] partnership between AZSTA and the Cardinals,” says Mike Conner, video and scoreboard operations manager, Arizona Cardinals. Although the Super Bowl is a great opportunity to showcase the building, he says, it wasn’t the only the only driving factor in the upgrade. In addition to Super Bowl XLIX, the venue hosts the annual Fiesta Bowl and will host the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship and 2016 NCAA Final Four.
“If we’re going to make [an] investment, this is a great time to make it because you’re putting [the venue] on the biggest stage ever,” Conner notes. “I wouldn’t say the upgrades were done because of the Super Bowl; I think [they were] done because we want to put our best foot forward on all the events that we do.”
The upgrades to University of Phoenix Stadium were unveiled prior to the 2014 NFL season. Most noticeable to Cardinals fans was the new Daktronics 13HD videoboard installed in the south end zone. Measuring three times the size of the previous south–end-zone display, which was relocated to the north end zone, the new videoboard stretches 58 ft. tall by 164 ft.
Conner’s team approaches in-game video as a balancing act between entertaining the fans and deferring to the action on the field. Today’s fans, he says, have become accustomed to watching the network broadcast on their living-room TVs and expect the same in-game stats and instant replays. Furthermore, they understand the game.
“We think that the fan IQ is high enough that they understand that they’re going to be calm [when the huddle breaks], but we want to celebrate that first down,” says Conner. “Larry [Fitzgerald] catches a 40-yard pass and taps his feet down and goes out of bounds — let’s have a little fun. That’s why they’re here. And so we get to celebrate a little bit, but then we’re respectful of what’s needed for the team.”
In addition to Cardinals home games and marquee events like the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four, the Cardinals’ video department supports all team onsite and offsite events, and often, the department is called on to support the 140-150 events that University of Phoenix Stadium hosts each year. Needless to say, the Cardinals needed a video-control room that could handle the volume.
Located on press level, the video-control room feeds every videoboard in the venue as well as four billboard roadway signs and two marquee displays on the venue’s exterior. Anchoring the equipment at the core is Evertz EQX router and terminal equipment. The room also features Ross Video’s Acuity switcher, two four-channel XPression graphics servers, and MultiViewer; five Evertz DreamCatcher replay servers; Vista Systems Spyder X20 video processor; DiGiCo SD10 audio console; AJA Video Systems KiPro recorders; Grass Valley K2 Summit media servers; Ikegami monitors; Riedel intercoms; and Adobe Premier editing software. The Cardinals worked closely with each vendor, as well as with Pro Sound, to select the ideal piece of equipment.
For Cardinals games, Conner’s team configures four DreamCatchers for 4K in/1080p out for a variety of live game video and replays; the fifth server deploys new Evertz technology that enables the team to build playlists of fan-created mobile video for the videoboard. The Cardinals deploy two Sony F55 cameras — one to each end zone — that capture in 4K; feeds are downconverted to 1080p for playout to the videoboard and archived in native 4K. One Sony HDC2400 camera and eight Sony HDC2570 cameras round out the camera complement.
A number of Go Pro cameras equipped with Teradek Bolt HD-SDI transmitters give Conner’s team unique shots from around the venue and an advantage over the network broadcast. “We’re trying to give [fans] things they would see at home plus. Our battle is, we have to do everything that the network’s doing and a little bit more,” says Conner. “The router’s really great because we get to take all those great feeds from the truck that they’ll give us — cart cam, Skycam, the blimp shot — that we can bring in to the stadium. Then, we get some things that they don’t have, like locker-room camera.”
For next month’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, Big Screen Networks will produce the in-game video show. As BSN EVP Bob Becker directs the show, Conner’s team will be very involved in the production. The flexibility of the control room, specifically the quantity of router IO panels around the room, will enable BSN to easily integrate its equipment and add content-creation stations where needed.
Reflecting on the past season, Conner deems the upgrades a success. In addition to the enhanced in-game–video capabilities, the Cardinals added a robust WiFi network and distributed antenna system, became the first team to install LED lighting in the venue, and even added a DJ for fan entertainment.
“We’ve designed our fan experience for what fits our culture, where our ownership wants to go, and what our direction is for the fan experience, so it’s been a fantastic year,” says Conner. “Our fans have been enthusiastic about the upgrades that we’ve made, and, with our control room, … everything is so much better than it’s ever been before.”