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New Tech Helps Drive Sports Arena Success
11/11/2011


PITTSBURGH—The construction of a professional sports stadium usually indicates the rebirth of a city, a larger-than-life example of the booming local economy and the power of local sports program to pull in legions of fans.

These days, however, the development of professional arena is more likely to be a stagnant proposition. Take voters in New York, for example, who recently nixed a plan to build a new $400 million hockey arena for the New York Islanders; or lawmakers in Seattle, who are struggling to rubberstamp a new $170 million basketball and hockey arena. Advocates point to long-term economic benefits and the creation of thousands of jobs, while detractors cry foul over raised taxes and financial excess.

The CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh is home to the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team as well as the Pittsburgh Power Arena Football Team.
But there are those stadiums that have been built successfully over the last few years, those with unique attributes on their side: generous funding, a solid fan base, and in a growing number of cases, a modern technology infrastructure that is being used to pull fans in with on-demand and live video options via broadcast and IP.

MODERN SENSIBILITIES

There’s no need to tell that to the fans in Pittsburgh. Technology played a key role in the development of the CONSOL Energy Center, a $321 million sports arena in Pittsburgh that opened for the 2010-11 season and serves as home to the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team as well as the Pittsburgh Power Arena Football Team. From the first cornerstone, the building was built with modern sensibilities mind. In addition to semi-private seating and a kids play area, the 18,000-seat tech-laden facility includes four 25-foot tall Mitsubishi Electric HD screens acting as the center-ice scoreboard, two 360-degree LED rings encircling the seating arena and 800 HDTV sets throughout the facility.

The arena’s developers worked with the local Pittsburgh Technology Council to consider new technologies to implement into the arena’s technology design, which was built by Diversified Systems. The result is a fan experience unlike many others, according to Erik Watts, senior director of technology for the Pittsburgh Penguins. “[This facility] is set apart simply because we’re able to reach the fans on a lot of different levels,” he said.

One of those levels occurs upstairs in the arena’s luxury suites, where the developers built in a series of 22-inch touchscreen television consoles that offer online video streaming of NHL GameCenter Live programming. “This gives fans the ability to interact with the game here and at other arenas,” Watts said. “They can watch the live feed here or live feed in Boston.” The system also offers direct access to player stats, team stats and the NHL Ice Tracker, which provides an edited on-demand video/audio clip of one of the last five highlighted events. “[Fans can then see] where different things have happened—the last shots, goals and hits,” he said. “They have the ability to replay that back via the suite touchscreen.”

The CONSOL Center includes large-scale touchscreens that serve as interactive “trading cards” for attendees to pull up stats and play back video. Video also plays a big role on screens within a $2 million in-house studio, where technology is used to track where Penguins-related Twitter messages are showing up in different parts of the nation. Nearby, technology is bringing a piece of glory into the arena itself, where a virtual image of hockey’s biggest prize—the Stanley Cup—floats in a virtual 3D pose, giving fans a chance to see what the real cup might look like if the Penguins brought it home once more.

The CONSOL Center includes large-scale touchscreens that serve as interactive “trading cards” for attendees to pull up stats and play back video.
In addition to the four 25-foot HD screens that broadcast both live and replay feeds over center ice, two smaller video boards sit above those screens to air score and game details. The arena also includes a Mitsubishi Resolia video display, a wall-mountable 4 mm LED display designed for up-close viewing and digital signage. The two 2,000 linear-foot ribbon boards that encircle the Penguin’s ice are Diamond Vision 20mm ribbon boards.

Software control of the LED displays was handled by ANC Sports Enterprises, which also provides as game-day display control via its VisionSoft multidisplay control system using SDI and HD-SDI relay gear. ANC has a hand in stadiums around the nation, including the installation of a new Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision signage system at Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium and a new $1.2 million center-hung HD Mitsubishi scoreboard at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center.

CAMERAS AT CONSOL

At the CONSOL Center, a total of 10 hardwired cameras are in place, including three Ikegami HDK-77EC HD CMOS cameras, one Ikegami HDL-50 multiformat HD POV camera hanging over the center ice run by a CamMate controller, two Fletcher robotic dasher cams and four Sony BRC-Z700 PTZ robotic cameras. Two Sony PDW-F355 XDCAM wireless cameras with Nucomm CamPac2 PRO COFDM RF wireless units are being used as well.

A number of Canon lenses are in place, including two KH10ex3.6 Super Wide Angle lenses and a DigiSuper 75xs. File management is handled via a Dalet Digital Media Systems MAM Media Asset Management system. Switching and routing is being handled by a Ross Vision QMD/X 4 MLE switcher and an Evertz Xenon 128x128 HD-SDI router. Diversified Systems, which handled the design and systems integration of the facility, has played a role in a number of professional sports arena technology upgrades, from installing the IPTV system at Yankee Stadium to the HD scoreboard for the San Francisco Giants.

Sports and technology aren’t always synced partners, however. Early on, the facility invested in a technology called the “Yinz Cam,” an on-demand solution that allowed fans to select live feeds from in-house cameras on their mobile devices or via the stadium touchscreen consoles.

“When we had Yinz Cam, we realized not many fans were using it, maybe 10 to 12 users per game and the in-suite app was rarely touched at all,” Watts said. “Perhaps it was usability, or that the feeds were strictly just Pittsburgh,” so fans were not able to tap into other NHL games simultaneously via the suite touchscreens. “Now we see about 30-50 percent [of the consoles] being utilized, so we’re seeing quite a bit of an upswing,” he said.

Yet technology can only have so much of a pull.

“We expect [those figures] to get better as we add features to it, but we have to understand what we’re competing with,” Watts said. “All the seats in the arena are fantastic—you can see the game from anywhere. We have 800 TVs and a state-of-the-art HD center-hung board. But we don’t expect them to be turning to a 22-inch screen the whole game.

“We understand that the core reason that they’re there is the team, and you really must keep that in mind when it comes to what we’re going to deploy technology-wise. We don’t want to take away from their core desire.”

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