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In-stadium entertainment

The market for a wide variety of live sports production technology continues to grow significantly, but we're not talking about mobile trucks. As new outdoor stadiums and indoor arenas continue to be built — or retrofitted — with new large HD (and 3-D) displays, electronic scoreboards and hundreds of flat-panel monitors at concession stands throughout, equipment vendors are reaping newfound revenue without having to develop new products to support them. Indeed, sports stadium entertainment is big business with a substantial return on investment.

In addition to producing content, this “new” technology is also being leveraged to send ads and other sponsored content to this captive audience, increasing the sports team's bottom line revenue as well.

The trend is clear: Stadiums and teams are trying to keep people in the seats by creating a multimedia experience that is similar to, but can't be replicated at, home. These new media production and distribution capabilities often require separate all-digital HD control rooms, IP network backbones and deterministic switching to distribute the numerous signals to different locations (simultaneously) within a venue.

In many cases, this has resulted in an infrastructure that is designed and implemented as a completely separate entity from the network or regional sports telecast production facilities, although it also includes HD cameras, production switchers, multiviewers, servers and routers.

Harris is one vendor that has targeted the space in a big way. The company has designed and installed an entire IP-based digital signage and live entertainment system inside Amway Center, in Orlando, FL, and is now working on the rebuilding of Madison Square Garden (MSG), in New York City. At MSG, Harris is designing the IP-centric core infrastructure and an infinitely customizable digital signage network based around Cisco Systems hardware (data delivery) and Harris' encoders, as well as its Infocaster (digital signage) and Punctuate (scheduling and invoice management) software.

At the Amway Center, the mostly Harris system (NEXIO servers, HD routers, CENTRIO and IP multiviewers, template-based Inscriber graphics systems and modular gear) features an HD video production and distribution and IPTV system, integrated with a multichannel digital signage network. This allows the Magic to address more than 1100 individual screens located throughout the arena with tailored content. Displays can be driven to show high-impact replays and highlights, venue messaging, out-of-home advertising or any combination of the three.

In addition, the system enables advertisers to have their names displayed on every screen in the facility at the same time, providing exclusive marketing opportunities.

Serving fans in new ways

New innovations include taking some of the traditional production capabilities of a video control room, which usually pushes out images to a center-hung scoreboard, and making that content available to fans individually either through special receiving devices supplied by the team or mobile apps on their smart phones. This often requires significant transcoding capabilities to convert baseband video into an easily consumable format delivered over an IP and/or Wi-Fi network. Working with established system integrators around the country, Harris has been implementing Cisco switching technology with its own HD servers and routers to make this happen.

Harris is also working to develop less costly systems, with less capability but the same high-quality image processing, for colleges and smaller-market stadiums. It would be an integrated system that has been preconfigured to ensure system interoperability.

Colleges get in the game

On the collegiate level, many schools are upgrading their in-house A/V capabilities to enrich the fan experience. The University of Oklahoma operates a state-of-the-art video and television production department, complete with in-house production facilities, called SoonerVision, which produces 65 big-screen events (for attendees of the various campus venues), and 50 live HDTV broadcasts that are delivered locally on campus and throughout the Midwest.

To help create all of this high-value content (captured with Sony XDCAM cameras), the school's athletics department built one video production control room in 2009 that included a Grass Valley Kayak HD production switcher. It has now built a second control room and populated it with a new Grass Valley Kayenne HD video production center switcher and two K2 Summit (four channels each) HD video servers.

Facilitating dual broadcasts

These all-digital control rooms are located inside Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (the main football and soccer venue) and are connected via fiber-optic cables to a total of six athletic venues across the campus in Norman, OK. During most games, the department produces a “dual broadcast,” one for the people in the stadiums and another for the broadcast TV audience at home. To accomplish this, the school purchased two Grass Valley Kayenne panels, which are both operated off a single switcher mainframe. One panel is dedicated to the in-stadium entertainment, and the other handles the live TV broadcasts.

For the Miami Heat NBA basketball team, managing its vast array of assets was a problem until it installed an Avid Interplay asset management system, the same type used at TV stations around the country. The Heat Group's Media Production Department, leveraging a shared storage infrastructure designed and implemented by SGI Professional Services (Fremont, CA), uses Interplay to search, retrieve and archive the media it needs to create high-profile, brand-centric content for those in attendance at games. The Interplay gives the group's staff total access to their media and enables everyone in the workflow to manage both data and the metadata associated with it.

The Heat Group has expanded by building an infrastructure that moves material among EVS servers, Sony XDCAM optical disc players, and Avid editing and storage systems.

Keeping fans in the seats

The Washington Redskins have completed a new HD upgrade to their FedEx Field video control room and infrastructure, with the help of Communications Engineering, Inc. (CEI), in Newington, VA. CEI was responsible for the project management, space planning, final design, equipment procurement and systems integration as part of an ongoing development of the multimedia technology in the stadium.

A full complement of HD technology has been installed that enables the “event-day” control room to mix a variety of feeds and send images (both live and prerecorded) to fans in attendance at FedEx Field. The signals are delivered to two 100ft-wide Daktronics screens as well as to a stadiumwide video distribution system that can be configured to send different signals (and promotions) to different parts of the venue.

Key technology pieces of the project include a new HD Ross Video production switcher; Boland, LG and Planar HD displays; Click Effects multichannel HD clip server system; EVS slow-motion video system upgrade; Evertz multiviewer system; GMS wireless camera system; Grass Valley server; Harris video routing equipment; Image Video tally system; Sony HD cameras with Fujinon lenses; Sony HD video recording and playback equipment; Apple edit system upgrades; Tektronix test equipment; Wohler audio monitors; an upgrade to fiber optics for the stadium's truck dock; and new operating consoles.

Another noteworthy project is the MLB's Florida Marlins' ballpark, known as Miami Ballpark, which is less than 2mi west of downtown Miami — on the site of the former Miami Orange Bowl. The new ballpark will become home to the Florida Marlins in 2012; the team will then change its name to the Miami Marlins after moving into the stadium.

The team's current home, Dolphins Stadium, includes a game presentations and events department that is responsible for creating content displayed on the large screen in the ballpark. It uses a predominantly tape-based workflow, facilitated by HD editing and networking technology from Avid.

The department has three staff members who work collaboratively to develop all of the video displayed in the ballpark as well as marketing spots that are aired in TV and radio. They also make community outreach videos and dubs for a number of other departments within the Marlins organization. They are discussing building a new section of the team website that includes content shown at the ballpark that day on the “Marlin Vision” (Daktronics) displays.

All of the Avid gear, including Avid Media Composer edit stations, an Adrenalin, an AirSpeed multichannel video server, Mojo and Unity shared storage and an Interplay connected to it, will be moved to the new ballpark. Storage capacity will be increased from 16TB to at least twice that much.

Beginning in 2012, at the new Miami Ballpark, the game presentations and events department will deploy an all-tapeless environment that will handle two separate feeds from a single control room, one that goes to the large ballpark displays and a second for all of the monitors throughout the vending areas. This will give the team flexibility to customize ads and other promotions for different parts of the ballpark.

[Note: Avid offers Avid InGame, a preconfigured video production system that enables sports marketing organizations within leagues, teams and facilities to deliver fan experiences as well as drive enhanced brand visibility and revenue.]

Entertainment

The name of the game in sports today is entertainment. Teams want to monetize as much of that entertainment experience as they can by quickly creating content, such as video packages and promotions, and displaying it on scoreboards and screens throughout a venue, on the Web or in other types of promotions that use personalized technology.

For broadcast equipment vendors, then, in-stadium entertainment represents a reinvigorated vertical market (in light of a stagnant broadcast TV station sector) that holds the potential for significant new business. After all, who knows television production and video signal delivery better? The best part for equipment companies is that they can easily carry over existing technology to support these new types of digital signage and multimedia AV applications.

The ROI for manufacturers is pretty good when you consider the minimal re-engineering required to support in-stadium video applications. For sports teams and colleges, the benefit for fans is even more rewarding.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.