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Latest technology helps sports venues keep fans in the seats

Although they are working on a variety of installation projects, the one area where system integrators are seeing the most growth is in sports venues, which are upgrading their audio and video production capabilities with the latest HD technology to keep fans coming out to the game.

The technology is being used to offer unique content delivered via IP signals and displayed on the large screens and dozens of smaller flat-panel TVs installed throughout a stadium or ballpark.

The Washington Redskins have completed a new HD upgrade to their FedEx Field video control room and infrastructure, with the help of Communications Engineering (CEI), in Newington, VA. CEI was responsible for the recent project management, space planning, final design, equipment procurement and systems integration as part of an ongoing development of the technology in the stadium. FedEx Field opened in 1997, and CEI began game-day operations and maintenance there in 2005.

A full complement of HD technology has been implemented over the past year that enables the event-day control room to mix a variety of feeds and send images (both live and prerecorded) to fans in FedEx Field. The signals are delivered to two 100ft 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.

The overall system can receive and record video and audio feeds from network TV production trucks as well as video signals from the dedicated video replay system, cameras and other external audio and video sources.

“We’re putting in the latest HD technology because the Redskins want to do more in terms of entertaining fans, so we have to accommodate that and build flexible platforms that can be used for a variety of purposes,” said Frank Giliotti, CEI vice president of technical services and leader of game-day operations at FedEx Field. “I’ve been involved in many sports venue builds and this stadium is equal or better, in terms of operational functionality, than any of them.”

Key technology pieces of the project include a new HD Ross 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; a fiber-optics upgrade for the stadium’s truck dock; and new operating consoles.

Another noteworthy system integration project is the MLB’s Florida Marlins' new ballpark, which is being built 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, which will then change its name to the Miami Marlins.

The team’s current home, Sun Life Stadium, includes a game presentation and events department that is responsible for creating content displayed on the large screen in the ballpark. With a facility that rivals most post-production department found anywhere, the department uses a predominantly tape-based workflow, facilitated by HD editing and networking technology from Avid and designed and implemented by the in-house staff.

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 on TV and radio, both in English and Spanish. 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’s website that includes content shown at the ballpark that day on the stadium’s Daktronics displays.

All of the Avid gear, including Avid Media Composer editing systems, an AirSpeed Multi Stream video server, Media Composer Mojo SDI, Unity MediaNetwork shared storage and an Interplay production system connected to it, will be moved to the new ballpark, with an increased storage capacity from 16TB currently to at least twice that going forward to accommodate the new equipment.

The Avid solutions help the team ingest video shot during a game and start editing a video element in as little as 15 seconds, according to Eric Ramirez, manager of game presentation and events.

“During a game, we can turn elements around pretty fast,” he said. “We’re ingesting through the Avid AirSpeed Multi Stream server and we can edit a clip as its being ingested. That’s important because our information is very timely for those attending the game, so we have to accommodate fans or we’ll lose their interest.”

Indeed, keeping fans’ interest is a challenge for all sports stadiums these days as they endeavor to create a live experience fans can't get at home on the couch.

The Marlins acquire footage with several JVC HD100 camcorders and record to HDV tape. Tapes are ingested into the AirSpeed Multi Stream server and then organized and managed with the Unity MediaNetwork platform. The AirSpeed Multi Stream server is used to store all highlight clips, ceremonies, special events, singing of the national anthem and first pitches occurring that day.

The Avid systems have streamlined the workflow and enabled the team to do more with the same three people. With the AirSpeed Multi Stream, for example, production goes so much faster because the editors can grab clips off the server and begin working immediately. Content is currently stored on removable hard drives, using the Interplay system to manage and retrieve clips as needed.

“After the singer has performed the national anthem, we give them a DVD of their performance by the end of the game,” Ramirez said. “Prior to using the Avid technology, we would have to record the performance directly onto a DVD recorder in our control room. We’d then bring the disc into one of our edit suites (on the other side of the stadium), digitize it, do some sweetening and then lay it back out to DVD. We certainly could not hand someone a finished DVD by the end of the same game.”

Gabe Gacharna, a video production editor with the Marlins, said the Avid workflow is so much more robust in terms of reliability and availability to clips on the network.

“Using shared storage is so much more efficient for editors like myself because I don't have to wait for someone else to finish their work before I can begin mine,” he said. “That makes a big difference in terms of time.”

Archiving is another challenging issue that the Marlins are wrestling with. They currently store content on removable hard drives, after editing on the Avid Media Composer systems. Previously, the Marlins used to archive on Betacam tapes, but it took too long and storage space became an issue. They went to DVD, but found they were losing some quality. When the stadium went HD, they upgraded to the HD versions of the Avid solutions and now use the Unity MediaNetwork, with 16TB of capacity, shared storage to hold the content they use most often.

“We’ve been using the Unity MediaNetwork since 2006 and will bring it with us to the new ballpark in 2012, so we feel like we really get our money’s worth with Avid,” Ramirez said. “We have three people working simultaneously, whereas, before, we had two people, and each had his own workstation with local storage.

“Our goal is to make sure fans are entertained when they come to the ballpark,” he said. “It’s that simple, but increasingly challenging to do well.”

Beginning in 2012, at the new Miami Marlins Ballpark, the game presentations and events department will deploy a 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 them flexibility to customize ads and other promotions for different parts of the ballpark.