CSVA Report: Video Coordinators Play Key Role in Facility Design, Construction

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Collegiate video coordinators tackled the challenge of building a new video-production-friendly stadium or arena at this week’s CSVA convention. A panel of experts—from video coordinators who have survived the process to system integrators—offered advice to those yet to take the new-building plunge on ways to thrive during the dive. Among the tips? Get involved early to make sure architects understand video production, storage, power, and air-conditioning needs, and also make sure all involved see the video coordinator as the technical expert when it comes to audio/video needs.

The programming phase, when ideas and goals for a new facility are considered, is the most critical phase for involvement. “The most important thing I did was get connected with the right people who helped me contain my costs,” says John Kvatek, director of video services for the University of Central Florida, of the decision to use Acoustic Dimensions and Alpha Video to help build new video facilities in Bright House Networks Stadium. “You need people you trust who will feed you good information. If you trust them, you can give them some direction and not haggle over dollars.”

Jeff Volk, director of Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment Group, adds that a key point is to reinforce with clients that, regardless of budget, get the AV people who will be working at the venue involved. “We design most systems to future-proof as much as possible,” he says. That means building an infrastructure suitable for HD even if HD isn’t expected to be in place for the foreseeable future.

Kvatek adds that internal communications with school officials are also important. “Let them know it will cost them three times as much to fix something after it’s already been built rather than doing it properly during the initial building phase,” he says.

When construction begins, a whole new set of challenges begin. Diligence and oversight become the primary goals. Tim Asher, video coordinator for the University of Kentucky basketball team, says that when the school committed to building a new facility three years ago, he found that keeping a close eye on construction was imperative. “I spent 18 months going into a concrete building and discovering, on a daily basis, things that weren’t right and saving a lot of headaches,” he says. “You need to know where wiring is supposed to go and where the head coach’s desk will be so you can fix things.”

An Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of where every cable run, Internet connection, and phone outlet is supposed to begin and terminate is important to cutting costs of retrofitting. And don’t overlook cable trays.

“Plan in advance for lots and lots of cabling,” he says. “You’ll be surprised how quickly the cable trays will fill up.”

Video coordinators should also use the new construction as a way to increase their value to the school. “We have to be the technical experts within our athletic departments,” he adds. “When they’re talking about building a $170 million basketball arena, you have to carry yourself in a way that engenders confidence from your administration. And that means legwork and having people you can fall back on. It’s not easy, and it’s very complicated, but it’s worth it and you’ll raise your value to the department.”

And while many of the decisions made may seem to focus on the fans in the stands, it’s important to remember that moves like pre-cabling camera positions or adding fiber connectivity can make the difference in exposure for a school’s athletic program.

Al Fong, ESPN Event Operations’ senior technical manager, recalls the first time he visited the University of Florida nearly 30 years ago for a football-game production. “The stadium was pre-wired, and I had never seen that before,” he says. “Coach Steve Spurrier was a visionary. Being pre-cabled got the players on TV, and the university had exposure like no other team.”

Kvatek says the decision by UCF to cable the stadium has paid off as ESPN, CBS College Sports Network and others have found the football team more attractive. “Unless a team is in the top 10, it’s competing with the others to be on TV,” he explains. “And if we all get about the same TV rating, then the difference between getting covered and not is helping the network save money [in production costs].”

Lastly, don’t forget the personal touch to ensure that construction goes as smoothly as possible. Kvatek recommends building a strong bond with the construction managers. “Bring them shirts, have the coach say hello, whatever, but get to know them,” he says.