New Season, New Look for Nashville Predators

Nashville Predators fans attending the team’s first preseason home game last weekend were treated to “new” wherever they looked. The Preds, sporting new uniforms featuring Nashville’s new logo and wordmark, skated on a freshly painted sheet of ice between new dasher boards with new acrylic panes. Even the team that faced off against the Predators last Saturday was new, or at least a new opponent for Nashville (the Winnipeg Jets franchise has returned to the NHL after leaving the Manitoba city for Phoenix in 1996; the Nashville Predators debuted in 1998).

While many of the event-level changes were made for safety reasons — acrylic panes are not as rigid as glass and can absorb player contact better — the need to transform Bridgestone Arena paved the way for upgrading the technology in the 15-year-old building.

Upgraded Boards Yield Ad Opportunity
The new boards feature the arena’s most noticeable technological upgrade. Two Daktronics 10-mm LED dasher displays, roughly 10 ft. by 2 ft. and located near the player benches, will provide digital signage visible to fans in the arena as well as to those watching from home.

“We were replacing all of our dashers and glass around the arena, so it made sense for us to make upgrades at that time,” explains Blake Grant, senior director of event presentation for the Predators. “As we were doing the redesign, it was our opportunity, since we would be able to design the boards around the signs.”

As long as the clock is not running, the NHL allows teams to make digital-signage changes. After the whistle blows, Grant plans to rotate through sponsors with partnerships that include digital signage.

“What’s significant about the location [of the dasher displays] is that they are on the side of the venue where the player benches are and it’s what’s on TV most of the time,” he says. “That’s why that’s precious inventory. It’s really an opportunity for us to maximize our revenue in that ad space.”

Strengthening Local Bonds
Four years ago, the Predators introduced their fans to Megatron, the center-hung scoreboard featuring four high-resolution Mitsubishi LED digital video displays. The system played fan prompts, live game footage, video, and interactive clips, but it did so over a standard-definition video server.

This season, the Predators strengthened their partnership with Nashville-based Click Effects, a provider of technology-oriented solutions for live events, whose initial venture into video production coincided with the Preds’ first season in Nashville. The Predators were the first professional franchise to purchase a Click Effects video system, and many others have followed suit.

More than a decade later, the Predators are implementing two new Click Effects systems: the dual-channel HD CrossFire broadcast server and the Blaze digital-sign controller.

The CrossFire server allows content acquired in HD to be played on Megatron in HD, for a difference that Grant describes as “dramatic.”

While the CrossFire controls the video on Megatron, the Blaze system operates the digital signage in the bowl, including the ribbon boards and dasher boards. The two are integrated over one network, which is handled by a single operator. That operator, along with a producer and those in charge of digital signage, are located in a control room behind the media press box and can see the boards and feel the energy of the crowd.

“The two [systems] can talk to each other through our network,” says Eric Pangborn, director of sales for Click Effects. “We’ve allowed [the Predators] to simplify their production on the operational side and the way they present graphics to all the boards that they use, whether that be the ribbon boards or the center-hung main [scoreboard].”

The in-game video production is further simplified by not having to think of the Megatron video and digital signage as two separate shows.

“As the season goes on, we’re hoping to build and create content that can be used by both systems,” says Grant. “Instead of having all of this LED signage [in addition to] a video board, now we treat it as one monster, one big system.”

Sharing Content To Maximize Viewer Experience
For the 13th season, the Nashville Predators will partner with Fox Sports Tennessee. This season marks the first of a four-year deal in which FS Tennessee, along with sister station SportsSouth, will televise 60 regular-season games — an all-time high for the regional sports network.

The partnership between the team and the network extends into Grant’s domain, with the in-house video integrating very closely with FS Tennessee’s production. The video-control room is actually located adjacent to the TV-truck compound. Originally designed so that the two were only 150 cable feet away, the proximity further facilitates integration and communication between team and network.

Besides being able to access FS Tennessee’s cameras and trucks, Grant and his team make available for TV the point-of-view cameras and those in the penalty box, player hallways, and trained on the scoreboard.

“We can get so much more out of our show,” says Grant, “and we’re helping them get more out of their show since we’re sharing those resources.”