Venue Technology Summit: Target Field Offers Blueprint for Next-Gen Video Delivery

With in-stadium technologies improving by leaps and bounds, fan expectations increase exponentially, and teams must meet the demand to draw the crowds. Gone are the days when the mere presence of WiFi was considered a treat, one large video display was more than enough, and screens throughout the stadium were expected to play one static show. When fan experience drives team revenue, cultivating it is essential; those that ignore it risk a fan base content to watch their favorite team from the comforts of home.

To address how best to approach the insatiable need for in-stadium connectivity and content, SVG held its annual Sports Venue Technology Summit from Target Field in Minneapolis on Nov. 16. More than 100 industry leaders braved the city’s first wind-chill-factored day of the season for an inside look at the home of the Minnesota Twins, ranked No. 1 in stadium experience by ESPN The Magazine, and the future of sports venues.

Delivering a Top-Ranked Experience
Opened in April 2010, Target Field is the smallest Major League Baseball ballpark by square footage, residing on a smaller footprint than both Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. With a site bordered on two sides by active bridges, one side by a railroad, and one side by a freeway, transitioning from the sprawling Metrodome to the confined downtown location required imagination.

Throughout the day-long event, Target Field served as a model of the modern stadium, showcasing what is possible in terms of space constraints, infrastructure, and technology.

When asked to compare Target Field with the Twins’ previous home, Alpha Video Systems CTO Jeff Volk did not hesitate. “From a baseball perspective, it’s night and day,” he said. “The Metrodome was a facility designed more for football, [and] it had some amenities that were aging. While the Metrodome would be very loud [when] it was full [and], at playoff times, we’d have home-field advantage because of the noise, from a fan perspective, [Target Field is] a hundred percent better.”

In its first season, Target Field ranked sixth in overall MLB attendance; last season, the venue improved to fourth. The jump was especially impressive considering the team’s lackluster play but not altogether surprising given the facility’s modern amenities and easily accessible location.

“I noticed in September, walking around the crowd, the 30,000-35,000 [fans] that were here those nights in September, [it was] still a fun atmosphere,” recalled Andy Price, senior director, broadcasting and game presentation, Minnesota Twins. “The final day of the season, in our 99th loss, we still saw smiles on everybody’s faces. The experience has not diminished at all; it seems to get better as we’ve gone on.”

Tour of Target Field
Attendees were offered a guided tour of Target Field as part of the Venue Technology Summit. They visited the main telecommunications room, located on the opposite side of the venue from the main server room but built with the ultimate goal of complete redundancy between the two rooms.

Additional stops on the tour included the truck compound and scoreboard-control room located above the first baseline. The Twins operate a full tapeless workflow with six-channel EVS server based on ProRes 244 format.

Special attention was drawn to the 101- by 57-ft. primary LED display, which is more than double the size of the biggest video display board at the Metrodome, and the Twins Tower. Target Field also has a secondary LED screen, out-of-town scoreboard, bullpen scoreboard, and fascia boards.

Chyron CTO Bill Hendler stressed the importance of the game-day graphical presentation on these boards.

“Obviously, a venue is a real different experience from the at-home viewing experience, and graphics play an incredibly important part in that storytelling,” he explained. “Without play-by-play, without lots of cameras and directors crafting that story, the fan experience becomes very significantly based on display.”

Twins Tower, a unique structure constructed with light sticks instead of LED bulbs, is located in far right field and speaks to the Twins’ emphasis on aesthetics. The Tower is currently devoted to animation and player headshots as the team further experiments with its capabilities.

Attendees visited the Twins’ suites for a demonstration of Cisco’s StadiumVision IPTV system, which transmits more than 60 channels over a converged network to more than 650 LCD TVs throughout the building.

And of course, no stadium tour would be complete without a visit to the clubhouse, dugout, and walk on the field.

Future-Proofing a Venue
Addressing those considering construction of a new venue, the Twins personnel continually stressed future-proofing by including the infrastructure needed to allow for growth as technology changes.

Sometimes, the benefits of future-proofing are immediately apparent. The Twins installed a scoreboard in the bullpen but quickly realized that it was not easily visible to the scoreboard-control room, press box, or television cameras.

The addition of a PTZ camera quickly solved the problem and proved that a little forethought can save a lot of time and money down the road. “Because the infrastructure had been so well thought out,” Volk noted, “it was very easy for us to make that add.”

Get Involved, Stay Involved
In addition to the two Target Field-specific sessions and tours, the 2011 Venue Technology Summit touched on the recent renovations boom, seen especially in the college space, as well as advances in control-room technology and in-stadium connectivity.

Whether building a new stadium from the ground up, extensively renovating an existing venue, or simply upgrading the technology to fit in with what fans expect of their game-day experience, the most important aspect of the process is involvement.

“We [decided that we] were going to be seriously engaged in the design and construction [of Target Field] at all levels,” said Mark Durenberger, systems consultant for the Minnesota Twins. For anyone looking to get involved with a project, he advises, “Get in early, make the best of yourself, stay informed, and stay engaged in the process. You want to learn the process, and you want to know what’s going on. That’s the key thing.”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the Venue Technology Summit!