Venue Technology Summit: A Peek Inside the Stadium of the Future

In plans for the stadium of the future, only one thing is certain: enough today won’t be enough five years from now. During the closing session at SVG’s Sports Venue Technology Summit at Marlins Park in Miami on Tuesday, a mix of leading venue designers, system integrators, and equipment manufacturers offered their insights on how to build state-of-the-art venues for today while accounting for the fact that much of the technology will be outdated in just a few years.

From left: Alpha Video’s Jeff Volk, Bexel’s Scott Nardelli, Grass Valley’s Richard Threadgill, and WJHW’s Josh Beaudoin.

“When you think about future-proofing a [venue], you can’t think ‘maybe [the client] is going to need it,’ because they are going to need it down the line. You can be positive of that,” said Josh Beaudoin, director, public assembly and large venue projects, WJHW. “If you are building a house and you think you need 28-in. doors, then put in 36-in. doors [to be safe]. You’ve got to think outside of the box and think about what you don’t know yet.”

Dark Fiber Offers Bright Future
Whether it is the control room, video boards, digital signage, or pretty much any other video element, the safest way to future-proof a venue is by establishing expandable infrastructure and cabling that will accommodate unforeseen upgrades down the road. By laying down a vast amount of dark fiber in addition to the fiber used on opening day, professional teams and collegiate programs create a level of flexibility that can only benefit their programs down the line. And best of all, fiber is inexpensive.

“Let’s be honest, fiber is dirt cheap,” stated Scott Nardelli, SVP, sales and marketing, Bexel. “The difference between 24 strands of fiber, 72, 144, 288, is negligible in terms of the cost and the labor to put it in. But, when we have to show up after the fact and put in that fiber — like we are in New Orleans right now, for example — we have to dig up streets, and it becomes a huge job.

“You can’t put in enough dark glass these days,” he continued. “Don’t assume that, just because you’re doubling the size of your capacity in dark glass, you are doubling the size of your budget. You aren’t. It is a 25%-30% cost increase, not a 200% cost increase.”

Not Your Grandfather’s Control Room
While the fiber backbone of a venue or a college campus has never been more integral to a team’s video operations, the gear inside the control room is changing dramatically. The shift from hardware-centric units toward a more software-based philosophy continues to accelerate, creating a new-look control room and camera complement and presenting new challenges for manufacturers.

Threadgill (second from right) spoke about the move toward software-based gear in the control room of the future.

“The kids that are coming out of school are learning this technology in a different way and growing up with new software applications,” said Richard Threadgill, senior director, sports market development, Grass Valley. “So we’re trying to build a blackbox hardware architecture that is defined by the software that comes with it. The advancements will come in the software packages and development more so than what is in that hardware.”

Grass Valley’s software-based philosophy is exemplified in the company’s new LDX camera series, unveiled in September at IBC in Amsterdam. The three-camera lineup allows features like high-speed recording to be added and removed from the camera via software. As a result, the client can enable high-end features intermittently rather than permanently.

Threadgill also foresees an entirely new touchscreen-driven user interface for production switchers in the not too distant future, catering to the next generation of operators, who grew up on iPads and other tablet devices.

“It is a pretty bold and scary future out there because it is very different than what many of us grew up with,” says Threadgill. “That is where we as a company are heading, and we are betting that is where the future is ultimately going.”

This software-centric mentality will affect not only the gear inside the control room but also the personnel that operate it. Threadgill believes productions will need less crew due to the automation capabilities provided by next-generation software, creating a challenging new dynamic for production professionals and freelancers (as the news industry has already experienced).

This new approach is also likely to affect the engineers who design the venues and control rooms in the first place.

“Three years ago, as a system integrator, we were hiring engineers as fast as we could that could sit down and draw hardware systems,” said Jeff Volk, director, Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment Group. “Now we actually have a software-development department because there are so many middleware things that we have to tie together with software so that systems can talk together.”

Colleges Look To Cash in by Fibering Up
Without question, the fastest-growing segment of the sports-venue industry is the college market. Schools all over the country are looking to establish new revenue streams by amping up their video-production capabilities for athletics. With these new facilities, colleges and universities can stream their own live athletics content online, provide it to their conference networks (Pac-12, Big 10, etc.), and entice local RSNs and entities like ESPN3 to televise or stream this content.

 

Both Volk (left) and Nardelli preached the importance — and affordability — of fiber infrastructure at venues.

“One of the hurdles to RSNs’ partnering with [schools], outside of the rights fees, is production costs,” said Volk. “If we can take a control room and build a core infrastructure of cameras and routers and replicate what is done in the truck, [the schools] can be more attractive to RSN partners, Webstreams, and other subscription models for monetizing content on a collegiate basis.

“As a result,” he continued, “schools are fibering up their campuses and making all of their venues accessible through a central control room. This replaces the truck, so there is no a need for an outside-production-truck partner to come in at all. They can do it in-house. … This is a trend that a dozen clients have approached us about in the last six months.”

Volk also added that several NFL franchises are looking to utilize and upgrade their already existing control rooms to produce weekly coaches and highlight shows in-house, rather than paying local stations to produce them.

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