Venue Technology Summit: IT Convergence Changing Design, Execution of In-Venue Video Experiences

Does your team have the largest videoboard in the country? Check again tomorrow.

CTG's John Curtis (center) discusses IT convergence in venues at the SVG Venue Technology Summit as Logan Meier of Barclays Center (left) and of Pat Green of Daktronics listen in.

CTG’s John Curtis (center) discusses IT convergence in venues at the SVG Venue Technology Summit as Barclays Center’s Logan Meier (left) and Daktronics’ Pat Greenlisten in.

Bragging rights for biggest board change hands about as quickly as a game of hot potato, but, as a panel of venue-technology experts observed at the SVG Venue Technology Summit at Barclays Center in Brooklyn this week, there’s a whole lot more to having a great stadium/arena experience than just having the biggest screen.

“The size of the board is sort of secondary,” said Jeff Volk, director, Sports & Entertainment Group, Alpha Video, whose recent venue projects include Marlins Park, a renovation of Lambeau Field, and work with 10-15 universities. “It really is about content and creating an in-venue experience that is better or different than the in-home experience.

“Whether it’s fantasy content or other forms of entertainment content,” he continued, “the size of the board allows them the real estate to put on a high-quality video show that entertains the fan. So size is really an offshoot of the desire to provide even more content and in-stadium entertainment value to their customer.”

How venues feed content and information to their videoboards, accompanying fascia, ribbon boards, and more is rapidly evolving. The panel agreed that the convergence of IT networks across the board is becoming the norm.

“Our networking is extended from everything from point-of-sale [POS] [to] security [to] IPTV, and anything that is IT-centric is riding on that backbone, and it’s being done throughout the entire athletic campus,” says Stuart Reynolds, senior consulting engineer, Diversified Systems, who oversaw  integration of a state-of-the-art IT and IPTV infrastructure at the newly remodeled Husky Stadium at the University of Washington. “It’s one converged network serving multiple venues within a facility, and this we’re seeing duplicated over and over again where video, audio, security, point-of-sale, digital signage all coming together all on one network.”

Jeffrey Volk of Alpha Video (left) and Stuart Reynolds of Diversified Systems

Jeffrey Volk of Alpha Video ((left) and Stuart Reynolds of Diversified Systems

John Curtis, project manager, Comprehensive Technical Group (CTG), agreed, adding that many university partners are constructing control rooms designed to feed live programming to outside sources, for example, ESPN3 or other direct-streaming platforms.

“ESPN’s no longer showing up with a truck,” says Curtis, whose company recently completed renovations at the BB&T Center, the Sunrise, FL, home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. “They’re taking feeds directly from these control rooms. That’s a big trend we’re seeing in a lot of collegiate venues.”

Volk added that the new emphasis on IT is also changing the personnel needed to make an in-venue videoboard show run.

“It really shapes the way that we staff nowadays,” he said. “It used to be that we hired video engineers that focused on putting the best-quality video up on the board that they could; now we’re hiring software programmers that can write scripts to take stats databases, format them into different types of graphics boxes.”

What it comes down to it, the size of an LED display is a lot more than macho chest-beating. It is, in fact, providing a larger, more diverse palette in order to tell a story for the in-venue fan. That was a key factor for the team at Barclays Center as it began designing the now year-old arena.

“Versatility [was key],” says Logan Meier, director of facilities presentation, Barclays Center. “When I sat down and started working on the project with [Forest City Ratner Director of Technology] Chip [Foley], we talked about pushing the limits. Everybody says they want bigger and better, but really versatility is critical. That’s something that we looked for from Daktronics. We want to design unique things for fans when they come into the building.”

When it comes to working with a client, Curtis noted that it’s important to share new case studies to emphasize how other workflows have brought success to similar stadiums or arenas. That may mean recommending certain gear or future-proof technologies

“We live in a bid world, a contractual world, and this is a measure of what those documents contain, so it goes back to that initial workflow and design meetings with the client to see where they want it to end up,” says Curtis. “You look at installations where they are doing a lot of complex routing to the boards. There’s a lot of direct communication between switchers, and there’s certainly some things that we will recommend and tell them to look at how other people are doing this, because we feel it is the best practice to do this.”

Sometimes that conversation may lead to a stone wall. That’s where the people-to-people relationship becomes critical.

“You may also run into some engineers in control rooms that are very set in their ways,” says Curtis. “We try to drag them into the 21st century, and sometimes they are unwilling, so we need to provide them the most robust system we can but within the confines of what they want it to be. Ultimately, they are the ones that have to live in these control rooms and run them.”