Venue Technology Summit: Audio Systems Aim To Pry Fans Off Couches, Into Venues

With all the talk of gargantuan videoboards and in-venue connectivity for mobile devices, it’s easy to forget just how important high-quality audio is to the overall in-venue fan experience. However, regardless of whether it’s video or audio, it all boils down to one factor: getting fans off their couch and into the stadium.

WJHW Principle Jack Wrightson (left) and EAW Founder Kenton Forsythe

WJHW Principle Jack Wrightson (left) and EAW Founder Kenton Forsythe

The closing panel at SVG’s annual Sports Tech Summit at the year-old Barclays Center in Brooklyn last week addressed how in-venue audio plays a key role in bringing fans to the arena/stadium despite constantly rising ticket prices and the enhanced at-home viewing experience.

“The live event is still the live event: people still want to go to concerts, games, and movies,” said Jack Wrightson, principal, WJHW. “But we want to make sure they don’t have an inferior experience. We want to make sure we are meeting that bar that has been raised by those other technologies and experiences, even making it better. In the case of audio and these other [in-venue] entertainment technologies, we have to provide an experience that is at least as good as, if not better than, they are getting someplace else.”

No News Is Good News
While the latest groundbreaking audio technologies can help to make for a louder, more thunderous in-venue show, the most important element in any fan’s experience remains intelligibility. After all, if the fan in the stands can’t hear the PA announcer, then what’s the point?

In the case of recent audio installations like the Barclays Center and Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High — both integrated by Parsons Electric — involving rigorous speech-transmission–index (STI) testing before the systems were even completed. As a result, both venues boast some of the clearest audio heard at any venue — indoor or outdoor — in the U.S. However, as has always been the case, don’t expect the average fan to notice — and that’s a good thing.

TC Group's Josh Evans (left) and Parsons Electric's David Potts,

TC Group’s Josh Evans (left) and Parsons Electric’s David Potts,

“For one job I just finished up, they said that no news is good news,” said David Potts, field systems engineer, Parsons Electric. “They are very happy with the sound system but no one ever walks out of a sporting event saying, Wow, that sounded awesome. They always say how great the scoreboard looked but never [how well they could] hear the announcer. But no news is good news: it was part of the overall experience, and it wasn’t a negative. So that’s a success.”

One of the biggest challenges for a venue like Barclays Center, which hosts more than 200 events annually, is the need for flexibility. Delivering a top-rate concert experience is markedly different from doing the same for an NBA basketball game. However, EAW founder Kenton Forsythe promised that his company and others in the loudspeaker space have plenty of new technology coming down the pike that will give venue staffs more flexibility than ever before.

“What it really boils down to is flexibility of use,” he said. “[A venue like] Barclays has 200 events in a year, and they’re not all NBA basketball games, where you can predict what is going to happen. I think there is going to be a real step forward in some of the things that can be done with mating loudspeaker systems not just to the room but also to the event going on in the room. And then it gets back down to the fundamental thing: delivering dynamic sound to everyone in the [venue]. There are some things coming that are going to make that a lot more of a reality.”

A key driver in this increased audio flexibility at venues has been the move towards converged networks, which are melding together the worlds of audio, video, IT, event operations, and data/integration onto a single backbone. However, this shift is still very much in flux.

“Convergence is a big deal right now,” said Josh Evans, TC Group, Technical Manager, Applications Engineering & Training. “[But one] problem with going with a converged network is not all the protocols that are available in the industry right now will operate on that converged network. So once you get to that converged network…not all the networks can play together well. There is going to be a little bit of unwillingness between different parties depending on which protocol you select.”