Overhauling an Icon: Inside Madison Square Garden’s Three-Year Transformation

After three years and more than 2.6 million worker-hours, Madison Square Garden recently unveiled its self-funded $1 billion renovation. And, for anyone who had ever attended a Knicks game or a Billy Joel concert at The Garden prior to 2011, it doesn’t take long to be struck by the magnitude of the venue’s transformation.

The World’s Most Famous Arena is now among the most technologically advanced, fan-friendly, and eye-catching in all of sports.

“Madison Square Garden is uniquely beloved by both the fans in the seats and the athletes and performers they’ve come to see, and we are pleased to transform it for the next generation,” said Madison Square Garden Co. Executive Chairman Jim Dolan, in a press release. “We knew that the world’s greatest fans in the world’s greatest city deserved a complete, state-of-the-art experience and the certainty that The Garden would continue to be the setting for the biggest and best events well into the future.”

Phasing in a New Era
Opened in 1968, the Midtown Manhattan venue had undergone only one renovation: a $200 million facelift in 1991 that introduced New Yorkers to purple and teal seating. This most recent renovation took place over three consecutive summers — 2011, 2012, 2013 — with construction continuing behind the scenes during the Knicks and Rangers seasons (the WNBA’s New York Liberty relocated to the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, for the duration).

DSC03243Phase I, completed prior to the 2011-12 season, included new lower-bowl seating, an expanded SAP Madison Concourse, 20 Event Level suites, two exclusive club spaces, and new Knicks and Rangers locker rooms and star dressing rooms. Phase II, ready in time for the 2012-13 season, improved the upper-bowl seating (and brought back the beloved blue seats), expanded the Garden Concourse, and added 58 Madison Suites and an all-inclusive Madison Club on the new Madison Suite Level.

Phase III, unveiled on Oct. 24, put the finishing touches on the top-to-bottom renovation: a transformed Chase Square 7th Avenue entrance; the much discussed Chase Bridges; state-of-the-art GardenVision event control room, center-hung LED display, and sound system; and restoration of the iconic ceiling.

“We had a number of people involved in the transformation [and] every one of the departments represented: sales, promotions, PR, senior management, technical, operations, facilities,” says Mike Mitchell, VP, chief engineer, Madison Square Garden Co. “They generated a ton of great ideas about how we make this a world-class modern venue and provide for the patron experience; improve things for the teams, players, coaches, everybody involved; and make it a place that people really relish coming to.”

First Impressions
The extent of The Garden’s transformation can be felt almost immediately upon entering the building. The Chase Square 7th Avenue entrance is nearly double the size of the previous one, featuring interactive kiosks, revamped team store and box office, and relocated walls, extending the climate-controlled space for cold winter nights.

Two 600-sq.-ft. Daktronics LED boards were installed in the ceiling and connected via fiber to the GardenVision event control room, located on the 11th floor.

“We have various content,” says Mitchell, “partnership opportunities, Knicks players opening up the ceiling and looking down on you and waving, all kinds of content designed for the patron experience.”

Keeping Fans Connected
Scattered  throughout the venue are more than 950 Sony displays, ranging in size from 12 in. to 70 in. and driven by Harris Broadcast’s Nexio InfoCaster IPTV system. Integrated by Diversified Systems, the IPTV system was selected for its ability to push out zone-specific content even when video operators are modifying content playlists.

Currently, Mitchell’s team pushes content to 70 zones, including those with food and beverage information, upcoming events, and network feeds. “That way,” he says, “the patron, if they’re walking from their seat to the restroom or kiosk, can still keep an eye on the game.”

As part of the overhaul, The Garden installed a distributed-antenna system and free WiFi network for all patrons.

GardenVision Takes Center Stage
The visual centerpiece of both Phase III and the entire transformation is the center-hung 4-mm LED video display, manufactured and installed by Daktronics. MSG’s 1080i videoboard, also known as GardenVision, comprises four main video displays, measuring 15.7 ft. by 28 ft., underneath four auxiliary boards measuring 6 ft. by 29 ft. Both sections are connected by curved corner displays, giving the videoboard a wraparound look and functionality.

 

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LED screens located inside the structure deliver game stats and replays to patrons in the first few rows.

 

In addition, the bottom sections of GardenVision can be lowered or lifted independently from the top section. “You can lift the bottom portion of that up into the inside of the upper portion of the screen to elevate the height for an event where they’d be flying cables,” says Mitchell. “There are cable handlers that automatically roll it up.”

In addition to the outer boards, GardenVision contains screens inside the bottom of the structure, which deliver stats, game information, and replays to those patrons seated in the first few rows. Daktronics also installed three 145-in. LED displays on the backside of both the north and south Chase Bridges for fans in the top few rows of the venue, as well as four long, curved LED ribbon displays on two levels of the seating bowl and seven sections of LED scorer’s table displays for basketball. As a result, The Garden now boasts 3,400 sq. ft. of LED.

MSG’s videoboard is powered by the GardenVision event control room, located on the venue’s 11th floor and integrated by The Systems Group.

Infrastructure Gets an Upgrade
The Garden upgraded its triax infrastructure with plenty of single-mode fiber as well as dark fiber, originating from the broadcast-interconnect room. Located on Level 1 of the venue, the room houses transport-service–provider equipment and powers various junction boxes located throughout the arena. Outside the room, Mitchell’s team installed a huge cable tray to prevent bottlenecks.

“We can do things from a production point of view that we were never able to do before without a production truck being outside in the truck dock,” explains Mitchell. “We really thought about how we maximize, for ourselves and our partner broadcasters, improving how you can cover the events at The Garden.”

Not to be forgotten, The Garden added plenty for the mobile-production providers outside. After years of home-running cables into the venue and dealing with frozen A/V racks when the temperature drops, Diversified Systems installed new racks complete with fiber, triax, coax, twisted-pair, and data lines, not to mention roll-down doors and heaters inside each one.

A Boost for MSG Networks
With three years to transform the iconic venue, The Garden used the opportunity to finally center its main camera positions and move them closer to the action and to add in some unique broadcast locations. Rangers fans have become accustomed to seeing their favorite players leave the ice through a glass tunnel separating The Garden’s Delta Club from a small MSG Networks studio.

“Of all the things I’ve been involved with, this is one of my favorite shots,” says Mitchell. “There’s just nothing like watching patrons in the club behind our players walking in and out, the talent setting up the game and talking about the first period or the first half of action. It just really ties all that excitement together.”

A Bit of the Old Garden Remains

MSG's Gerard Pessaro (left) and Mike Mitchell

MSG’s Gerard Pessaro (left) and Mike Mitchell

In the three years since architect Brisbin Brook Beynon, construction manager Turner, project manager JLL, and design consultant WJHW began the project, nearly every facet of Madison Square Garden has changed. From the one-of-a-kind Chase Bridges that fit so seamlessly that they seem to have always been there to vastly improved food and beverage options, The Garden is nearly unrecognizable — save for one, irreplaceable element.

“The goal was to keep the iconic, historic look of The Garden while updating the patron experience,” says Mitchell. “We restored every bit of the ceiling. It’s exactly like the original.”