SVG Venue@ Series Flies Out of the Chute at Houston’s Reliant Stadium

On March 11, more than 50 industry professionals representing local universities, professional franchises, and technology manufacturers convened at Reliant Stadium in Houston for the inaugural event in the SVG Venue@ series. The SVG Venue@ series, part of the SVG Venue Initiative, builds on the success of SVG’s annual Venue Technology Summit by keeping the focus on sports-venue technology all year long.

DSC03794Following an eight-year hiatus, the NFL returned to Houston in 2002. Reliant Stadium opened the same year, welcoming the Houston Texans and playing host to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. The Super Bowl returns to Houston in 2017.

However, the biggest show in town isn’t the NFL. In fact, even the Super Bowl pales in comparison with Reliant Stadium’s crown jewel: the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Throughout a day of behind-the-scenes tours and in-depth panel discussions, Reliant Stadium personnel pulled back the curtain on its production facilities for the Texans and RodeoHouston.

Each year, the Rodeo draws — in one month — twice the attendance the Texans get in an entire season. “We do two NFL seasons in 20 days,” says Leroy Shafer, VP/COO, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, who opened SVG Venue@ Reliant Stadium. “We’re the world’s largest rodeo. When I say largest, there’s no one even in our stratosphere.”

In addition to events like steer wrestling, bull riding, and the fan-favorite calf scramble, RodeoHouston has hosted some of the biggest performers in country and pop music since 1938 (Gene Autry was the first). Since then, attendance has skyrocketed from under 2,000 to a projected 1.3 million tickets sold this year.

“That set the mode for what the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show was then and what it is today,” says Shafer. “It’s the very best in livestock-show competition, it’s the very best in rodeo competition, and it is world-class entertainment.”

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Leroy Shafer, VP/COO, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Needless to say, the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show factored significantly into the design of Reliant Stadium and the technological upgrades of the past 12 years, including the two new end-zone HD videoboards installed prior to the 2013 season (the Rodeo and the Texans split the cost). Manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision Systems, the 1080i-capable videoboards each measure 52.49 ft. long by an unprecedented 277.17 ft. wide.

Houston Texans Executive Producer Gavin Gehrt showed attendees how his three-person staff uses the board during Texans home games. With an aspect ratio slightly larger than 32:9, the Texans do run full-board animations but predominately stick to three windows: showing live game action in the center and in-progress stats, out-of-town scores, and fantasy leaders on the left and right.

“It was really hard to use truck replays [on a 32:9 videoboard],” explains Gehrt. “They shot it more meant for 16:9, so, when we would put it up, we were cropping a lot of the top and the bottom and were missing a lot of what you needed to see. … [Being closer to 16:9] in the middle was a big advantage for us this year in being able to use a lot more of those truck feeds in our replays.”

To support the videoboards, Reliant Stadium installed five Click Effects Blaze systems, four Click Effects CrossFire systems, and a Vista Spyder. Although the videoboards are run from a small LED-control room on the eighth floor of the venue, the bulk of the control-room technology is housed across the street in Reliant Center.

In the Control Room
Following lunch in the Reliant Stadium press box, attendees were invited to tour Reliant Stadium’s 5,000-sq.-ft. control room in Reliant Center, a convention center on the Reliant Park property. The facility comprises a main production room with two Grass Valley 96-input Kayenne switchers, an engineering room, four editing suites, and three audio rooms. More than 250 single-mode and 96 multimode fiber lines connect Reliant Center with Reliant Stadium.

Reliant Stadium's production facilities, which are housed in Reliant Center

Reliant Stadium’s production facilities, which are housed in Reliant Center

Although the Texans’ production teams feed content to the end-zone screens and fascia displays, RodeoHouston installs a temporary eight-sided center-hung videoboard for the 20 days of competition (in fact, the venue’s retractable roof was constructed specifically to accommodate the weight of the structure).

“There are two switchers here: one feeds the sports and concert action into the center cluster; the other feeds a video portion of the new end-zone screens,” explains James Davidson, managing director, broadcast and audio visual, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. “Rodeo is very scoring-intensive, and we devote a lot of resources to displaying score data; we were doing that before we put in the new end-zone screens[, which] demanded more real estate for score data, so we’re doing even more now.”

SVG Venue@ Reliant Stadium also offered two panel discussions. Market Forecast for 2014: The Technology Vendor Perspective featured Denise Albertini, director of sales, DAS, Crown Castle;
Vinnie Macri, product marketing manager, Clear-Com;
Stuart Reynolds, senior consulting engineer, Diversified Systems;
James Stellpflug, VP, sports products, the Americas, EVS; and
Cliff Wight, VP/founding partner, Sound & Video Creations/Click Effects.

Getting the Most From Your Production System: Local Teams Weigh In presented the event’s hosts: Reliant Park Director of Technical Services Paul Darst, Davidson, and Gehrt, alongside Grantscott Greene, director of video operations, University of Houston; Brock Jessel, director of facility presentation, BBVA Compass Stadium; and
Chuck Pool Jr., assistant AD, sports information, Rice University.

For more information on the SVG Venue Initiative and future SVG Venue@ regional events, e-mail Committee Chair Rick Price at Rick@sportsvideo.org or SVG Associate Editor Karen Hogan at Karen@sportsvideo.org.