Sports Venue Technology Summit: With More Displays Than Ever, Graphics Automation Is Key

At SVG’s Sports Venue Technology Summit on Tuesday at Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High, leaders from graphics-technology vendors joined venue-production pros from Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and the Texas Motor Speedway to discuss best practices in graphics creation, social media integration, operations automation, and how the NFL is changing its in-game experience for the better.

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The graphics panel at Mile High (from left): Click Effects’ Greg Stocker, Vizrt’s Craig Laliberte, Orad’s Efi Dilmoni, ChyronHego’s Randy Dickerson, and KSE’s Steve Johnston

When it comes to videoboard graphics, venue-based production teams face a challenge very different from broadcasters in that there are no announcers to talk over a stats page or player profile. In the case of the Pepsi Center, the production team created a pregame and halftime/intermission show where talent breaks down the game and provides a statistical overview of the game.

“One of the challenges in being more broadcast-centric is broadcasters have a play-by-play and color [commentator], so when a statistical page comes up, they have someone to talk you through it,” said Steve Johnston, Executive Director/Executive Producer of Game Presentation, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. “Our challenge is we have to show simple stats that fans can see or we need someone there to explain them. We hired in-arena hosts on both the Avalanche and Nuggets and their primary job is to inform our fans.”

More Screens Means Automation Is a Must
As more and more displays populate major sports venues, the need for automation in the production of content for those screens has never been more apparent.

“We have recently added in data triggers to automate some of the processes,” said Greg Stocker, Managing Director, Sports Division for Click Effects. “It was different when you were only driving four or five displays 10 to 15 years ago. But today, there are stadiums with 30, 40, 50+ displays and you don’t have 50 operators. So you can automate based on data; if there is a 3-point shot or a touchdown, it automatically fires the content on various displays. That enables the human element to focus on the in-game atmosphere that only an operator can get done.”

Click Effects has been a graphics heavyweight in the venue industry for several years with its CrossFire (videoboard content delivery) and Blaze (digital signage controller) products. Now, Click Effects is working to unite digital signage products running on DVI with the primary video boards to create a single, streamlined interface.

“We want to bring some of the same caliber graphics capabilities – like alpha channel and animated CG – into the other signage, rather than just on the videoboard,” continued Stocker. “Over the past 10 years, each of these areas of an arena have gone from independent control… for your digital signage and suite video to the trend of merging all these. We have started to implement the ability to do data effects, crawls, multiple layers of animated graphics on every display.”

In Orad’s case, the company interfaces the graphics playout device with the rest of the ecosystem, including the replay server, switcher, and router to automate multiple processes. By connecting data from all these devices in the production chain, Orad can trigger graphics based on each event automatically.

“A nice example is what we do for ESPN at US Open and Wimbledon when they have nine different tennis courts broadcasting simultaneously as nine boxes on the screen,” said Efi Dilmoni, Chief Solution Architect, Orad. “We grab all the data from the tournament database including the router and switcher crosspoint that are feeding those boxes and we populate all the graphics around the boxes – like the players, location, and score – automatically. Then they can bring it to air very fast and easy.”

The Impact of the Social Media Explosion on Venues
As the remarkable growth of social media continues in nearly every aspect of American life, venues are now tasked with integrating social elements into their shows in order to cater to fans ever-changing tastes. Incorporating fan photos, videos, and text requires an extensive amount of automation and moderation – functionalities that an increasing number of graphics vendors are incorporating into their platforms.

“From a social media perspective, our software has filters built right into it that you can set up ahead of time,” said Randy Dickerson, Senior Account Executive, Manager U.S. Sports Venues, ChyronHego. “Since it’s just a simple Windows application, it makes it easy to moderate. You can filter out as many words as you want so that [items] won’t even show up on the list to begin with. You can then select, drag, and drop from that list into a playlist.”

The Rise of Advanced Statistics
This year, the Pepsi Center began to explore and display more advanced statistics during its Nuggets in-game experience. Each night, in-game host Alexis Perry identified four key statistical factors leading up to half-time and would confer with the ChyronHego graphics operator, font assist, and control room producer to create graphics for a halftime feature.

“We would have three or four different pairs of eyes looking at it before we displayed those stats on the board and actually talked about them,” said Johnston. “We are very careful. If we are going to preach advanced stats and show them to our fans, they damn well better be right.”

Who’s Doing It Right?
As the venue renovation boom roars on and video-production technology advances exponentially, the in-venue video experience continues to change dramatically from year to year. The issue of the live-sports television product at home overpowering the in-venue experience is a constant fear for teams and leagues looking to put butts in the seats while maintaining ultra-lucrative TV rights deals. As a result, these organizations have put a greater emphasis than ever on taking the game-day fan experience at the venue to the next level. So the question becomes: Who is doing it right?

“I think the NFL is probably the best example of doing it right,” said Craig Laliberte, West Coast Operations Director, Vizrt. “They have told all the teams that they have to show stats and have [programming] during pregame and postgame. When fans show up, they don’t want to see a logo up on the board – they would rather have some announcers talking and showing some highlights. Beyond that, showing Red Zone on the boards and the IPTV – or something similar to that – should be a goal for everyone. If there is a timeout, there needs to be something on the secondary screens to keep them in the seats.”