Sports Venue Technology Summit: As Fans Demand More In-Game Instant Replays, Control Rooms Expand Servers

One of the loudest beats of the drum throughout SVG’s Sports Technology Venue Summit in Denver last month centered on the need for stadiums and arenas to create a high-quality game-day video experience that can match – or exceed – that of the ever-improving television product in order to pry fans off their couches and send them through the turnstiles.

Replay panel (from left): Tightrope's Steve Israelsky, EVS's James Stellpflug, the Denver Broncos Nick Young, Evertz Joe Cirincione, and the Broncos' Jeremy Wecker

Replay panel (from left): Tightrope’s Steve Israelsky, EVS’s James Stellpflug, the Denver Broncos Nick Young, Evertz Joe Cirincione, and the Broncos’ Jeremy Wecker

First and foremost, fans have made it clear that they will not stand missing instant replays just because they are in the stands rather than on the couch. As a result, control-room staffs are under more pressure than ever before – both from fans and from league-wide edicts – to deliver high-quality replays as quickly as possible from as many angles as possible to video boards, IPTV displays, and fans’ mobile devices on a consistent basis.

“Not too long ago in the NFL, it was really up to our discretion as to what replays we showed,” Denver Broncos supervising producer Nick Young said during the event at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. “Obviously, we were going to show the [replays] that make us look good more often than the looks the opposing team wanted to see. But two years ago, the league mandated we show replays of every play. That has really changed how we do things and increased [the number of replays] we put up.”

More Than Just Instant Satisfaction: How Replay Caters to Postproduction
As franchises expand their video-production output, the replay system has become a de facto point of ingest for valuable in-game video content. In order to make this content available in the future for not only the game-day presentation, but also for their Website and social media platforms, promotional and sales materials, and archive, teams are relying more and more on the replay system to accurately ingest, log, and manage their live video content.

“When we start talking with our customers about what they want to do with the system, replay [has become] the ingest point where all the cameras are coming in live,” said James Stellpflug, VP, Product Marketing, EVS Broadcast Equipment. “It’s a high volume with maybe your eight cameras in venue and then 10 feeds coming from the truck dock, so you need to know what you want to do with it.

“Are you just doing a simple replay? Or are you also acquiring a high volume of valuable content that you’re going to want to use though a long lifecycle of production – today during the game, tomorrow when you have a sponsor here in venue or you want to tell a corporate story,” adds Stellpflug. “Replay is the starting point for all the content coming in… so you need the tools to [account] for the short-term need of replay and the long-term need of content acquisition.”

In the Broncos case, as future hall-of-fame quarterback Peyton Manning continues his assault on the NFL record books, the video-production team is tasked with posting video of key Manning moments to DenverBroncos.com as fast possible.

“One of our big [needs] was definitely channel count, but also being able to bring in the footage and kick it back out immediately so that all of our editors can do what they need to do during and after the game,” said Jeremy Wecker, Manager of A/V Technology and Engineering, Denver Broncos. “It’s very time sensitive, especially if, say, Peyton Manning breaks a record. That needs to be on the Internet immediately.”

While it is becoming commonplace for venues to utilize replay systems as an ingest point for the postproduction workflow, the content is worthless unless it can be found quickly and easily by producers and editors. With that in mind, replay system manufacturers like Tightrope Media Systems are looking to enhance the tagging and metadata-assignment process within the instant-replay workflow.

“All the tagging is done right within our Zeplay [replay system] so you can tag every play with player number, touchdown or field goal, and all the other metatdata as you are [creating the replay],” said Steve Israelsky, VP, Broadcast Solutions, Tightrope Media Systems. “You can pull it up right away to build a highlights package. You can then export everything during the game or after the game and export just the highlights or the entire game with all the tags built in.”

Beyond the Video Board: Mobile Devices Changing In-Venue Experience
The role of instant replay in stadiums and arenas has gone well beyond just the videoboards, as fans are now utilizing their mobile devices to consume replays and alternate camera angles thanks to increased WiFi and DAS connectivity at many venues.

Many teams are taking it one step further by allowing fans to submit content shot on their mobile phones to be displayed on the videoboard. At University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, Evertz and Burst teamed up with the Arizona Cardinals to shoot mobile phone footage of fans tailgating. This footage was sent to the cloud, which fed directly to an Evertz Dreamcatcher and then displayed on the videoboards for a segment called “Fan Cam”.

“Fans went crazy,” said Joe Cirincione, VP of Sales, Evertz. “The idea is to let the fan shoot whatever they want and send it to us. It comes directly into the replay server and, when the director calls for it, we put it up on the big board. That is the kind of extra application we are working on.”

Meanwhile, at the San Francisco 49ers’ new state-of-the-art Levi’s Stadium, Evertz helped to deliver replays to a mobile app supported by the venue’s robust WiFi network that instantly provides fans with four camera angles at all times, as well as a host of other functions to enhance the game-day experience.

“You can see the same replays as they are hitting the big screen,” added Cirincione. “But that is just one tiny part of it. Not only can that app play a replay, you can also order a beer or tell how long the bathroom line is. It’s amazing what they’re doing. You put all that stuff together and the fan is going to want to go to the game just for that experience. Then you start adding in merchandise [sales] and data-tracking on the customer — it becomes very interesting. And the word ‘replay’ really buys into all that.”