The Mechanics behind the Surface-mount LEDs at Tennessee Titans Stadium, Part 2

The trend in pro sports venues is headed toward the big screens and after setting up the Dallas Cowboys with the biggest LED display of all, ANC Sports has moved on to LP Field in Nashville. 11/27/2012 6:52 AM Eastern

The Mechanics behind the Surface-mount LEDs at Tennessee Titans Stadium, Part 2

Nov 27, 2012 11:52 AM, With Bennett Liles

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The trend in pro sports venues is headed toward the big screens and after setting up the Dallas Cowboys with the biggest LED display of all, ANC Sports has moved on to LP Field in Nashville. Now the Tennessee Titans have some giant screens to help get the fans fired up. Chris Mascatello from ANC Sports is here with more of the inside story, up next on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Chris Mascatello, thanks for being back with us for part two on the SVC Podcast talking about the huge LED end-zone displays and the ribbon screens making their big debut this season at LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans. Chris, I’m interested in how the testing went with this. You don’t just fire up these things and hold the first game. And it’s interesting how you train people to operate it. What was it like when you first fired these monsters up? Did you have to make any tweaks or adjustments on them?

Chris Mascatello: You know there’s always some adjustments and a lot of little component level issues that you’re going to trouble shoot when you first energize the screen. These displays are actually built with almost a building-block metaphor, so it’s a lot of smaller cabinets that are all seamlessly attached to a sub frame on the scoreboard that then gives you a single uniform LED display. So each of those cabinets has their own ventilation fans, air filtration, as well as the driving electronics and power supplies. These come from overseas and they are on a boat; they’re moved on and off a ship. They are sometimes traveling by rail to the job site, sometimes on truck, so there’s a lot of vibration and a lot of movement during the transit process and we find more than anything it’s a lot of lose ribbon cables, connectors that have come unseated—those types of things that you just have to power on the display and see that something’s not lit properly and you’d continue module to module, cabinet to cabinet getting everything the way it should be. And then [with a] display of this size there will be some infant mortality and burn in electronics failures, but really, I think, most of the time that we spend most turning the power on was actually just reseating cables and just making sure that everything was connected the way it should be. It’s probably a week to 10 days per screen to work out all the kinks and the gremlins, but still done with plenty of time to leave two, three, or four weeks for the owner and the Titans to go through test their content and begin to formulate their game presentation on the actual display rather than storyboards and computer monitors. [Timestamp: 3:11]

So what’s operator training like on the display system at LP Field? What’s involved in getting the display operation crew ready for actual games with this?

From the hardware side, what we always say is the best way to learn these displays is to do the install. So in the case of the Titans, ANC has a 10-year service agreement with the team where we’re doing game day operations as well as day-to-day graphic design. So we actually had two ANC employees that are Nashville-based that worked with our project management team out of New York and these guys were with our crew just about every day nearly every hour that we were there doing installation and they learned everything from how the product came off the crates to how it got on the steel substructure where the power came in. They did most of the interconnects for power and data from the scoreboard control room, so they learned on the job and that really does give you the best foundation for maintaining and servicing the hardware. Now on the other side in the control room we have our software platform that is much like teaching any type of broadcast equipment to new people. It helps that our Nashville staff has a background in home theater installation and integration, so a lot of the metaphors were second nature to them already, but it was probably two or three weeks of software training on and off as the systems were being brought online and then there’s slowly the learning curve with how a facility or a team is going to actually produce their show. And you’re dealing with the interaction between the ANC side, which is sort of the digital and advertising playback control with the broadcast staff at LP Field. That’s a work in progress between both sides ,and you have to keep in mind as well, that not only was ANC doing scoreboard work and the software, but they were putting in a brand new audio system and HD control room at LP Field at the same time. So there was a lot of work going on, a lot of trades, and a lot of people dropped in to unfamiliar equipment. So there was a lot of learning that last month leading up to the season. [Timestamp: 5:40]

The Mechanics behind the Surface-mount LEDs at Tennessee Titans Stadium, Part 2

Nov 27, 2012 11:52 AM, With Bennett Liles

Yeah, and once they see it used they can probably come up with some more ideas on what they want to do with it. How does the software work? You can store things, you can call things up for specific points in the game. There’s got to be a lot of prep that goes into getting it ready for a game.

The funniest thing is you hit the nail on the head: The set up and design work getting ready for a game is the hardest part. Most people think, “Oh the game, you’re running game; the game almost runs itself.” There’s a script and it’s the prep work, so it starts weeks or in the case of the lead into to a new system in something like the NFL, I think we were awarded the contract in, I would say, February and we started design concepts and the animation work pretty much from day one, working hand in hand with the Titans and their production staff. So you’re looking at the tail end of six months of design work culminating in that first preseason game with the Cardinals and then there’s a lot of work there. Then when you have, let’s say, there were a 100 pieces of content spread across four different size displays, you’re doing the 400 pieces of content that need to be put into what we call our batches or their, for lack of a better term, their multi-display playlists, which is how you would run the actual game. So you’ve got to make sure that your batches are created properly, that your statistic information in CG work is done properly, and you do a lot of testing and you find the human error or you find graphics that don’t quite work and you go through the revision process on those. So the prep work is a lot. The game itself, you know pretty much when kickoff’s going to be and you can estimate within a few minutes when the games going to end and those first minutes you just hold on to the arms of your chair and you ride it out. We had a great first event, great second event, so we’re really happy with how things turned out. [Timestamp: 7:42]

And still going strong for all of the home games there and I guess there isn’t a whole lot of stuff that you would have to throw in there on short notice. I mean everything looks like it’s pretty well scripted.

Yeah, the big pieces here—your animations, the sponsors that make up the bulk of the show, and the interstitials, time outs, and quarter breaks—are well laid out, but there’s always last second request, especially the first game of preseason and the first game of regular season. If the team has successfully sold a new sponsor you might be rushing to get an animation loaded into the system or sometimes we even have teams that sell stuff right up until game day and you’re very quickly doing Photoshop work to create a still just so they can get their logo and brand message up on the various displays during that game. It’s an easy enough process to get new content into the system and for everyone’s benefit you try to lock down a day before just so you can test everything in and so that the pieces of the puzzle are going to fit together the right way, but it’s flexible enough that if there’s a change that’s needed, you respond to it and communication is the key in any control room. You got to make sure that the broadcast staff knows that there’s been something added and if they have some assets that they would like to go on our systems, likewise, it needs to be communicated and then everyone does a pretty good job of that down in Tennessee. [Timestamp: 9:14]

And of course the immediate reaction that you get is from the fans in the stadium when they see that and react to what’s on, on the big end-zone displays. It has to be great for the team to have the home town fans come in and see these giant new end-zone screens and the ribbon displays, but maybe not so much for the replacement officials. You’ve had a chance to put displays into a lot of different sports stadiums. Do the huge replay screens have an effect on how the game is actually conducted or how the way the fans behave?

Yeah, you know there’s a little bit of everything. These displays, the biggest problem that we’re trying to solve for is how do we bring the experience that someone can have at home with ESPN where the broadcast networks on their 55in.-65in. flatscreen with all the information and an iPad at their fingertips, how do we bring that to the stadium and make it better? So that’s sort of the driving goal anytime we do one of these projects, both from the team side and from the ANC side. So you’re always trying to push the envelope of how do you go about your game production, but what’s funny you bringing up the impact on these types of displays on the way things are done, this year in the NFL, the replays when the referees goes under the hood and he is watching the replay challenges, they’ve actually changed the role at the NFL level and now the stadium pipes in the exact feed that the referees are seeing under the hood onto the video screen because there was a huge outcry as these displays have gotten so big and people in the stands want to see was that toe in bounds or out of bounds or did the pass actually slip through the receivers hands and bounce on the turf. So there’s definitely now a sort of a different feeling during the stadium when they go to replay and a lot of that I think was driven by the fact that these huge displays now can do things that were not possible five, six, seven years ago with much smaller LED displays. So there is definitely a forward push from the technology side even up to the league level. [Timestamp: 11:28] Well, of course TV coverage of football in particular has changed so radically over the past few years. You have the wire cam now the puts you right on the field with the players. And watching games on TV being televised from the Cowboys stadium you can see when people are watching the replays because everybody is looking up.

The fans are looking up; the players are looking up half the time. There’s a few of the replays from the preseason down in Nashville and you will see a kick returner or a receiver breaking away on a long play and you see them looking up at the videoscreen to see who’s coming in behind him if there’s a corner or a safety coming up to try to make a play from behind and it really does change the way that even the players go about the game. [Timestamp: 12:13]

So what’s coming up for ANC Sports? Do you have some other stadiums lining up for display upgrades like this one?

Yeah, we’re always moving forward and looking to do additional projects and pushing the envelope on the technology side, so we have a really interesting project that we’re about half way through the installation right now with the Indiana Pacers, who are doing a indoor version of a Cowboys Stadium center hung structure. So breaking from the mold of square center hungs in an arena and moving to a rectangular design with a really long side line display. It’s over 50ft. long by 22-23ft. tall, so that’s sort of the next generation in the indoor market place and then we’ve got some interesting very large scale projects that are coming down the pipe for the start of baseball season in 2013 and really exciting times for ANC. [Timestamp: 13:17]

Well, it sounds like it and of course that’s a great experience especially the first time any of the fans come in for their first home game and they’ve heard all about the new displays and they come in and see them, it’s got to be fantastic. Chris Mascatello from ANC Sports, thanks for giving us the lowdown on the big new LED displays at LP Field giving the Tennessee Titans a real bang out of that. Next time you put in one of those, stop by and we’ll talk about that one, too. Thanks for being here.

Thank you, Bennett. Thanks for having me.

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