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The AV/IT Blitz

The St. Louis Rams’ new practice facility and office complex takes fantasy football into the IT realm. 3/28/2011 1:04 PM Eastern

The AV/IT Blitz

Mar 28, 2011 5:04 PM, by Dan Daley

The St. Louis Rams’ new practice facility and office complex takes fantasy football into the IT realm.




The St. Louis Rams’ new training facility recently underwent a huge upgrade, including an HD IPTV system and a digital signage network featuring X20’s Xpresenter technology.

According to SportsHistory.com, Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000 became known as the “Dot-com Super Bowl” because of the numerous commercials for Internet companies that would find themselves out of business a year later. That was the last year the St. Louis Rams were in the Greatest Show On Turf, and they won it, beating the Tennessee Titans 23 to 16. It was one of the brighter moments in a year that saw the tech bubble disastrously implode. But a decade later those same St. Louis Rams are at the leading edge of IT technology in a much more secure manner, with a new training facility and office complex that’s taking the ongoing convergence of IT and AV even further.

The Rams organization’s practice facility was at the end of a life cycle with its existing technology. Locally based integrator TSI Global was awarded the project for the design and implementation for new systems including an HD IPTV system to replace the standard-def analog SMATV in the facility; a new digital signage system using X2O’s flagship platform Xpresenter technology and software and graphics hardware; and a completely new ShoreTel VOIP phone system to replace the old analog system. All told, the new 10Gb network would comprise 300 data/vox connectivity locations in the 9,000-square-foot campus and in three separate tech closets, including 110 ShoreTel VOIP points, 20 CCTV locations, 20 digital signage points, and 109 HD IPTV nodes.

TSI had done several partial network projects before, integrating AV and telephony or telephony and digital signage. The Rams’ new training facility offered an opportunity to put all of that onto a single high-speed network that would produce a range of synergies, from linking the corporate offices at the training facility to the ticketing operation at the team’s playing field at Edward Jones Dome several miles away (ticketing managers can watch incoming caller ID to spot favored customers to move to the head of the queues well as instantly update the Rams’ radio replay for audio on hold), to letting coaches pick video clips over the facility’s newly installed HP ProCurve 2900-series edge switches to assemble a training session that could be ported over the facility’s auditorium via IP, without ever leaving their desks.

The Ram’s new facility also features a 125-set press auditorium with a Sony VPL FW41/US projector and a 78”x139” motorized screen. All TVs throughout the facility are Sony KDL42V4100 42in. and KDL52S4100 52in. LCD screens.

The Ram’s new facility also features a 125-set press auditorium with a Sony VPL FW41/US projector and a 78”x139” motorized screen. All TVs throughout the facility are Sony KDL42V4100 42in. and KDL52S4100 52in. LCD screens.

“We could see this kind of design had enormous potential,” says Paul Murdick, vice president of AV for TSI Global. “The idea of having everything running over the same GigaBit network offered so many possibilities, operationally and economically.”

The Rams were game, so to speak, but wanted a cost analysis before green-lighting the project, and a comparison of the cost for implementing a new digital network versus a conventional copper-backboned one proved to remarkably similar with the exception of cabling. TSI considered using an existing data network infrastructure at the facility operated by the NFL but that would run athwart of the NFL’s own strict data security regulations. That and the fact that the existing network’s older switches could not provide the bandwidth necessary to carry IP phone, HD video, digital signage, and future security meant that a new and discrete backbone had to be included in the budget. But the efficiencies that a new, more robust network could offer the Rams were clear. The project was given the go-ahead.

Pressure Plays

The new network runs on Berk-Tek Cat-6a cabling, connecting offices, training rooms, the auditorium, and other spaces in the building. A wireless LAN extends the network to the playing field. A traveling phone kit, using a gateway and several VOIP phones, extends it even further, allowing the team to maintain full voice and data communications when training is moved to off-campus sites, or when events like the annual draft day or press conferences require a lot of phones to be set up in one place in a hurry. The ability to manage their phone systems themselves was one of many economic dividends the new network began paying immediately, says Murdick. The system also offers the flexibility to insert a live camera as a source on any TV in the system.

Running the cable in an existing office plant had the usual challenges, including the need to not be disruptive of day-to-day operations, an especially trying test when the work had to take place in the hectic pre-season period last summer. “This is an intensely focused time for the players, coaches, and everyone else with the team, so we had to make sure we weren’t intrusive,” Murdick says. TSI had to use second shifts regularly, sending wiring teams in early and late, trying to leave the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. slot, the day’s most intense period, open. That required a lot of coordination between team leaders via testing and emails, regular and frequent meetings between Murdick, TSI PM Eric Cassinger, and Larry Clerico, the Rams’ video director, and tactics like pre-positioning materials throughout the facility.


The AV/IT Blitz

Mar 28, 2011 5:04 PM, by Dan Daley

The St. Louis Rams’ new practice facility and office complex takes fantasy football into the IT realm.




Communication with the press is a huge part of major league sports. The Rams’ new facility has a separate press auditorium for that purpose. Seating up to 125, the space had previously offered only non-networked standard-definition video system replaced by a high-def one using a Sony 5000-lumen VPL FW41/US projector that illuminates a 78”x139” motorized drop screen. The room’s control system also got an upgrade, with a new Crestron Pro 2 Processor system replacing an older AMX one, and with a Crestron TPS 6X touchpanel added to the coach’s desk to allow control from both a main wall panel and from the desk itself. Signal can be pulled from any of the HD sources within the building, as well as from the NFL’s own secure feed. Murdick says that a multiple-source distribution box was also built that allows up to 16 discrete audio feeds to be sent to reporters in the auditorium and passed through to their broadest networks. “The news can now get a full controlled clean output for their newscasts directly from this room,” he says.

The press auditorium’s AV equpiment can be controlled both from a wall panel and from the coach’s desk.

The press auditorium’s AV equpiment can be controlled both from a wall panel and from the coach’s desk.

Digital Signage/Digital Phone, HD IPTV

There are two discrete zones in the digital signage system. One is for publicly displayed signage, the other for internal use. The public signage zone offers content such as Rams Video, local weather, special announcements and news, and customized greetings for VIP visitors. The displays are Sony KDL42V4100 42in. and KDL52S4100 52in. LCD screens. The internal side of the signage network is also synched with scheduling programs for the facility, and the day’s training schedule and other agenda are posted and change dynamically and automatically as the day progresses. X20’s Xpresenter works from “smart templates” to let users work directly inside Microsoft PowerPoint, which allows non-technical users to create advanced broadcast graphics and video applications, without ever leaving PowerPoint.

The Ram’s new facility features an HD IPTV system that allows any computer on the network to control any video display.

The Ram’s new facility features an HD IPTV system that allows any computer on the network to control any video display.

The VOIP telephone system has its own unique aspects, says Steven Wood, executive account manager of TSI’s communications division. For starters, it can be made portable, by deploying a LAN system, allowing the team to set up telephone communications anywhere, such as for training camps at other locations, or for the “war room” during the NFL drafts that follow the Super Bowl every year. “It’s a secure network and totally separate from what the NFL requires a team to have in its facility,” says Wood. “The data, AV, voice, and digital signage are completely discrete and bridged through a managed router.”

The internal aspect of the HD IPTV allows the systems administrator with access to the network to pull content from a variety of sources, such as the video storage and replay servers or 40 channels of DirecTV, and control it at any desk or workstation and transport it to any TV in the building. The HD IPTV system on the network has a lot of the usual neat IT tricks, including remote diagnostics, maintenance, software and firmware updates, as well as few unique ones. One of those is the ability to turn any computer or laptop on the network into a remote control for any video display by creating a desktop shortcut and making an online channel guide available. “You can change the channel or the input source for any display from any computer, and the best part is, no more lost remotes,” says Murdick. There is also an application available to the administrator for emergency override that breaks in with any urgent warnings.

That kind of remote access capability is a win for both the client, who can get 24/7 service for the network, and the integrator, for whom a remotely accessible network means a lasting connection to the customer and lower costs for maintenance. But it also reinforces the idea that the convergence of AV and IT is becoming ubiquitous. “This is a true turnkey network system, a total solution and in that sense it’s a milestone in terms of putting IT together with AV,” Murdick says, adding that TSI has two IP engineers on staff in addition to systems engineers. “It fundamentally changes the way you approach a project—the content is more integrated with the systems it moves over, you have to know what the bandwidth requirements are and IP schemes and so on. This is the way the industry is going.”


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