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Looking Back to Look Ahead

Collegiate and second-tier sports venues use AV systems to give fans major league experiences. 3/30/2011 6:37 AM Eastern

Looking Back to Look Ahead

Mar 30, 2011 10:37 AM, by Dan Daley

Collegiate and second-tier sports venues use AV systems to give fans major league experiences.




Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion is a good example of how collegiate venues seek to emulate the experience of major league venues. Above, a Soundcraft Vi4 controls the newly renovated sound system.

Residential construction isn’t the only building sector to have experienced a slowdown lately. Over the past two decades, much of the infrastructure of major league sports venues in the U.S. has been rebuilt. According to a survey done by New York University, more than two dozen new major league facilities have opened, from the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards in 1992, which many look back to as the start of the venue explosion, to the New Meadowlands Stadium opened in New Jersey last year.

However, while there are a few stadiums still breaking ground—the Florida Marlins’ new facility will be ready for opening day in 2012—the pace of infrastructure renewal has undeniably slowed in the past two years. Aside from perhaps running out of teams—only the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park and the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field are left of the early 20th century crop of stadiums—the economic meltdown has left municipalities and states unable to float the bonds necessary to build billion-dollar urban coliseums.

But the sports venue boom did raise the bar for AV systems used in them, and a large number of other stadiums and arenas used by scores of minor league and collegiate teams are creating a huge systems retrofit market for integrators. For instance, stadiums for the Bears, Jaguars, and Packers have undergone major face-lifts during this period, with each renovation costing at least $125 million, according to the survey.

Mark Graham, an associate at Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams (WJHW), an acoustical consultancy that specializes in sports venue systems, points to the recently completed 12,500-seat Matthew Knight Arena at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., where WJHW designed and specified a new JBL PD Series PA system and video screens, including a high-definition main scoreboard screen and ribbon boards along the venue’s interior fascia. “There are no major league teams in the Eugene area and not many in the region, but the collegiate and minor league teams still have to compete with the major league arena and stadium experience, thanks to all the newer professional venues in the country now,” Graham says.

Major systems manufacturers have developed product lines that have less power, fewer features, but lower costs than their flagship systems, and Matthew Knight Arena benefited from that. The arena uses JBL PD5000 series loudspeaker enclosures, configured in eight clusters of three JBL PD5322/64 's and two ASB6128's for its new PA. “If this had been a professional size facility, I’m sure we would have used the larger, more powerful JBL PD700 series enclosures,” Graham says. “The PD5000 boxes provide the same high-quality sound expected and are a more cost-effective solution for collegiate sports venues, which are typically smaller than those at the professional level.”

But some of the savings inevitably get spent on other aspects that are needed to raise the systems bar, such as the triaxial and SMPTE fiber-optic cabling installed to meet the connection needs of ESPN and other major network broadcasters that will cover games there. “They now expect the same kind of cabling they find when they cover the professional games in the area,” Graham says. “Television is driving a large part of these upgrades.”

So is alumni envy. Graduates of sports-heavy educational institutions tend to be even more ardent in their devotion to their school teams than major league fans are to their major league teams. So when athletics departments look for technology to help differentiate the school’s amenities, like the individual AV systems in each volleyball team member’s locker—a 22”x40” mirror conceals a 19in. LCD screen that can tap into an integrated Apple Mac mini, the arena’s distributed TV system, or the arena’s video replay system—that were added to the design halfway through the project, alumni can often be counted on to increase their donations to fund them.

But even the most affluent alumni can’t always offset the high cost of new construction, which usually dictates that college and minor league sports venues be renovated rather than replaced, and the fact that new systems have to go into older architectural designs also affects systems designs. For instance, the distributed systems popular in new multitiered major league stadiums are not usually applicable to the single-tiered bowls of many older college football stadiums. That was the case at the University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium, where WJHW just finished a five-year renovation, as well as similar projects at Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M. “They’re huge bowls with no way to effectively install a distributed audio system, so you have to go with a point-source loudspeaker cluster solution,” Graham says.




Looking Back to Look Ahead

Mar 30, 2011 10:37 AM, by Dan Daley

Collegiate and second-tier sports venues use AV systems to give fans major league experiences.




The Purcell Pavilion’s PA is a semi-distributed system that includes JBL loudspeakers and high-powered subwoofers. The sound system was just part of the $24.7 million renovation.

The Purcell Pavilion’s PA is a semi-distributed system that includes JBL loudspeakers and high-powered subwoofers. The sound system was just part of the $24.7 million renovation.

The Fighting Irish

Notre Dame’s Joyce Arena at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., is a good example of how collegiate venues seek to emulate the experience the new generation of major league venues give fans. The Purcell Pavilion, which seats nearly 10,000, hosts Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish basketball team, and the emphasis on hip-hop-infused low-frequency music that is now a hallmark at NBA arenas was something that ESCO Communications lead technician Brian McCullagh was keeping in mind for the replacement of the arena’s sound system.

The college’s decision to add a new Daktronics video scoreboard made installing a new sound system implicit, since the screen would eliminate the existing main beehive-type PA cluster located above center court. The PA system’s design—part of a renovation totaling $24.7 million—is a semi-distributed system: Eight clusters are each comprised of two PD5322/95 full-range loudspeakers and two JBL PD5125 LF loudspeakers. There are a dozen ASB6128 high-power subwoofers for the main system rounded out with five AC18 2-way loudspeakers for club-level seating, eight AM5212/64 two-way loudspeakers, and an additional four AC18s firing downward from the scoreboard.

Distributed systems have been all the rage in major leagues stadiums recently because of their ability to offer excellent audio sync with video screens. However, the larger number of speakers and longer wire runs add to the costs. In this case, they would also require extensive zoning because the arena is also used for events such as graduations and religious services. A semi-distributed system offered the benefits of some zoning capability while reducing the number of speakers and the cabling costs. “This kind of hybrid approach, between clusters and distributed, was really a great solution that addressed both the needs of the venue and the project’s budget,” McCullagh says.

Some niceties were beyond the reach of what McCullagh describes as a “decent” budget for sound, such as a digital audio network. Instead, most audio and video cabling around the arena is copper. MADI over fiber-optic cable is used, however, from the field-level stage boxes to the Soundcraft Vi4 digital console in the audio control room. Copper is also used to link the audio control room to the new video control room, which pulls video feeds from the television network trucks parked outside and backfeed the new Daktronics video scoreboard. ESCO installed additional I/O connections to allow the video control to pull in audio, if desired.

Notre Dame now has both a more powerful full-range system that can handle the music that’s become an expected part of the NBA-type experience and a system that’s more efficient. The zoned system provides the flexibility to host several types of events, each with an appropriate level of audio. The system requires less operational effort thanks to a “smarter” system that uses Harman’s HiQnet System Architect protocol linked to 30 Crown I-T5000HD, eight I-T9000HD amplifiers, and BSS BLU-160 and BLU-320 signal processing units to do tasks such as automated mixing and routing. It sets the stage for the school’s next upgrade phase: a planned AV connectivity linkage between Purcell Pavilion and nine other AV systems around the campus that will allow audio distribution throughout the campus and let the tech staff monitor the systems’ maintenance from a single location. “It’s a lot of bang for the buck,” McCullagh says.

Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas recently underwent a $1.2 million upgrade, including this Ross Video Vision 2MLE video switcher that feeds  a new Daktronics HD-X15 high-definition scoreboard display.

Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas recently underwent a $1.2 million upgrade, including this Ross Video Vision 2MLE video switcher that feeds a new Daktronics HD-X15 high-definition scoreboard display.

Big League Video

The video side of the retrofit equation is equally important. The University of Kansas’ Memorial Stadium is less than an hour’s drive from the newly refurbished major league stadiums for the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs. Jeff Volk, director of the sports and entertainment group at Alpha Video, says that proximity played a large part in the school’s decision to install an 85’x28’ Daktronics HD-X15 high-definition scoreboard display that is larger than all of its previous signage combined. “The facility was ready for a video systems upgrade [the stadium was originally built when Thomas Edison was still a major player in films], but the extent of the upgrade was really driven by the need to try to give KU fans an approximation of the major league stadium experience they could get in the Kansas City Metroplex, because they all share a fan base,” Volk says.

The new display at Memorial Stadium is worthy of any major league venue, but the overall budget of about $1.2 million for the new video control room and extensive cabling and framing infrastructure to support the display was less than half the approximately $3 million to $3.5 million that a similar systems integration would cost in a typical major league stadium. Behind the brilliant display is a series of carefully calculated compromises that maximized that budget. The decisions become clear when compared to a typical major league system, such as the one Alpha Video installed at the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field. Memorial Stadium uses three Sony HD cameras compared to the seven at Target Field; there is a 4-channel EVS replay server in the college venue versus the 6-channel EVS at Target; and Memorial uses a Ross Video 2MLE video switcher versus a 4MLE switcher at Target.

“The trade-off is in the number of cameras and number of replay angles and so on that you can have,” Volk says. “The key to making this work long-term, though, is to build cost-effective expansion capability into the system.” For instance, inputs for up to five native HD cameras were allowed for, as were two additional channels for the four slo-mo channels the current system has online. “This allows them to expand the systems as their needs and budgets change,” Volk says.

Times are tight and probably will be for a while, but collegiate sports venues and integrators are finding cost-effective ways to keep the lid on spending while still meeting fans’ high expectations.




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