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THE SVC INTERVIEW: Ben Cating, Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

SVC: Very fancy looking place in West Palm Beach and Idibri handled all of the technology installation. Tell us about Idibri. What sort of projects do you handle?

Ben Cating: Thanks for having me on, Bennett. I appreciate it. Yeah, we cover a large variety of projects. Sports is something we do and we do a lot of it. And we also cover performing arts halls and houses of worship, education, some hospitality, and corporate as well.

You did sound, AV, data, IT, and some security design. Since it’s all brand new, you got right in at the beginning. So which part of it presented the most significant challenge? What was the toughest part?

You know, these all had a few challenging spots from time to time, but as you said we did all the technology, consulted for all the pieces of technology on the project. I think overall trying to coordinate all the data needs is becoming quite important for getting all the systems to talk. And at the ballpark there’s essentially three entities. There’s the Nationals, the Astros, and then the stadium itself. So there are three different owners, per se. And each of those entities have slightly different needs, however they all live on one large network. So getting that network set up and partitioned on 30 or 50 VLANs for all the different needs was a little bit of a challenge.

Do they do other events there? I would think they haven’t yet.

Not yet. Yeah, they opened up spring training, so baseball was their primary. But it’s also going to be used for community Little League games and they also have some soccer fields onsite as well, for soccer tournaments that they’ll do.

Okay, so that’ll be a suitably busy place. How is the sound system set up? You did the sound on this, too. The speakers, amps, control.

Yeah. We kind of really focused on the main bowl for the higher-end system and it’s a Renkus-Heinz IC LIVE Generation 5 system. It’s a steerable line array. And we chose that really for the look and the feel of that system and how you can set it in one place and digitally steer it down to the bowl. So it’s also very narrow, so we located these on each column. And you’ll see in some of the pictures how those are mounted—for a small footprint and steerable as well as a full outdoor rating. Since they are in Florida they’re going to be hit with hurricanes and full-blown rainstorms. So we wanted a full outdoor rating for the box.

I would think that speech intelligibility would be one of the big tuning factors on it since you probably get a lot of delayed bounce off the stands and buildings surrounding the field.

Right. And it is a distributed system as opposed to an outfield in-fire system where you’re pointing the speakers at the people. We wanted more local coverage and a little more control over it, so we reduced that effect so we’re not pumping that much power out there. So we stay locally to each section of seating.

And on the data and IT part of it, you mentioned, is there Wi-Fi in there yet where the fans can watch the iso-cams and things?

No, currently not. That was a decision based on some budget restraints that all the Wi-Fi is actually staff-facing. So it’s all private for the administration. And they’ve beefed up a little bit of the cell networks around the area so most of the fans are able to connect via the cell network.

I know they have a lot of different communication requirements in there. They have to be able to get word all the way to the dugouts and all sorts of places so intercom, phones, and all that?

Yep. So we also did your typical dugout phones to call the bullpen. We handled that as well on the data side. There are phones in all the offices and the administration areas. Again, for the three different entities that are onsite there are three different systems. We’ve also got some hardline phones for emergency use. This is a county emergency facility as well so there are generator backups and emergency shelters in place. If a storm hits they can run a command post from this location as well.

And it’s all new so I figure you must have gotten an early start with the planning of this before they even began the actual construction.

Right. We were hired by HKS, the architect of record for the project a couple of years ago. And we’ve been in this since the early design stages before they started moving sand.

Where do they have the sound control? Is that in the same room with the video and broadcast control?

Correct. So this is a fairly simple ballpark and very clean. It’s about 6,000 seats. You’ve got the main bowl area with the main concourse and then you have suite level. And on that suite level you have two party decks, six suites, and the entire press box. Within that press box you’ve got radio booths and TV booths and also our scoreboard rack room/control room. So you have the front of house mixer there, you’ve got the PA announcer and spotter, and you’ve got controls for the video board. And then you’ve got the main rack room for the audio system as well.

What kind of mixer do they have in the control area?

It’s a Yamaha QL1. And that was based on a list of needs as well as simple operation because they have multiple different users. Since there are two ball teams there, depending on who is the home team, you may have a different crew in there working the room as well as off season you may have other users. So we wanted to try and make it as simple as possible.

Once you’ve got it set up and the people come in, did you show them around and have to provide a lot of instruction for them or just sit them down and let them do their thing?

The group that was involved was Shark Productions and they’re local in the area. And they provide production for some other sports venues in the area so they’re fairly familiar with this type of gear. So it’s just a little bit on-boarding of how we set things up and how we configure things initially. And they were off to the run pretty quickly.

I think there was something special here with a video coaching system that you installed on the project.

Yeah, absolutely. So with two baseball teams in and this being spring training, coaching video is very important to what they do and how they work with their players. Each ball team, the Nationals and the Astros, had a fairly extensive coaching video system. So in each clubhouse they have a central room where they have all their servers and media recording devices that connect to the network. And out on each practice field each team has two major league fields, four minor league fields, batting tunnels, pitching mound and agility field. From each of those different areas there’s four to six cameras that are connected to the network and they stream back to the main video room for each ball club. So they’re recording a lot of data and they’re analyzing that data, and then they sit down with the players and review that data after they do their practicing.

And that’s got to be a very valuable system for the teams.

Yeah. And we were responsible for all the data networks that connected to it and the video cameras on the far end; multiple pan/tilt/ zoom and cameras for each of those locations.

It’s very large area to cover with network video. You were probably working alongside of a lot of other trades in getting it all ready for the first game.

Yeah. There were definitely a lot of fingers in the pie, so to speak. So local electricians, local infrastructure data cabling people, local AV guys.

And I would think that with a project this complex it’s very important to keep things happening in the right order so you don’t end up with cables in your hand and nothing to plug them into yet.

Right, yeah. That’s the part we play in the whole project is overseeing everything and making sure that the owners’ needs are met and then everything does connect to where it needs to connect and everything operates the way it was intended and designed to operate.

Well, it all runs on power. What was the electrical situation here? Did you run into anything unusual with grounding or anything like that or was everything satisfactory on power?

Yeah, it actually turned out very well. Early on we provide electrical requirements in our design, just overseeing those as they’re installed. Fairly hefty requirement at the truck dock, so we’ve got the ability to plug in two production trucks–we’ve got 400-amp feeders for each of those trucks. And Opening Day we did have two trucks producing the game, one for each of the teams, because on Opening Day the Nationals played the Astros so each of those teams had each of their networks there providing game coverage.

Okay, and that’s high-capacity, three-phase power for the big trucks.

Yes, absolutely. It’s 208, three-phase, 400-amp feeders.

Always so good to be able to just pull in and hook everything up without having to drag tons of copper around. You had to deal with Florida weather and that may sound very tame, but things can turn on a dime. Were there any delays for the weather sneaking up on you?

Yeah. There was one occasion when I was scheduled to go down there and they called me about four hours before my flight and said, “You know, we’ve got a hurricane coming this way so you might as well stay home.” So I stayed here in Texas for a couple of extra days before I went back out. They had a few rain delays and times when they had to shut the site down, but in the end it all got done and they had a game on Opening Day.

And the other things in the ballpark, they’ve got restaurants, bars, club decks, suites and you installed sound and video feeds to all those places?

Yeah. You can buy a ticket that gets you onto a party deck area where there’s a bar and there’s food. You can watch the game overlooking a drink rail. And they’ve also got several concession stands built in. They’ve got portable concession stands as well, so lots of options. And they’ve got places for food trucks to pull in on the sidelines, so it’s kind of unique. And yes, we’ve got audio to all those areas and then in addition, the site has a full IPTV system and we’ve got monitors in multiple locations distributing the game feed, and other internal feeds that come across.

You were there for the opening game. Were you apprehensive or nervous about it at all?

We did some last-minute triage in the days before, getting all the systems online, but everything came up in good order and we were operational the first game. And really just the first couple of pitches just to make sure the PA was going to be all right and the video board was going to not all of a sudden die, so everything went off pretty well.

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