By Cindy Davis

Super Bowl Halo Board
Van Wagner Productions created the video experience inside which included
the 58-foot-tall, 360-degree Halo Board, mega-columns in the end zone, and the
ribbon boards.
CREDIT: Courtesy Van Wagner Productions

It’s the pinnacle — the very definition of achievement — and luck has nothing to do with it. To win the Super Bowl, a football team must perform at the top of its game, steadfast in the face of extraordinary pressure. It was no different with the technical systems designed to elevate the live fan experience at the dazzling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for this year’s football/entertainment extravaganza.

Behind the scenes, audio and video teams worked tirelessly in the fiber-optic equipped stadium to ensure flawless AV performance on game day. For ATK Audiotek’s senior design engineer Kirk Powell, 2019 marked his 17th Super Bowl as the engineer in charge.  

Enhancing fan engagement is the primary purpose of an entertainment system. “During the Halftime show, we get a concert-level system in there quickly, then get it out of the way,” Powell explained. “That's what makes the Super Bowl so unique. We go from a full-on championship football game to a full-on concert in less than six minutes. They do a 12- to 13-minute concert, then we go back to a full-on football game in another six minutes. It's ridiculous, it should never happen. But it does, and it's marvelous.”

ATK’s audio magicians don’t do it alone. The firm works with the best in the business, including a renowned production company, lighting crew, rigging experts, special effects gurus, and beyond. “We've been doing this together for a long time, and we help each other out,” says Powell. “We're all one team.”

One of those AV all-stars is Bob Becker, EVP of Van Wagner Productions (VWSE), whose company has worked on the Super Bowl for more than 30 years. “We do the live in-game presentation inside the Bowl, everything from the music to the videos on the screen to the PA announcements, working with talented groups that put on the Halftime show and any pregame ceremonies.”

Engaging the 21st Century Fan

Super Bowl social media feeds
Social media feeds were displayed to increase fan engagement.
CREDIT: Courtesy Van Wagner Productions

Even though tickets to the Super Bowl are always sold out, the AV teams must deliver an experience stadium fans won’t forget. “We need to give fans an incentive to come to the stadium — and that's by engaging them 100 percent of the time. Our goal nowadays is to give fans that at-home experience — plus,” says Becker. “We have to deliver the things stadium fans don't get at home: the social media, the music, the relevant content, the excitement that goes along with being at a live sporting event.”

It helps to have a 58-foot-tall, 63,000-square-foot, 360-degree HD Halo Board by Daktronics at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the largest video board in professional sports, at your service. And VWSE made use of every pixel. “We did complete video takeovers, where we would have the team matchup video or the countdown to kickoff video,” Becker says. High-end graphics and engaging storytelling kept the fans on the edge of their seats. The videos tie into the mega-column in the end zone, and into the ribbon board.

VWSE and ATK worked hand-in-hand delivering the excitement. “ATK’s A1 audio mixer and technicians work with us, follow our rundown and listen to my cues,” says Becker. “It's all one coordinated effort. Nobody is on an island at the Super Bowl. Everybody works together.”

VWSE works closely with the NFL sponsorship group to give the sponsors great value, but also to maintain the entertainment value of the stadium. “It has to be the best of the best,” says Becker.

A Winning Fan (& Social) Experience

Super Bowl Helios
Helios Interactive used ticket art from the 52 previous
Super Bowls for fans to customize and received a fun digital takeaway
they can share on social media.
CREDIT: Courtesy Helios Interactive

With fan engagement at the heart of an event like the Super Bowl, the stadium becomes a hub of content generation. As fans enjoy with the venue and its live content in unexpected ways, everything gets socialized on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and beyond. The experience itself becomes something that gets shared, says Justin Wood, Principal, Sports Practice Director of Dimensional Innovations. “We're seeing a need for flexibility, and that traditional branding is not enough. It needs to be about experience,” adds Wood. “People want to have something that they can't have somewhere else.”

The Super Bowl event begins before game day. The NFL engages with fans at various venues outside of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“We’re working to help establish more of a year-long relationship and deeper ties with the fan base,” says Michael Schaiman, SVP Digital Experience, at Helios Interactive. “Part of that is the ability to expand into social media networks and to create experiences that they want to share socially.”

Helios built approximately 20 fan experience spaces. “As a way to showcase the AFC and NFC championship trophies, we created touchscreen experiences using a transparent display in front of the objects,” Schaiman explains. “Fans can touch the screen, click through and get more information and see highlights.”

Another memorable fan experience was the commemorative ticket configurator. “We used ticket art from the 52 previous Super Bowls so fans can customize and pull in ticket art from any of them.” Fans received a fun digital takeaway they can share on social media.

Gearing Up

Super Bowl
From the ground to the upper bowl levels at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta,
Baker Audio Visual supported the Super Bowl production teams.
CREDIT: Courtesy Baker Audio Visual

The NFL brings in its AV contractors for Super Bowl events. “There's a lot of logistics going into an event like the Super Bowl, because they literally take up multiple city blocks of an area,” says Doug Stancil, Director of Special Projects at Baker Audio Visual, the team responsible for the integrating the main bowl audio, the audio for all of the clubs and suites, as well as AV systems for the locker rooms, conference spaces, board room, and interview spaces during the MBS buildout. For Super Bowl LIII, the company started working with ATK in September 2018. “We interfaced with them, as well as getting multiple systems tied together, including equipment that they used to supplement the house systems. There was a lot of coordination and planning that went into making that seamless.” On game day, Baker AV stepped out of their role as integrator at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and into the role of support technicians, helping to ensure a smooth delivery of the most coveted game of football in the NFL.

ATK ran all the audio inside the Bowl throughout the day, hanging its own JBL system, and used the house system for upfill and the inner balconies.

For the entertainment portions, ATK supplied a cart system. Fourteen full range carts and four sub-carts were placed around the field for the pregame and half-time entertainment. The 14 full-range carts consisted of JBL VTX-A12 speakers with a pair of JBL VTX-S28 subwoofers. Another cart included four JBL S28s, and a low-frequency sub cart. Powersoft powered the cart system. The DiGiCo SD5s was tapped for the mixing consoles. The house PA was mixed on a Yamaha CL5.

ATK installed its own Dante system as well — it was the first year working with one Dante network rather than a network divided into three. “That was a game changer for us,” Powell says. “It was as ‘digital of a system’ as it can be.” AES bridges were used between the ATK and house networks.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium already had a powerhouse system to drive the video across the screens. “The Ross Tessera and Expression system in the MBS control room that drives that Halo board and the mega-column ties everything together and allows us to go 360 or break it into the eight quadrants,” says VWSE’s Becker. “Those are things that have really helped take our show to the next level.”

Making the Call

Referee calls are crucial during every game, and especially during the Super Bowl. With no room for error, ATK took full ownership and control of the referee microphones. “We actually relocated,” Powell says. Because of the difficult RF environment with well over 5,000 frequencies in the stadium on game day, there is no extra bandwidth. We set up our own position down on the field, to give us the best shot at not having any problems. And this year, I'm proud to say that we did not have any problems.” The team used Shure’s Axient analog solution for the referees and Shure Axient Digital for all the entertainment portions.

The End Game

“What drives us is passion,” says Becker. “Our folks have a passion for what we do, and it's the love of the game, no matter what game we're producing. It's putting ourselves in the eyes of the fans and giving them what they want to see and hear.”

The first AVIXA Experience Event of 2019 is at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and features Doug Stancil and Justin Wood among the experts speaking about the latest experiences for sports fans. Join us on March 21 in Atlanta.