by Kirsten Nelson

Baseball Hall of Fame Grandstand Theater
Photo Credit: Courtesy Populous

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is everybody’s home stadium. No matter who’s rooting and for what team, this historic spot is where heroes past and present remind us of the glory of the game.

Now the museum has entered the fan engagement era with its newly renovated Grandstand Theater, which immerses visitors in pure sporting nostalgia and excitement on a cinematic scale. Designed to support a deep roster of programming, the auditorium also serves as a gateway to the visitor experience, entrancing audiences with an introductory video that redefines the genre.

Produced by Baseball Hall of Fame board member and Hollywood boss Thomas Tull, the Generations of the Game introductory film captivates viewers and leaves them misty-eyed with the help of a full-scale Atmos immersive sound system donated by Dolby and high-resolution projectors donated by Christie Digital. Tull used his clout to engage Jonathan Hock to direct the film, which was written by fan favorite Joe Posnanski of MLB.com.

This isn’t just any old intro video, and fittingly, the viewing experience has been elevated to epic proportions in a chic new luxury suite of an auditorium, designed by stadium architecture powerhouse Populous and outfitted with primo acoustics and audiovisual systems designed by Arup and integrated by USIS AudioVisual Systems.

Baseball Hall of Fame Grandstand
Photo Credit: Courtesy Populous

Originally built 70 years ago, and formerly decorated with hard benches and scenic elements replicating the look and feel of Chicago’s Old Comiskey Park, the completely reconstructed 196-seat Grandstand Theater is now home to luxe seating and interior finishes drawn from baseball-chic. Wooden bats are tastefully incorporated into stair rails, and their light tones set the palette for the sloping theater and its plush acoustical treatments.

Down front, the cinema screen features a motorized masking system common to larger scale movie theaters, and for extra visual effect, it’s flanked by two 16-foot-tall video walls comprised of LCD displays.

Even the theater’s entrance was redesigned to heighten the experience. A series of archival media exhibits installed along an upward sloping ramp builds excitement the same way walking into a stadium might, with visitors arriving in the theater space for the payoff of a multi-sensory moment.

Baseball Hall of Fame Grandstand Theater
Photo Credit: Courtesy Populous

“It’s all about the experience as you walk through,” observes Todd Hutchins, CTO of USIS, who led the AV installation for the project in collaboration with Arup’s design team. “You’re getting into the feeling and then it leads you right in to the auditorium. That path was all redone. The way it was previously, you just entered the theater without any staging area or exhibits and artifacts to get you prepped before you walk in.”

With so much thought going into the look and feel of the space, careful intent was also put into outfitting the theater with plenty of technology to support a wide variety of programming and events. A dedicated presentation projector was provided in addition to the cinema-ready option, and various media connection points were designed into the stage setup and auxiliary positions on a landing mid-way up through the seating. That way, presenters can take the podium anywhere that suits the scene.

Setting the theater up for any of these purposes is fairly simple on the front end, with a touchscreen providing tour guides and presenters with clear options. “Start show” does just that, dimming the lights and activating the playback of the introductory video that emotionally prepares audiences for the experience of celebrating baseball’s greatest moments and heroes.

“It had to be really simple to use,” Hutchins emphasizes. “They wanted to get the creative side of the content across to make it a great experience.”

Behind the scenes, reliability was key, especially when the theater is in constant use throughout the baseball season. The robust and pixel-rich video system was connected via fiber backbone to support recording and transmission, locally and via broadcast feeds, for regular programming and special events like Hall of Fame inductions.

Sonically and visually the room is also batting a thousand. The 32-channel Dolby Atmos system was installed according to precise specifications for a true immersive 3D effect. And dynamic lighting was installed throughout to create different moods and varying program atmospheres.

Built to set the scene for the numerous ways the Baseball Hall of Fame engages with the public, the Grandstand Theater helps to create memorable experiences across generations on a daily basis. When the crack of a bat can be heard in 3D and the greatest baseball moments in history are seen in cinematic glory, these heroes won’t soon be forgotten.