• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Live Events;
  • Date: January 2014

By Dan Daley, Special to AVIXA

Ever since the Beatles played Shea Stadium in 1964, sports venues have been asked to serve as alternate homes for large-scale non-sporting events. When a pope came to town, it was Yankee Stadium or Candlestick Park that was called on to host the show. But mega events were a rare occurrence in those days. Fast forward to the 21st century and the highest-end corporate shows, known as industrials, can make even a papal visit seem like an opening act. And installed audio, video and lighting have been crucial in helping the trend mature.

What’s behind the trend is the need for increasingly costly sports venues to generate more revenue for their owners and managers. Music concerts have been a regular component in strategies to keep major-league arenas and stadiums operating when their anchor sports leagues go dark for the season, but even venues that are part of colleges and universities are also catering to large-scale events, such as graduations, to help defray costs.

AVL Plays a Big Part

Tim Mazur, a project manager and system designer at Clair Brothers Audio Systems, in Litiz, PA, says the need to have venue AVL as flexible as possible is one collateral result of this. He cites recent installations at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and at BC Place in Vancouver, home of the Vancouver Lions and BC Whitecaps, as examples of how AV systems design has been adapting for more diverse and continuous use of sports facilities.

“Most big touring music acts will bring in their own PA system, but in order to reach as many of the upper seats as possible, one design trend has been to have the house PA be interfaceable with touring rigs,” Mazur explains. “At BC Place, we put in one of the largest JBL VLA systems in the world, and part of the design was that the house PA would provide coverage to the upper reaches of the seating while the touring sound system would cover the rest of the stadium. The upper elements of the system increase the throw of the PA but also keep speech intelligible in the higher seats. That’s important to rental users like corporate events.”

Another request that sports venues have been getting from rental users has been provisions for the AVL to extend the indoor environment to areas outside the facility, such as concourses. This takes the form of full-range music systems outdoors, where a decade ago there might only have been a paging-type sound system in place, to allow whatever the experience is inside to follow visitors seamlessly outside. That’s also behind the rise in the number of large video screens installed in outdoor and other ancillary areas of sports venues. Mazur says the continuing penetration of IPTV systems in sports venues, which make signal distribution easier, is propelling the trend. That also applies to the growing ubiquity of digital audio networking systems, which allow scores of channels of audio to be run throughout a large facility on a relative handful of CAT-5/6 or fiber cables.

“These are things that rental clients are asking for when they look at big venues,” says Mazur. “They wouldn’t have even occurred to anyone a few years ago; now, they’ve become decisive factors for event planners.”

Video in the Big Picture

That applies to video, as well, from videowalls used as scoreboards to LCDs placed around the interiors and exteriors of venues.

“Every venue is looking for ways to maximize its revenue streams during the offseason and other non-game events,” says Jay Parker, vice president of live events at display designer Daktronics. “Digital marquees allow for easily changing content to drive fans and consumers to their venue all year long. We’re seeing many [sports] venues use video displays for alternate events such as stadium movie nights, arts festivals, corporate events and things of that nature.”

 However, he notes that use of some venues, such as basketball arenas, can be restricted due to the placement of their video displays, which tend to be hung above the center of the arena, thus limiting usable ceiling height. “In certain settings, a centerhung wouldn’t be an option due to the height restrictions that come with it; end-wall video displays allow for more events while still providing a quality audiovisual experience,” he explains.

Sweet Suites

Not every outside rental client needs an entire stadium or arena for its events, and sports venue design today increasingly accommodates a more granular use of facilities. Brian Elwell, senior consultant and vice president at Acoustic Dimensions, a Dallas-based design consultancy that specializes in sports venues, notes that interior spaces including bars and private high-end suites are being designed so that they can be offered as stand-alone event spaces. “Suites used as high-end seating on game days are also being marketed and used as presentation venues on non-game days,” he says. Elwell points to Sporting Park (formerly Livestrong Sporting KC), a soccer stadium in Kansas City that his company worked on, as an example of the concept. “There are several areas that are available for outside use and they range in ambience from partying sports bars to corporate suites,” he says. “But each one has similar AV amenities, including the ability to plug in any type of source at any location -- VGA, HDMI, DVI and HD-SDI -- and automated lighting control.”

This underscores the fact that sports venues have to be able to compete with hotels and other more conventional event sites in terms of their AV capabilities. Elwell notes that each type of sports venue has its own limitations -- baseball parks, for instance, have less availability during that sports’ season than NFL venues do during theirs -- but that they can offer an attraction that no hotel can: proximity to major-league sports.

Digital Signage

“Sports venues offer an experience that a hotel ballroom or typical convention center can’t, and digital signage is being used to make that experience more immersive,” observes Brian McClimans, vice president of global business development at Peerless-AV. Existing installed digital signage, which has become more common in sports facilities for advertising and wayfinding applications, can be used for rental customers’ needs in those same ways. And, adds Ken Goldberg, CEO of Real Digital Media and vice chairman of the DSF, portable digital signage can be used as an additional revenue generator for facilities, allowing them to place their messaging exactly where they want it during rentals. McClimans points out that digital signage is increasingly being used in interactive modes, allowing visitors to events to have questions answered and input their contact information, which can be accessed by the rental customer later (though Goldberg cautions that information harvesting and content types may have to follow certain regulations in publicly funded facilities).

Sports stadiums and arenas are going to be a bigger part of the event venue mix in coming years, and AV will be a larger element of that. So even if a particular team might not have a winning season, it’s still possible that their home field might.