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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.

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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.

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.

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