The Sponsors Perspective: Combining Hardware And Software Creates A Graphical Experience To Remember

Providing an immersive video experience for fans while not detracting from the on-field action on game days is the ultimate goal.

This article was first published as part of Essential Guide: Using Configurable FPGA's To Deliver Integrated Flexibility, Scalability, And Resilience - download the complete Essential Guide HERE.

New types of production facilities dedicated to sports venues, including control rooms located inside the stadium or ballpark, have traditionally been designed using standalone devices that perform a specific task such as a production switcher, router, multiviewer or replay system. However when you add the ability to display graphic content on a multitude of screens throughout a stadium using software-defined systems, it can be a real game changer.

A New Breed Of Software-Defined Infrastructure

Indeed, this new breed of software-defined hardware systems allow one or two operators to manage an entire system of LED screens and ribbon displays in a sports venue with far-reaching possibilities—for both fans and sponsors. The inherent flexibility is particularly valuable for multi-purpose venues that have to create, change and distribute content on the fly for a variety of clients with different needs.

Take for example Truist Park, home to the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball (MLB). Inside the ballpark is an HD videoboard in center field and over 32 LED boards throughout the stadium and surrounding entertainment district that require refreshed graphics for each game/event held there.

This is all managed by the “BravesVision” team that leverages a software-with-real-time hardware-processing venue control system to seamlessly trigger every display and device while simultaneously integrating closed captioning and emergency messaging. The system also relies on a 24/7/365 scheduling application operated from a production control room in the ballpark to drive every aspect of the venue experience. This includes LED displays, audio, lighting, and mechanical features throughout the district.

The solution chosen was a software-only graphics design and control system we designed called XPression Tessera that drives the multitude of displays at the ballpark and surrounding entertainment spaces. The system is operated by the BravesVision team from the hardware-based production control room.

In fact, with the tight integration between the real-time motion graphics system and a full complement of production control room technology (also from us), Truist Park became the first venue in Major League Baseball to deploy comprehensive Unified Venue Control. Content for all 32 LED screens is rendered in real-time using eight channels and operated from a centralized control room.

Supporting Multi-Purpose Venues

Likewise, California’s SoFi Stadium, home to the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers NFL teams, is an end-to-end 4K HDR broadcast facility that’s often referred to as the most technologically advanced sports and entertainment venue on the planet. It includes both a massive center-hung infinity screen and a translucent roof containing a network of LED lights that project images (visible by flights into and out of the nearby LAX airport).

The stunning venue features an asymmetrical roofline containing a network of IP-connected LED panels. The centerpiece is a 360-degree ovular double-sided 4K HDR screen measuring 360ft (110m) long and 150ft (46m) high. It spans 120 yards and contains nearly 80 million pixels. As a multi-purpose venue that plays host to two separate NFL teams, SoFi Stadium’s production team needs tools that are flexible enough to transition from hosting an L.A. Rams game one week to an L.A. Chargers the next week and a mega concert event in-between. They now have this capability, which can easily be deployed at a moment’s notice.

Skarpi Hedinsson, SoFi Stadium’s Chief Technology Officer, was tasked with displaying pristine video content and 3D animations on all of the oversized LED displays, sometimes simultaneously, and sometimes on only a select number of screens. This is enabled by the flexibility of software, in combination with real-time hardware processing.

As a multi-display, real-time graphics designer and controller, XPression Tessera can drive any LED display size and resolution with pre-rendered and real-time rendered 3D graphics. A single animation can seamlessly occupy the entire 120-yard infinity board.

This flexibility means that the same graphic or animation can also be used to treat the eight primary sections of the screen at SoFi Stadium as distinct canvases, allowing operators to present a variety of looks for their content during a live event. The graphics are produced and executed from an on-site control room that contains Ross Video production technology, such as the Acuity production switcher and Ultrix routing system.

From the management of multiple internal LED displays, concourse feeds, and external displays to the control of third-party devices like video processors, LED lighting, and audio systems, the Ross Unified Venue Control Solution gives the SoFi team complete control of their production and enables them to deliver a truly immersive live experience for fans in attendance.

Using multiple SDI-based Acuity production switchers in the in-stadium control room allows the production team to cut pre-game, in-game, and post-game feeds simultaneously. When combining the switcher functionality with the software-defined Ultrix routing system, the team has an extremely powerful hyperconverged production solution that merges switching, routing, multi-viewers, and signal processing into a single platform.

In addition, a PIERO Sports Analysis tool delivers virtual first down lines, red zone markers, sponsor logos, and more to keep fans informed. A social media management tool called Inception is also used by the stadium crew to publish social media content to the ribbon boards in the stadium in real-time.

Unified Control Solution

In the UK, The Principality Stadium, located in the city of Cardiff, is the national stadium of Wales and home to the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). The previously named Millennium Stadium seats 74,500 and, in 1999 when it opened, was the first multi-purpose sports and entertainment venue in the country to feature a fully retractable roof.

Since hosting the Rugby World Cup Finals in 1999, the Principality Stadium has staged several high-profile events, including major concerts, the UEFA Champions League Final, the FA Cup, the League Cup Final, and the Speedway Grand Prix of Great Britain.

Looking to attract more major international sporting events, the time had come to upgrade their in-venue production system and late 2021 they welcomed back fans to the venue for the first time in 18 months.

Local Systems integrator PMY Group was tasked with managing the in-venue technology upgrade project and making the stadium control room capable of producing 4K UHD content. PMY turned to the Ross Sports & Live Events group to come up with a plan.

Our Unified Control Solution was selected, after recognizing the creative, technical, and business benefits of integrating the production control room technology with the venue’s LED content management system. By connecting these systems via the DashBoard venue control software, in-venue operators can trigger fully synchronized events and graphics across all in-venue displays with the press of a button.

Another benefit of the Unified Control Solution is its ability to connect with third-party data providers to keep fans in the stadium informed with the latest sports scores from around the league as well as for educational information across a variety of different sized screens.

The production control room inside The Principality Stadium features a full complement of Ross Video production technology, including a Carbonite Ultra production switcher, Ultrix router, Xpression for CG graphics, XPression Tessera to drive the LED displays, openGear cards for signal processing, and a Mira+ replay system.

Keeping In-Stadium Fans Engaged

Integrated hardware and software systems can be a powerful (and less expensive) tool to help simplify the management of a live sports production, whereby custom touchscreen control panels can be used to trigger many different macros and events. And these systems are completely customizable for each venue, supporting video formats from SD all the way to UHD. Adjusting the video output is as easy as changing an I/O card.

For sports stadium and ballparks around the world, keeping fans engaged during games with graphic displays that elevate the live experience has become a major effort to combat people watching at home. Integrating hardware and software into a single production platform to create this experience makes a lot of financial and operational sense.

For fans, a thrilling game day experience will be remembered for a long time.

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