Special Report: Stadium Technology

In this special report from the May 2015 edition of the magazine, SportsPro draws on experts and case studies from across the industry to examine stadium technology in all its many forms.

Special Report: Stadium Technology

Report Sections

Stadia Solutions

Ensuring spectators receive a comfortable, connected, safe experience, while also guaranteeing commercial deliverables are met, is a challenge that fills the minds of stadium owners and operators the world over. SportsPro selected five particular spheres and sought the expertise of sector-leading companies to paint a picture of the perfect modern arena.

By James Emmett and David Cushnan

Wi-Fi

Nowhere is stadium technology evolving faster than in the field of connectivity. Consumers, for the most part, now expect to be connected 24/7, wherever they are. For the modern sports fan, the ability to use a smart device to enhance the in-stadium experience – whether it be to check scores and information from other sporting venues, interact with friends, or take advantage of connected amenities and offers around the venue – is becoming increasingly important. Arguably, it has segued from ‘nice to have’ to ‘need to have’ in the last few years.

Stadium operators around the world are plugged into this trend, and investments are being made to bring connectivity levels up across the board. But the sports industry rhetoric often falls short of the reality experienced by many stadium-goers.

Insiders suggest that when an operator claims to have delivered ‘the most connected stadium’, that claim is never based on 100 per cent connectivity. And with the cost of installing cuttingedge equipment in a 50,000-capacity stadium running to a mid seven-figure dollar amount, the current shelf-life of a handful of years for Wi-Fi technology is simply not long enough for many to justify the expenditure.

Mike DeGraw is president of Horizon Communications, a leader in telecommunications infrastructure design, installation, and management in the US and the UK. He contends that the Atlantic is not the only division between the US and the UK, but that there is a cultural chasm when it comes to attitudes towards connected venues as well.

Horizon Communications president Mike DeGraw believes AT&T Park is the world’s best-connected stadium but that there is a gap between the US and UK.

“In the US, some of the leagues have mandated certain levels of connectivity so many of the stadiums have proceeded in the last year with putting in robust, highdensity Wi-Fi,” he says. “In the UK, it’s still the case that the dollars involved are the challenge.”

DeGraw explains that both the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) issue their clubs with a set of Wi-Fi guidelines which dictate the minimum standard required – “x amount of access points per x amount of people, the need to address both five gigahertz and 2.4 gigahertz”. Extreme Networks is the preferred Wi-Fi manufacturer of the NFL, and Horizon has been working with the company recently to install systems at CenturyLink Field in Seattle and Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

“In the UK, I haven’t seen a good working Wi-Fi network in a stadium there yet – and I’ve been to a lot of them,” DeGraw notes.

But it is AT&T Park in California, home to the San Francisco Giants MLB team, that DeGraw points to as the “most connected venue in the world”, closely followed by state-mate Dodgers Stadium, home of the LA Dodgers. “I’m biased because we did both of those installations,” he says, “but I don’t think you’ll find any better. Everything works so that Wi-Fi is just a utility. It’s an enabler.”

DeGraw has not yet seen evidence of stadium architects building Wi-Fi systems into their initial designs but he doesn’t view that as a particular challenge. “It comes down to having the telecom closets or rooms, which we call IDFs, placed in strategic locations throughout a stadium, and then having single-mode fibre run from the main data centre within the venue out to each of those locations,” he explains. “That’s the core of any network that we build and that’s not going to be replaced any time soon with any new technology.

“If you’ve done that, when you put the access points in the only thing that will change is that right now we’re putting in category 6a copper [cable] where three years ago we were putting in category 5e – that could change. The access points themselves could change – we’re putting in AC Wi-Fi access points now and that has changed, but if you build the core infrastructure properly you can always swap out the edge. The core can last for 20 years.

“We haven’t seen a stadium that we haven’t been able to put Wi-Fi in – you can get into drilling, coring, but it can be done anywhere. It’s just a lot easier and cheaper if a new stadium has those cable pathways and telecom closets built in.”

Lighting

Premier League soccer side Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, opened in 2006, is widely regarded as one of the most technologically advanced in Europe. But such is the pace of change in the field that just nine years into its existence, the Emirates will undergo a significant technical refurbishment this summer, with a new set of LED floodlights installed into the stadium’s roof.

Oskaloosa, Iowa-based company Musco Lighting has won the contract for the job, having worked on high profile projects at Twickenham, NRG Stadium in Houston, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York and the Bahrain International Circuit. Jeff Rogers, president of Musco World, says that the conversion from traditional arc tube lighting to diode lighting is a “phenomenon” which is sweeping across sports venues the world over.

“I would say the first major stadiums and venues were converted probably in 2013 and we’re seeing it with virtually all of the new facilities – LED as the primary field of play light source – and many of the existing [venues] are being converted,” he suggests.

“The LED system,” Rogers explains, “is just a lot more flexible in being able to create the environment that you want for the fan and the player.” The benefits of switching to LED are multifarious. Firstly, the system allows for an instantaneous switch on and off. Secondly, there can be significant energy savings. And thirdly, the light itself is enhanced, both for the fans inside the stadium and for the television images captured there.

Musco Lighting fitted LED lighting at the Bahrain International Circuit in time for the 2014 F1 race.

“The point-source nature of an LED allows us to create reflector packages around the LED that reduce glare that would normally go up into the sky or into the fans’ eyes,” says Rogers. “We can redirect that on to the playing surface and that can enhance the picture. The electronic nature of LED lighting allows you to eliminate flicker, which is a problem with super slow-mo cameras.”

Rogers explains that for a mechanical installation at a ground the size of the 60,000-capacity Emirates, 45 to 60 days of on-site work is needed. Musco works on around 20 stadiums at any one time, with another 20 at various stages of discussion and planning. The company’s team of 1,100 sport-specific employees work on around 2,000 projects per year.

Rogers explains that each stadium – and each sport – has its own set of unique requirements. In baseball, for example, the pitcher-batter dynamic demands an optimum level of lighting to enable the crowd and the television audience to pick out the ball across a relatively small space at speed.

“Motorsport probably has the most unique and challenging set of application requirements,” Rogers continues. “Today they have so many different camera angles – fixed cameras, on-board cameras. The lighting system has to complement and it has to be safe for the driver at high speeds whilst also trying to develop the kind of broadcast quality that Formula One and MotoGP are after. We recently finished the Bahrain Formula One circuit, and that was done at a standard that sets the bar pretty high.”

Temporary seating

As far as major one-off events are concerned, the trend for a sustainable approach – for temporary, demountable venues – is now well established. UKheadquartered Arena Group provides event overlay services, designing and delivering complete temporary environments at sporting and cultural events around the world. According to the company’s international business development director Joe O’Neill, “the game’s moving towards us.”

Arena’s client list covers multiple golf, tennis, horse racing and multi-sport event organisers, as well as recent work for Fifa in Brazil, but O’Neill says that the majority of the company’s work this year is going into preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics. “The requirement there is for in excess of 200,000 demountable seat positions,” he explains. In parallel to that work are discussions with the local organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics around their requirements five years from now, as well as conversations with major event organisers in PyeongChang, Gold Coast and Qatar.

Despite the fundamental ethos of demountable seating – that it can be taken down, packed away and reused elsewhere in the future – there is a gradual and ongoing degree of technological innovation. “I think the innovation in technology has taken over the hardware,” explains O’Neill. “The traditional hardware allowed one or two viewing angles and there was no requirement to predetermine a sightline.

Temporary seating solutions from Arena and others have led to the development of flexible venue designs in iconic settings for events like London 2012.

“The sightline is ultimately something that assists the spectator experience. If you pay all that money for a ticket, you go somewhere and you’re not seeing the action, then you’re a bit pissed off. Technology and innovation has come into the traditional hardware. It’s been driven by the architectural fraternity alongside the rights holders, Fifa and the IOC, advocating the use of a ‘minimum see’ value. So there’s an angle or sightline that’s the minimum required or acceptable.

“We were the forerunners in developing and evolving a demountable system that enabled us to generate and install a structure that was the most economical in terms of operating costs, but fulfilled that requirement for a see value required by the host city plus the rights holder. That’s what our Clearview product has done at London 2012, in Sochi for the 2014 Games, and in Brazil for the Confederations Cup. We hope it will in Brazil, Russia and Qatar.”

O’Neill explains that a tie-up with a global scaffolding company means that the only thing Arena ever has to ship is the superstructure – the platform, the rails, the seats: everything that sits on top of the scaffolding. For the Rio 2016 Games, a new ruling pushed through by the Brazilian fire authorities will see the minimum thickness of the plastic on temporary seats increased. The surface of the seats has also increased in recent years.

“Historically they were about 46 centimetres and now they’ve gone to a 50cm per seat position,” says O’Neill. “There’s more plastic engaged with the body now. It’s about delivering comfort, ultimately.”

Security

“You’ve got to look at the broader precinct – in other words, do a masterplan which includes the sport facility as well as the surrounding precinct to look at the transport hubs, to see crime rates, the type of crimes in the area,” explains Malcolm Tarbitt, executive director of safety and security and the International Centre for Sport Security, when asked how stadium architects should go about building security into their designs.

“This all sounds common sense but, trust me, it isn’t always common practice. In quite large parts of the world, safety is usually built in from the start because it’s regulatory in nature, but security is not the case. Once the operator’s appointed, they look around and they say, ‘Well, there’s no security.’ Then they get an ex-sheriff or an ex-marine to come and tack on a few cameras here and there. That is not security design.”

Tarbitt believes there should be a basic security planning model ahead of stadium construction – a framework that would take into account security perimeters, cameras, scanning devices, personnel and event modes, before unique factors such as local environment, risks and threats.

When it comes to specific hardware, Tarbitt suggests that the greatest challenge is not so much in sourcing new technology, but in upgrading existing equipment to make it more efficient and more effective. “Cameras are commonplace,” he says. “But today with the evolution of technology every three to five months, people are looking at better camera technology.

“And it’s not just about more pixels – that’s one of the big sales gimmicks. It’s about what you can actually do with that camera in terms of its functionality, and can you reduce ten cameras by using one special camera. From a security design point of view, you can move away from certain equipment if you take physical security in the form of, let’s say, fencing. You can actually get away without any fencing in certain areas by landscaping properly and using ha-ha walls.

“If you look at the Emirates Stadium, for instance, the word ‘Arsenal’ in front of the stadium is part of their security strategy. That word is bolted into six feet of reinforced concrete under the pavement to prevent hostile vehicles from penetrating their outer perimeter. These are the kind of things that you would look at right from the beginning to build security in aesthetically, pleasingly, invisibly.”

Tarbitt pinpoints cyber security and drones as the next big challenges facing major sporting events and facilities. As far as the former is concerned, he says the type of investment made by the Brazilian government in IT security technology ahead of last year’s Fifa World Cup provides an example for future major event host nations. Tarbitt says that during the opening game of the World Cup, there were 10,000 “reported, credible” cyber attacks. “They tried to attack the lighting, the power supply, the surveillance system, the ticketing system, getting into the broadcast,” he adds. “They tried everything.” But they were foiled.

Drones, on the other hand, are something for which he does not believe there is a clear solution. “I think regulating drones is relatively easy,” he argues. “Of course you have to enforce and police it, which is challenging. But the real question is how you respond to drones. So you’ll either have an anti-drone drone that will go and take the other drone out, or you’ll have some sort of jamming device that will cut the signal.

“You have to see that a drone is approaching your facility. So you need some sort of radar detection system picking this up. You have to be able to respond very quickly before it becomes an actual threat to your facility, and if you do take the drone out you have to be aware that there’s a consequence. Where does that drone fall and what’s attached to it? It could be a container of acid, it could be an explosive device, it could be a nuclear substance, it could be anthrax.”

On-pitch advertising

Denmark-based company LogoPaint owns the patent to a piece of branding technology it calls 3D CamCarpets. Specially designed for TV, the technology enables a 2D painted image – either on a carpet or directly on the field of play – to appear three-dimensional on screen. Used in 15 different sports and at more than 500 soccer stadiums around the world, the company’s technology has become commonplace across the sports industry.

“The calculation is done from the point where the main, fixed camera stands to the point on the surface that you want to put the logo,” explains Charlie Grave, who heads up international sales for LogoPaint. “Every square inch of that logo is measured to create the trigonometry that creates the calculation. If you’ve got an undulation or a slope, you’ve got to factor that in.

“It’s become the number one asset that sponsors ask for in their inventory of rights, really because it’s the only bit of branding they can get where their logo is completely separated from anyone else’s. It’s on its own, it’s bigger and it is in positions where it is constantly being seen in the middle of the pitch and in the in-goal areas.

The patented 3D CamCarpets from Denmark’s LogoPaint give brands unique and prominent pitchside exposure on broadcasts of 15 different sports.

“On a cricket match you’ll see it at either end behind the stumps, behind the wicketkeeper and the bowler. Football, we can’t put it actually on the playing surface so we put it in front of the signs behind the goal, between the touchlines and the perimeter branding.” The service costs between UK£3,000 and UK£6,500 per application and is typically wrapped into sponsorship deals.

Having spent 20 years listening to people talk about the coming threat to the business from virtual advertising – images impregnated into the broadcast feed – Graves believes that the more traditional technology will continue to win out in the short term. “It’s one of those funny concerns that you keep thinking is about to happen but then it doesn’t,” he says. “It’s extremely expensive and incredibly difficult to get right. The technology doesn’t always exist within the cameras around the world.

“Actually it’s happening in Australia in the NRL because the groundsmen rule the roost in Australia and they don’t want anyone painting their pitches, and in fact our strategy is that we now own some technology and a business that can produce virtual. We can offer it as an alternative to anyone who wants it.

“We’re developing a version of the CamCarpet where you can actually see it from two different cameras, so basically your real estate is doubled from one feed to the next, which is very exciting. You could put Pepsi facing one camera and Investec facing another.”

Pushing the Structural Boundaries

Ever-innovative planners are increasingly conceiving new ways of adapting once single-purpose stadiums to satisfy the demand for showcasing an array of top-class sporting spectacles. Transforming an old bullring, steeped in tradition, into a tennis arena and creating a volleyball court amid a hulking soccer stadium are two such examples of this adaptability in action.

By Mike Kennedy

When the Romans laid the first stones of their concrete revolution in a period of construction which produced architectural feats such as the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus – structures designed specifically to host sporting spectacles on an entirely new scale – the thirst to create ever-more impressive, atmospheric arenas in which to showcase sport was sparked.

The coming of the technological age has seen the idea that a sports stadium should be marked out for a single use increasingly shelved. While some modern venues, such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles, were conceived from the outset as multifunctional event arenas, others that were originally designed with a specific purpose in mind have – through the clever vision and enterprise of praiseworthy planning teams – been adapted to host an entirely different discipline.

We saw such initiative at work with the Carrier Classic, first held in 2011, which brought a college basketball game to the deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier. More than 8,000 fans climbed aboard the USS Carl Vinson to watch the match between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Michigan State Spartans on the temporary court.

The Veltins Arena in the German city of Gelsenkirchen was built principally as a soccer stadium in 2001 and is home to FC Schalke 04, who play in the Bundesliga – the top professional tier in German soccer. But in 2010 the venue, which has a retractable roof and a pitch capable of sliding out of the stadium to make way for the multi-functional hall to host concerts and other indoor events, was transformed into an ice hockey arena for the opening game of the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship. The match between Germany and the USA attracted what was then a world record ice hockey crowd of 77,803 – a feat for the Veltins Arena, which has a regular capacity of around 62,000.

And more recently Petco Park, an open-air ballpark in San Diego and home to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) San Diego Padres, was turned into a tennis arena to host the Davis Cup first round clash between the USA and Great Britain in 2014. It was the first time that a Davis Cup tie had been held at an open-air facility in the US and the temporary stadium, built in the outfield, had a capacity of 8,000.

El Coso de Los Califas

One example where the stadium instruction manual was turned on its head is in the case of El Coso de Los Califas, the bullfighting ring in Cordoba. Inaugurated in 1965, the impressive structure – which seats 16,900 spectators and has played host to the traditional Spanish discipline of bullfighting for more than half a century – was repurposed to host the 100th Davis Cup tennis semi-final between Spain and France from 16th to 18th September 2011.

Event and stadia construction company Nussli was commissioned by the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation (RFET) as the main contractor for the event, responsible for transforming the bullring into a venue fit for a top-class tennis event. Lluis Herrero, the managing director of Nussli Spain, recounts the intensive planning and attention to detail that was required.

“It was ultimately decided that Cordoba would be the selected city,” he says, “and before this selection we had already contacted all the different cities that could be selected and we started a study of these cities and that took some time.”

Nussli was commissioned to convert the bullring at El Coso de Los Califas for the Davis Cup semi-final between Spain and France in September 2011.

Since under the scheduling arrangements for the Davis Cup the host location for each round can only be decided once the previous round has concluded, the chosen venue has limited time to prepare for the final.

“If Spain won the previous match then we knew that we would play at home, and then different cities in Spain entered – the ones that wanted to host the Davis Cup – and the federation then selected one city,” says Herrero. “Then the project started, so we started [organising] with the federation, knowing which city it would be.”

The Nussli team had a three-week period in which to work on the stadium and the first task, Herrero explains, involved delivering a “preliminary design based on the guidelines of the International Tennis Federation [ITF]” as to how the venue would look. “Then we put together a final project,” he adds. “Then the idea went to the city, to check the requirements again and check that everything was fulfilled. And then work could start on the final project.”

Nussli also met with sponsors before confirming plans for the hospitality areas and the ITF were on site at the final handover to check, as Herrero puts it, “whether the design on the plan was what we really built”.

Though the bullring has been used as a cinema and concert venue in the past, this was the first time Los Califas had been used to host a sport other than bullfighting and Herrero says the prior experience of the RFET in the repurposing of another bullring – when the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, the famous Madrid bullring, was used to host a Davis Cup tie between Spain and the United States in 2008 – was key to their success.

Asked whether they used the Madrid example for guidance and inspiration, Herrero says: “Yes, we looked at that, but the diameter of the bullring in Cordoba is different. And so there are some things that could not be the same, because in this case the VIP boxes were close to the fence, and in Madrid the VIP boxes were closer to the field.

“In Cordoba we took into consideration the side views and after that the differences between the public and the photographers’ areas.”

An assembly team of 40 people took just ten days to carry out the actual construction, using 340 tonnes of materials which had to be delivered in 17 lorries. It then took two weeks to dismantle the temporary elements and return Los Califas to its normal set-up.

“This took place in the middle of summer,” explains Herrero. “Knowing the middle of summer in Spain, it’s a difficult time to work: there are lots of people who take vacations, and also it’s really warm there.”

The project involved the construction of 400 seats in VIP boxes, various hospitality installations for catering areas, shops, and additional services for a total of 2,300 people. With the addition of the VIP seats, the stadium had a capacity of 17,300 for the match.

According to Herrero, in addition to the task of transporting the materials within Los Califas, the main challenge the team faced was with the geometry of the bullring in terms of ensuring a good view for all the spectators: “It was challenging because of the side views,” he reveals.

“What happened was that we needed to put the VIP boxes in the arena and we needed to guarantee that these VIP people could see the lines. And we needed to consider the placing of the advertisements. And for that it was necessary to lower the field by 70 centimetres. We needed to remove 70 centimetres of ground [from the stadium floor] and then all the people had a perfect view.”

Herrero deems the event a big success. “Yes,” he says, “it was very popular because Cordoba is a not a place where things like that happen normally. It was very warm, but it was packed. It was a very good atmosphere. It was good for the city.”

Stade Pierre Mauroy

Moving from old-fashioned bullring to a cutting-edge soccer stadium, the Stade Pierre Mauroy, home to LOSC Lille Métropole, a club in Ligue 1 – the top professional soccer division in France – is the Optimus Prime of sporting venues: capable of altering its shape like a Transformer.

Speaking to SportsPro in July 2012, the Euro 2016 SAS stadiums director Xavier Daniel described the soon to be inaugurated Stade Pierre Mauroy, which will host games in next year’s Uefa European Championship, as “a new concept in the world”.

“It’s like the symbol of the modernisation of sports facilities in France,” he said. “It’s like we were in the Middle Ages before and now it’s the future.”

The stadium was officially opened in August 2012 and is run by a 100 per cent subsidiary of the French construction company Eiffage Group, explains Julien Rongier, the head of the marketing and sports programme at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

“In France it’s one of the most multipurpose stadiums ever built because we have the retractable roof, and then we have an arena,” says Rongier, speaking in March this year. “The pitch is a unique set-up. To explain it very simply you take the pitch, you cut it in half so you have the north section and the south section. The north section disconnects and it rises five metres above the pitch ground level and slides over the south section. And beneath the north part you have a big concert arena that can welcome up to 30,000 people.”

27,448 fans attended last year's Davis Cup final in Lille - a record for an officially sanctioned tennis match.

Aside from hosting Lille’s home games, the stadium has been used for a variety of events – from concerts to a Supercross motorbike event on a dirt track constructed on top of the soccer pitch. The Stade Pierre Mauroy was also awarded the 2014 Davis Cup final between France and Switzerland, from 21st to 23rd November, and a crowd of some 27,448 packed into the reconfigured stadium to watch Roger Federer lead the Swiss to their first-ever crown.

Rongier says the limited time frame afforded for the construction work of the final venue by the Davis Cup scheduling meant the stadium staff had to swiftly formalise a plan of action.

“With the French Tennis Federation [FFT], we talked just a little about it (hosting the event) before the semi-final,” he says. “And then we worked through the organisation on the last day of September. We did a brief with the ITF in London. And very quickly we had in mind – the FFT, the ITF and us – to hit the world record and try to do the most amazing show for the Swiss and for the French

“And actually we succeeded in that in a way because we broke the world record two times: first on Friday and then on Sunday. So we succeeded in welcoming more than 82,000 fans in total during the three days.”

Rongier says both the FFT and the ITF were very happy with the event’s organisation: “It was a key exercise for us, if I may use that term, because in 30 days we had to produce two home LOSC games, two Supercross events and the three days of Davis Cup tennis. So we had one LOSC game, a week later we had the two motorsports events, two days after these we had the training of the Swiss and the French. And one week after the Swiss beat the French in the final, we had another LOSC game.

“So in 30 days we had four major events, seven of which were event days. I didn’t check officially but I think this is kind of unique for a stadium to welcome such big events in a row.”

The stadium’s hi-tech operational features are impressive. “For the roof you press a button and then 15 minutes later the roof is closed,” Rongier says. “So it’s an amazing set-up; very easy to operate.”

Disassembling the pitch is a little trickier to do but the operations team, made up of 45 permanent staff but reaching 3,500 in event mode, are getting to grips with it. “That’s more difficult to operate and that’s a big challenge every time we move the pitch,” admits Rongier. “It’s impressive. It’s costly, but it’s becoming easier and easier to operate as the team here are learning how to do it quickly; how to do it cheaply.”

With the stadium already proving its remarkable adaptability, the prospects look good and Rongier and his team are justifiably optimistic.

“We don’t really have any restrictions, such as weight restrictions on the pitch, we don’t have those issues,” he says. “We can rig what we want on the roof – lights, sound systems, big screens and so on, so we did action sports with the Supercross, we are hoping to get Monster Trucks here, I am sure we will do more rugby games, we will have the Fiba EuroBasket European Basketball Championship in mid-September. So I am sure we will succeed as a destination for sport.”

The National Stadium, Warsaw

Another venue which has broken new ground is the Warsaw National Stadium, which was repurposed to host a volleyball event on a major scale in 2014. Situated in the Polish capital and home to the Polish national soccer team, the stadium was built to be centre stage as Poland jointly hosted the Uefa Euro 2012 tournament with Ukraine.

The stadium’s regular capacity of just over 58,000 was surpassed when it welcomed 63,000 people for the opening game of the World Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Volleyball Men’s World Championships last year. Mikolaj Piotrowski, the director of communications for PL.2012+ – the company responsible for coordinating Euro 2012 in Poland and the operator of the national stadium – says the operating team keep an open mind when it comes to the stadium. “We have a 360-degree approach to strategy in terms of getting the events at the stadium,” he explains.

“In terms of sport, soccer is very important at the National Stadium: the Polish national team plays at the National Stadium. The Polish League Cup is there, the Uefa Europa League final is at the National Stadium this year. But we believe in diversity, we do not believe that you can only live with the football in terms of income and in terms of potential. So we seek other opportunities to get other disciplines at the stadium.”

Preparing the stadium to host the volleyball required a concerted team effort, as the match fell between an athletics meeting and an Indoor Windsurfing World Cup event, when a 90m long pool filled with 3,000 cubic meters of water was constructed on the National Stadium pitch. “Well, it was one of the most complex and most difficult projects,” says Piotrowski. “As we say in our company, ‘We slept very fast.’ We worked hard, but the game was worth it.

“During just five weeks last year we had five different events and we proved to our clients, to our partners, to our stakeholders, that nothing is impossible at the National Stadium. That we are able to transform the stadium in seven days from one format of sports event to another format.”

63,000 fans were packed into the converted Warsaw National Stadium, home of Poland’s national soccer team, for world championship volleyball last year.

Getting the stadium ready and up to the required FIVB standards for the beginning of the world championships required a great deal of collaboration between the various stakeholders. “So we were in close cooperation with the organisers: the Polish Volleyball Federation (PVF) and FIVB,” recalls Piotrowski. “We used our experience from Euro 2012 in terms of mass events.

“We always work on the basis of one operational plan, we always write the operational plan, which sets out a scenario of the events minute by minute from the first day of our negotiation to the last whistle of the games.

“So in terms of volleyball the biggest challenge was first of all to check whether it was actually possible to organise a volleyball game in a big stadium. There was a lot of doubt and people did not believe it was going to be profitable for the spectators. So, together with the Brazilian Volleyball Federation (CBV) and the PVF, we did some testing events at our stadium, and it was great. But we decided to implement additional seats for the spectators on the pitch.”

Moving seats on to the pitch ensured there was a section of spectators up close to the court, as there would be in a more traditional volleyball venue, while the big screens aired the live action to ensure no spike was missed.

“The second thing was to integrate in a professional way all the important areas for the event,” adds Piotrowski. “So tiny details like the number of toilets, considering the fact that it was going to be an event with a majority of male spectators, we had to think about this kind of detail. The price of hot dogs, etc. And also in terms of security issues, because we had presidents, prime ministers, etc, at this event.

“We believe the tiny details at the end of the road decide whether our clients – the supporters – leave the stadium with smiles on their faces. So the integration and coordination in all areas was very important for us. But our approach helped us to achieve the goal: the event was quite a success.

“I must admit that when I talk about this event I still feel a thrill because it was something incredible.”

Piotrowski is confident about the stadium’s ability to command and successfully deliver a broad range of top-class sporting events in the future.

“We are working today to widen our offer for contests for people who love sport,” he says. “We are thinking about basketball, hockey, and other disciplines. We are a very young stadium – only three years – so there are a lot of things ahead of us, but a lot of things behind us where we’ve proved that modern multi-functional arenas can be very successful in terms of serving very diverse offers.”

Quince Imaging: the company behind the NBA’s jaw-dropping 3D projections

Quince Imaging is a firm of speciality image designers that has made a name for itself in the sports industry with its dramatic and jaw-dropping 3D projections.

“From the very early stages we fancied ourselves as different,” laughs Scott Williams, owner and chief operating officer of Quince Imaging, when asked to explain the thinking behind the name of his company.

When Williams set up the firm as a speciality image design agency in the 1990s, he wanted to stick out in a sea of companies called “AV this or Projection that”. Williams’ business is, and always has been, several rungs up on the creativity ladder from the typical AV or image projection company. “We weren’t an AV company and we didn’t want to be identified as one,” he says. “So in that vein of being different, we chose a letter – Q – and a word that was not vastly used. Now it’s become fairly well known and we’re pretty proud of that fact.”

Now in its 18th year of business, Quince Imaging has made a name for itself through its spectacular image projection techniques. An event at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena last year provides an awe-inspiring case study. The National Basketball Association (NBA) team approached Quince with an idea for a half-time show during a game in March to celebrate the retirement of their much-loved centre Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

The elaborate light show Quince conceived and executed for the ceremony – with the arena’s hardwood court seeming to ripple, pulse, fall away and build itself up again over a vigorous and mind-bending programme – reached a crescendo that drew audible gasps from the packed house.

Although sport accounts for roughly a third of Quince’s business, alongside corporate events and public installations, there has been plenty of work in the sector for Williams and his team over the past 12 months. Separate to the Ilgauskas one-off, Quince installed a permanent court projection system with full interactivity at the Quicken Loans Arena. It did a similar thing at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers, before building out a content programme for that NBA team to run with their new hardware. Quince also installed permanent systems at the Philips Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, and the Prudential Center, which currently plays host to the New Jersey Devils National Hockey League team.

In terms of special events, the Quince team put together shows for the NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, the Sacramento Kings’ opening week in SleepTrain Arena, the Calgary Flame’s opening event at the Scotia Saddledome, the Jordan Classic at the Barclays Center in New York, and the Miami Heat NBA championship ring ceremony.

This show at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center is an example of the kind of 3D effects Quince Imaging is able to produce.

But it was the Ilgauskas celebration that ranks as one of the most impressive pieces of work Williams believes his firm has ever done. “Typically for an NBA or NHL game you get a minute or two of exposure,” explains Williams, “but this was a special event where the court projection was much more featured. That was the most impactful thing we’ve done.”

The expertise behind Quince’s work is necessarily technical. Williams himself is a 33-year veteran of the industry. His background is in the science of projection technology and he spent the first 18 years of his career in display and engineering design. “I was designing display systems for military applications 50 per cent of the time,” he explains. “We studied the height and width of characters and the viewing distance of characters, and what type of contrast of characters on to screens worked best for admirals and generals in command centres to be able to make very quick ‘friend or foe’ assertions in battlefield conditions.”

When Williams and his partner struck out on their own in the 1990s, the business was initially centred on the distribution of the brightest video projector in the world at the time. As the technology evolved, so did Quince, adding new personnel, new expertise – design engineers, display engineers, creative technicians – to the team. Now, Quince’s sole mission can be defined in one sentence: “to be engaged with customers who have challenging and impactful image applications”.

Williams adds: “The one thing that hasn’t changed is that in the special events industry, the imaging business, through the entire chain of an event – whether it be an NBA All-Star Game or a Fortune 100 company corporate event – the last thing the attendees see is a projected image onto a screen or surface. How you go about deploying that image has changed radically. From composite video to component video, to serial digital to HD, to higher than HD, to 4k to 8k.

“Our philosophy the entire time has always been to embrace higher resolution, newer technology, and to bring this technology to the market as quickly as possible.”

A one-off Quince project will almost always include hardware, set-up, and content conception and execution. Depending on the level of content input, costs can range from between US$100,000 and US$250,000 for projection in an indoor arena. Outdoor projections, in football or soccer venues for example, are doable, but bigger, more difficult and more costly.

For a one-off special event such as the recent NBA All-Star Game, Williams says that the process would typically begin 60 days out from the event. In this instance, a team of NBA producers – “a very advanced crew who build media and content” – approached Quince a little bit further out than that. The All-Star event, Williams notes, is particularly challenging simply because of the competition for floor and rigging space. “There’s a permanent stage, a semi-permanent stage; there’s semi-permanent displays that are used for the half-time celebration and the pre-game celebration,” he says. “There’s a lot more that goes in the arena in the way of technology and rigging.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena is one of many US venues now utilising Quince's 3D projections.

After scrutinising the building grids and undertaking a site survey, Quince ascertained what the requirements and limitations of the project would be. “The projection systems cannot be too far off-axis,” Williams explains. “You want to project from an angle as high as possible – for basketball, typically, it would be somewhere between ten and 15 feet off the sides of the court. Your design also has to include angle of incidence and how the projectors receive signals, how they’re networked. The angles have to be locked down because you can’t go up and move the projector two inches to the left.”

At that point, the Quince engineers build a wireframe of the court, including the precise paintwork that will feature on the day, and pick up momentum on content planning. “That part of it is typically a highly collaborative effort,” says Williams, “and takes about 30 days. It would normally include four or five Quince creative guys. There would be a creative director, then there would be an animator, then there would be a cinema 4D artist and a creative producer. In a permanent installation, it’s typically a single operator who could have other functions.”

In tandem with the NBA producers, the Quince team unpicked their pack of 3D projection secrets to put together a show that made strong use of the drama of false perspective.

Those 3D elements – the breaking away, falling in and rising up of surfaces – are Quince’s speciality, but Williams is happy to reveal the fundamental mechanics behind them.

“The images need to be bright enough to provide the contrast ratio that is high enough so that when the elements of the court move, your eye follows the projected image of that element of the court, and not the element on the court itself,” he says. “Once you attain certain brightness levels, certain pixel resolution, part of the secret is to project the image of the court onto itself and then to force movement in those areas – like the three-point arc, or the foul line, or other graphical elements around the court that are specific to the team or the league. You use those to your advantage.

“That’s one of the ways that we force three dimensional viewing.”

 

To contact Quince Imaging, call +1 888-252-4960 or email info@quinceimaging.com. Alternatively, visit www.quinceimaging.com