Everything may be bigger in Texas, but in Indiana, too?
Taking a page out of Jerry Jones’s playbook, Indiana Pacers’ owner Herb Simon introduced the gargantuan-video-display concept to basketball and the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. On Nov. 3, the Pacers unveiled the center-hung video board, which extends nearly foul line to foul line, the culmination of a considerable project that began months earlier with ANC Sports.
“We think this building has been known as one of the best, if not the best, basketball building in the country, and we wanted to give our fans a new experience,” says Pacers COO Rick Fusen. “Herb Simon started talking about it [and] said we want to do it right, we want it to be the best, and we want it to be the latest technology. So we designed a board with ANC that we think does that. It offers our fans from top to bottom a visual experience that we don’t think you’re going to get any place else.”
A View From Every Seat in the Arena
The center-hung video board features twin sideline-facing Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision 6-mm LED HD screens, each measuring 50 ft. x 21 ft. The structure, which weighs approximately 45,000 lbs., is bookended by two baseline-facing video displays, each 25 ft. x 14 ft. ANC Sports, which spearheaded the engineering, installation, and operation of the new video board, also added two LED matrix displays above the upper deck at either end of the venue, each 23 ft. x 10 ft.
Although those in the upper decks will certainly benefit from the expansive screen, ANC Sports worked to ensure that every seat in the arena could appreciate the video board.
“In an arena, most of your fans are on the sidelines, so the bigger viewing area you can give them, the better,” says Chris Mascatello, EVP of technology sales for ANC Sports. “Between the subtle curve we put on the sideline faces and the downward angle of about 6 degrees on the screens themselves, we’ve actually opened up perfect viewing experiences for the highest-dollar seats — those first 10 rows on the sidelines — which was one of the hurdles we tried to overcome.”
Control Room Gets a Makeover, Too
To accommodate the massive video board, ANC Sports also directed the overhaul of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse video-control-room area. Built in 1999, the venue was designed with two control rooms: one to run the center-hung video board and the other to handle a television broadcast.
In pre-HD days, the latter served as an alternative for visiting broadcast teams, who could rent the room from the Pacers rather than roll a truck into the building. During the video-board project, the control room served as a temporary broadcast suite for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever broadcasts while the in-venue video-control room was gutted.
ANC Sports installed a Sony MVS-7000X switcher, Evertz EQX router, and EVS XT3 replay server. Graphics are handled by ANC Sports’ 64-bit VisionSoft operating system and supported by a Chyron Lyric Pro. More than 300 HD TVs were also installed throughout the arena as part of the project.
The control room, previously analog, can now power HD content to the 1080p video displays. The new control room was built out complete with a full 3G broadcast infrastructure with 1080p signals and production equipment. Although the backend is not yet fully 1080p-capable (an upgrade to full 1080p capability is ongoing), the room is currently broadcasting over the full-1080 lines of the displays.
“In addition to being able to do a 1080p image, being able to do side-by-side 720p [images] with a lower third for scoring and statistical information — it really kind of has opened up Pandora’s box from a production and design standpoint, where there really are no more limitations,” explains Mascatello. “We’re toying with concepts such as showing side-by-side replays for different camera angles simultaneously.”
Bankers Life Fieldhouse Runs a Fever
As with any project of this magnitude, coordinating schedules and adjusting to time constraints posed the biggest challenges for the Pacers and ANC Sports. The Pacers approached ANC Sports about the project in April. With tipoff for the Fever’s 2012 home opener scheduled for May and the Pacers’ scheduled for November, both sides had to work around the WNBA in order to be ready for the NBA season.
“We put temporary video boards in when the WNBA was playing,” explains Fusen. “As a matter of time, we were very lucky when the WNBA went on the month hiatus when the Olympics were happening to have some time to [work].”
Although both sides were prepared to use this three-week window to their advantage — switching to a backup production setup and swapping out the audio system — neither anticipated the Fever’s run to the WNBA Championship.
“The WNBA was both our saving grace and also worked against us,” says Mascatello. “The Fever went to the finals and actually won the title, so they continued playing deeper into the season than we had originally mapped out. What was a tight timeline in April and May when we blocked it ended up having another three to four weeks of events beyond what we would have predicted.”
To accommodate the longer WNBA season and prepare for the fast-approaching NBA season, the Pacers and ANC Sports began to work overnight shifts. However, both sides agree that the long hours were worth it when the video board lit up on Opening Night.
“We didn’t really get the board to start operating it until probably the first week in October, so the learning curve in terms of our guys’ being able to make creative for the board and learn the board has been very short,” says Fusen. “We’re learning all the time, but everybody did a great job. It was a big project in a short period of time, but it got done.”
Fan Experience Remains Top Priority
Back in Texas, the Houston Rockets also took a page out of Jerry Jones’s playbook, installing their own foul-line–to–foul-line video board prior to the 2012-13 season. The Tennessee Titans have installed the largest end-zone displays in the NFL, and the Seattle Mariners recently began work on a video board that will stretch more than 200 ft. wide — wider than the video board at Cowboys Stadium.
“We want to get fans going to the live event, and, to do so, you need to present something that is different than what they can get at home,” says Mascatello. “We’re now living in the age of iPads, smartphones, and 1080p screens being $500. People need a reason to come to the game, and, in a lot of cases, it takes more than just having a live event.”
Echoes Fusen, “This new breed of video unit, whether it’s in a football stadium or basketball arena, really gives the fan an experience that he can’t get at home. We want people to watch television, certainly — we all are in the television business — but I think maybe [now] they’ll come more often to the building and get the full experience.”