Arena & Stadiums
Featured in Sound and Communications Magazine
By Jim Stokes
Also reference The Story Behind the Story that discusses the new trends in stadium video and integration design set by this installation.
When the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman decided to do a major upgrade to its stadium’s luxury suites, a major component of the project was the audio and video distribution to the suites’ 250 flatpanel TVs. Having coax cable already pulled by the university was a tremendous plus. However, a lot of planning, programming and integration were required to complete the distribution tasks.
OU Dates to 1890
OU was created by the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature in 1890. The Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, also known as Owen Field or the Palace on the Prairie, is the on-campus football facility for the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Official seating capacity of the facility following recent innovations is more than 82,000, making it the 15th largest college stadium in the United States and the second largest in the Big 12 Conference. The University of Oklahoma is the only school whose athletic teams are known as “Sooners.” Accordingly, there’s the Sooner Schooner tradition, which refers to a Conestoga or covered wagon reminiscent of the mode of travel used by pioneers who settled the Oklahoma Territory around the time of the 1889 Land Run. Powered by matching white ponies named Boomer and Sooner, the colorful schooner races across Owen Field in a triumphant victory ride after every OU score. Let’s trace the origins of the state’s nickname. It stretches back to the Civil War era. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided that a legal settler could claim 160 acres of public land. During the Land Run of 1889, settlers from across the globe, seeking free land, made their way to the Oklahoma Territory to stake their claim to a new life. One of the few rules to claiming a lot of land was that all participants were to start at the same time. Those who went too soon were called “Sooners.”
As time went on, “Sooner” came to be synonymous with progressivism. The Sooner was considered an energetic individual who travels ahead of the human procession. And Oklahoma was the Sooner State, the land of opportunity, enterprise and economic expansion. Ron Baker, principal of Dallas TX-based WJHW, was the main consultant. Kenny Kendrick, Director of Engineering, AVL Systems (Edmond OK), was lead Control Systems Programmer. Our interviewees are AVL Systems Project Engineer Ryan Zemke and Brandon Meier, OU Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast. Meier will give us a glimpse into the history of the university’s previous renovations of the east stadium suites and club levels, and the current expansion. “Although the university provided the majority of the wire pull, there were some things we were required to provide as far as Ethernet backbone throughout the suites area,” said Zemke. “But the major jumps across the field from the east side to west side where the head end is located, and from the east side to the west side where the PA booth is, were all on existing fiber network. We just had to provide converters to get back and forth. The university wanted to provide the latest technology.”
He noted that the sheer scale of the project was the major challenge. “Geographically, there are hurdles to overcome as far as limitations of how long you can pull Ethernet traffic without converting to fiber back and for th. On top of that, there were space limitations for equipment, especially in the suites area. We had to use very high-density equipment and try to keep things as efficient as possible.”
Then there was the coordination with the school because its staff was pulling the majority of the wire and also providing the programming direction, the RF head end and the cable TV systems. Therefore, AVL Systems had to coordinate with OU engineering to ensure that all the work was balanced properly because the control system depended on it. Zemke noted that it took about 45 days to complete the project. “That included programming, which was the majority of our time,” he said. “We were making programming changes right up to the very last hours before game day.” Touchpanel graphic layout in the suites was also a concern. “We took great care in making sure that the buttons were big enough in the seven- inch, wall-mounted touchscreens,” explained Zemke. “They’re appropriately sized. Another aspect was that we were using existing conduit and back boxes. So there was a size limitation because it had to fit into a two-gang box.
“We worked closely with Brandon Meier and his team to ensure that touchpanels were in compliance with OU’s quite specific graphic requirements,” Zemke pointed out. “They include color, font and channel graphics for channels such as ABC, Fox and Fox Sports Southwest. Brandon and his team were very helpful about what they needed. “We had to go through a couple revisions on the layout. A lot of influential people in the Oklahoma area rent the suites. We wanted to make sure everybody was satisfied about how things looked and operated.”
Audio-wise, the integrator replaced the existing DSP with the QSC Q-Sys system for the suites and concession areas throughout the stadium. How- ever, the existing amplifiers for the concessions were left in place. “We were required to reintegrate and make sure things were operating properly, making sure all the zones were notated and labeled. We provided a QSC TSC- 8 touch panel that’s mounted in the PA booth. That gives them individual control of restrooms and concessions. Since then, it’s been expanded to allow individual source selection, as well as volume control in common areas.”
Providing the new Q-Sys DSP audio feeds for the suites and common areas on the east side were yeomen’s tasks. It was fairly complicated, entailing a separate source selection and volume control for the 52 luxury suites on multiple levels, including the conversion of the audio system from an existing 70 volt system that was trunked across all the suites to an 8 ohm system. “On top of that,” Zemke pointed out, “there was a space limitation for our equipment racks. The conversion from 70 volt to 8 ohms required a lot more independent amplifier channels. For that, we installed Crown eight-channel CT875s. Existing speakers were used in the suites, but every single one of them had to be converted to 8 ohms.” The amplifiers are fed from the Q- Sys with the local I/ O frame at each location. There are six various locations throughout the suite levels on three separate floors, and all of that is being fed on an Ethernet backbone via Q-LAN. The control endpoint for that is in the commons area, which is inter faced directly with the Crestron control system.
Integration Was Key
“The equipment list is not the most impressive part of the project,” affirmed Zemke. “It’s how the whole system hangs together and what we had to do to integrate them. The major advantage was in the products that were specified by WJHW. The Q-Sys system is scalable and compact and very efficient. It allowed us to integrate the systems in a fashion that works very well with the Crestron processors. That’s because the Crestron processors themselves are capable of running 10 separate programs, individually, per processor. And there were four processors on the job. “We were able to keep the equipment list relatively small for the scope of the project, and keep it very efficient by running multiple programs in the same processor, and then bring one processor at the head end back, which serves everything from that side,” explained Zemke. “Therefore, each bank of three suites is a program, and then each processor runs 10. There’s a program for the Q-Sys side, and there’s a program for the Contemporary Research side, all communicating with each other over Ethernet. It works great.
Now, let’s cross the field. “Audio on the west side of the stadium is completely different in scope,” said Zemke. Tannoy eight-inch ceiling speakers are driven by a 70 volt line Crown CDi 1000 2-channel amplifier. The Santee Lounge audio is sourced via a Crown 4 mic/ line in audio mixer for PA, radio and a microphone. Notably, the Santee Lounge in the commons area is located underneath the PA booth. Food is served there, and it’s a staging area for the club-level seating on the west side. Each suite has a Crestron seven-inch touchpanel mounted on the wall for individual or simultaneous audio, video and TV control of four flatpanel LCDs, which were provided by the school. RS232 controls are used for the suites. There are common areas for the suites, as well. Accordingly, there are five concierge desks equipped with desktop Crestron 10-inch touchpanels for control over the audio system and TVs in the spaces. There are lots of choices. On a typical game day, options include Sooner Vision, which is the local broadcast, the stat channel and whatever other games are being played across the country. Blu-ray players are added amenities on the east side. The players are modulating into the head-end system and distributing useful information, such as playing back football highlights and inter views. The Oppo Blu-rays are touch-panel accessed for each floor where channels are viewed on the local TV’s. Zemke explained the integration of Contemporary Research and Crestron with regard to touchpanel control. “The Contemporary Research ICE-HE head end basically sits on the front end of the entire cable TV network for the entire stadium, which is an advantage because it provides a large amount of expandability as far as control is concerned.
Connected Via Ethernet
That head end is then connected via Ethernet back to our Crestron control system, which is then sending out all the commands from the touchpanel,” Zemke added. “It’s being converted to fiber, then over to the ICE head end, which is then converted to RF out to the control boxes and then finally to RS232 or IR to the TVs.” Therefore, the Contemporary Research ICC1-232 box is for the suites; the ICC1-IR is designated for the common areas.
“We have Cisco Gigabit Smart switches connected to more [Cisco] switches throughout the east side that distribute our control to all of the Crestron touchpanels and the Q-Sys I/ O frame, which is being Q-LANed,” said Zemke. “It’s very interesting that this put-together network stays under the 350-foot limit for Ethernet with daisy chain switches throughout the stadium to make sure everything works properly.”
Although the university provided the existing cable, AVL installed Cat6 for gigabit uplinks in between the network switches. That’s the interconnectivity between the Cisco network switches in between floors on the east side for the suite system. The Blackbox PoE injectors are used to inject PoE out of the network switches at each one of the floor locations. To get our bearings for this, the three floors on the east side are bro- ken up this way: There is a lower level of suites, a middle club level common area and the top or upper level of suites. Accordingly, there are equipment racks on the first and third floors. And there’s one central rack in the second floor club level.
Zemke offered kudos for WJHW consultant Ron Baker for his “very expandable system.” He offered that “Expansions are in the works right now as far as adding more suites throughout the stadium. The university just announced an expansion. So, adding more controls for more suites and adding more controls for audio will not take a complete redesign.” As for the present system, Zemke acknowledged, “We did have to work closely with Contemporary Research and Crestron to ensure that all of this was going to work together. They worked together as manufacturers. I was pleasantly surprised by how robust the control backbone from Contemporary Research was. It was quite reliable.” One of Zemke’s fears going into the project was balancing the cable system and what effect that would have on the control system, he explained. “However,” he added, “the control system was unaffected by it other than if you unplug it, it’s not going to work. It was far more robust than the digital TV signals going down it.”
Jumping right into the challenge solution topic, Brandon Meier stated, “The suites used to have a problem with IR bouncing off the suite windows and changing the channels in the adjacent suites. That made those people very unhappy. That’s because there are all glass walls in between. When someone would change the channel, IR would bounce off the glass and change channels in suites all the way down the line." Meier pointed out that the east stadium suites and club levels weren’t that old. “They were finished in 2001 and then we overhauled the finishes and AV in 2013. When they were built, ever y suite had two TVs. This project expanded that to four TVs in each suite and more than 100 in the general club areas. “We wanted to add TVs and also add HD channels to the cable TV lineup,” explained Meier. “We got new TVs with the 232 port off the back that can be easily controlled from the Contemporary Research box. And every suite and every concierge location in the club level has a Crestron touchscreen.” Meier related a typical SNAFU suite scenario before AV problems were solved. “There used to be some dial panels on the wall,” he said. “You’d have to manually dial for volume to get radio or PA. Those were the only two options. And then again you’d need to find the corresponding remote to the TV in your suite. There was always a problem with the remotes being lost or somebody trying to change a Panasonic TV with a Sony remote, and that sort of thing. So this solution solved a lot of that.”
There are many options with the new system. There’s a huge selection of TV channels, including 12 HD channels with a heavy emphasis on sports channels. There’s also access to radio, stadium PA and even the output of the parabolic mics on the playing field. But there was yet another task to tackle. “We wanted the touch panels laid out absolutely dummy proof,” Meier pointed out. “When you walk up to the panel and you want your TV #1 on ESPN, a two-year-old should be able to do it. That’s why we have the GUI design.” Feedback from suite holders has been quite positive. “They say it’s nice to be able to go over to the wall and have four TVs with stats on one, the TV truck on another, the big screen feed on another and then their favorite game on another…all at the same time,” said Meier. “In the next couple of years, we’ll finish a $370 million renovation of our football stadium that will include the latest in WiFi, digital signage, bigger video boards and a new sound system,” Meier added. Our focus is not to make the stadium much bigger than it is but, rather, to make it really better and provide fans more amenities. We want to make our fans feel comfortable. We’re adding more restrooms and more concessions, as well.”
Sound & Communications Contributing Editor Jim Stokes has been involved in the AV industry as an AV technician and writer for almost 40 years