Croke Park Stadium in Dublin has completed its programme of design and installation of a permanent PA/VA sound system, supplied by French manufacturer NEXO.
This sporting venue is the national stadium of Ireland and home to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), and it has been at the heart of Irish sporting life for over 100 years. With a capacity for 82,300 people, it is the third largest stadium in Europe (behind Camp Nou in Barcelona, and Wembley Stadium in London). It is also the widest; its 88m-wide pitch, nearly twice the size of a conventional football pitch, is designed to accommodate the Gaelic sports of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
Mongey Communications, the full-service AV and communications provider from Kildare, has been involved with Croke Park for nearly 15 years. This year, the Mongey team finished its extensive upgrade of the audio facilities in the stadium, working closely with technology consultancy Vanguardia.
Like many other large-format venues all over the world, Croke Park has to balance the commercial imperative of hosting music and entertainment shows alongside its sports brief.
The GAA’s criteria for the audio upgrade focussed on qualitative improvements to the stadium facilities for voice alarm and evacuation (VA), and for announcement and music reinforcement for match day entertainment (PA). “The audio system in the stadium was in the region of 20 years old. Technology moves very quickly and, certainly, we were very conscious that it was time for us to pay attention to the improvements made in technology, as regards playing music and speech intelligibility,” explained Brian Conlon, head of stadium operations and projects.
In addition to improving audio throughout the stadium, the brief required the new system to have the capability to supplement coverage for concert use. Visiting productions can now tie into the Croke Park house system to deliver the best possible results for the upper seating levels in the Hogan, Cusack and Davin stands.
The stadium roof canopy now carries 18 clusters of NEXO’s GEO S12-ST specialist long-throw loudspeakers, each curved cluster containing eight modules. Powered by NEXO’s proprietary NXAMP4x4 amplifiers and controlled over a Dante network, the new system addresses the three grandstands of Croke Park. The 18 identical clusters give uniform coverage across all seats, and significant improvements in SPL without infringing the very stringent noise regulations applied to the stadium’s events. The fourth side of the stadium, known as Hill 16, is maintained as traditional terraces and has a discrete audio system.
Croke Park’s amplification hubs had been upgraded earlier in the year, and 8km of electrical cabling was installed. London company RG Jones were tasked with rebuilding of all the Croke Park racks and doing all the cabling from the marshalling boxes back to the NEXO NXAMPs, together with the power distribution and cabling to route the controlling Dante network straight into the amplifiers. With the advantages of the Dante network, the stadium can now deploy pitch side mixing positions very easily, depending on the entertainment content.
The Mongey team completed the installation of all 18 clusters in less than two weeks, allowing another week for fine-tuning the network, and testing and commissioning the system.
Since the bulk of the new system was brought into service last summer, the Stadium has hosted a wide variety of events. In addition to the normal annual calendar of sporting fixtures, which culminated with the 2018 All-Ireland Hurling and Gaelic Football Finals in August and September last year, Pope Francis was joined by 53,392 people for the Festival of Familes at Croke Park, one of the highlights of his papal visit to Ireland. Musically speaking, Michael Bublé returned to the stage at Croke Park and was the first to use the Stadium’s installed NEXO system for the Upper Terraces of the Cusack, Davin and Hogan Stands.
Since implementing the NEXO system, the team has declared that the audio quality is vastly improved. In addition to meeting the required life safety standards in full, the new equipment provides high-quality public address for general announcements.