The audio elements of the sports experience—PA announcements, music playback, synchronization and distribution of audio and video, broadcast interface —require a sophisticated infrastructure. With that in mind, several systems designers and operators gave us the play-by-play about venue requirements, integrating playout with live audio elements and game-day execution.
Today’s audio system requires both intelligibility and full-bandwidth capability to support music playback and the audio accompanying the high-definition video content used to bring the game closer to the stands. System designers have lots to consider—and a number of interested parties to please—when it comes to something as seemingly simple as “good audio.” According to Scott Clark of Atlanta-based Technical Innovation, the interested parties vary. “It might be the owner group, athletics department, or technical committees,” says Clark, who’s designed systems for Turner Field in Atlanta (Atlanta Braves), Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama, and several others. “Each group may have slightly different objectives that are driving the process.
“If the goal is to keep audio off the field,” Clark continues, “then a single-point system in the end zone isn’t a good solution—because it would be almost impossible to cover a stadium and not have audio on the field. The benefit of a single-point is lower cost, due to centralization of equipment like speakers and amps, not needing multiple amplifier rooms and lots of wire for a distributed system, and less rigging of individual speaker locations.” Though distributed systems are more costly, Clark says the benefits include lowered reflected sound components, better control of sound and better localization of sound energy. “That can be a consideration for outdoor facilities with adjacent neighborhoods or other sound leakage concerns.”
AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL Dallas Cowboys team, is the largest fully-enclosed room in the world, and is covered by a massive Electro-Voice X-Line line array system. Indoors, leakage is less of a concern, and the focus often shifts to reverberation, directivity and “critical distance” between source and listener. “AT&T Stadium is the largest, fully enclosed room in the world” says Gary French, audio E.I.C. for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. He manages the stadium’s audio system, as well as the sound systems in the multiple in-stadium clubs, suites, party, meeting and plaza venues. “It is oval-shaped and built entirely of concrete, glass and steel, with no acoustic treatment on any of the surfaces, other than thin panels on the under surface of the roof and the turf on the field. That poses significant challenges—which we continue to address and improve since our opening.”
To maximize directivity and intelligibility, the speaker system at the stadium utilizes large-format line arrays. “Our audio system is comprised of Electro-Voice speaker elements, including 114 X-Line (Xvls & Xvlt) large-format elements, 122 XLCi127DVX medium-format elements, along with 30 XLE181 compact elements and 4 Xi-1183A mounted in the board as field level sideline and down fills. These are driven by 250 Electro-Voice TG-7 and TG-5 amplifiers located in four upper-level amp rooms at the corners of the stadium.”
Obviously, signal distribution and routing is a significant consideration, not only because of distances, but timing and the flexibility of routing. Most of today’s venues rely on networked digital transports to get the program signal to amplifiers placed as close to the speakers as possible. At AT&T Stadium, French reports that “the audio is controlled throughout the stadium by our BSS London Architect system, with audio distributed via Cobranet through Procurve fiber and data switches. All amps are controlled and monitored by the Electro-Voice NetMax system via N8000 controllers.”
For the facility hosting the largest single-day sporting event in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway chose QSC’s Q-Sys system for its routing network, according to Steven Durr, principal of Steven Durr Designs. With its expandable Q-Sys I/O Frames and other peripheral devices, the system has networked audio matrix capabilities of 512 x 512 channels, audio DSP processing, and AEC (Acoustic Echo Cancellation) that help reduce feedback and provide other intelligibility improvements.
Not only did Durr design the audio system for the legendary facility, but he continues as the principal mixer for the annual race each Memorial Day. “The master mix feeds the suites, media and press feeds, trackside public address, and the racetrack’s FM radio transmitter.
“Because the starting grid is 3/4 of a mile away up the track,” Durr continues, “there’s a mixer there for starting announcement of ‘Gentlemen, start your engines.’ Another mixer is placed at the Victory podium where the pre-race invocation happens, where Jim Nabors sings “Back Home in Indiana” (a long-standing race tradition), and The National Anthem is sung. One level below that is where the Purdue Marching Band plays, which is mic’d with PZM microphones. Another mix position is located at the Yard of Bricks to handle the driver introductions. Each location handles foldback and talent monitor requirements locally.”
At AT&T Stadium, French says game day audio/video production crew number run “about 75, on average, with more on special occasions like our Thanksgiving Day game. Of that 75, 12 are on my audio crew, plus an additional eight provided by a contractor handling our outdoor pregame entertainment stages, whose performances are also part of our pregame show inside.”
French continues, “Our game day mix is done on a 48-channel Yamaha M7-CL, with final FOH level control via laptop using Yamaha Studio Manager connected to the M7. ‘Typical’ games include audio sources from our eight wireless mics on the field, two roving marketing talent mics, the referee’s mic, our interview set, audio from our eight to10 video playback machines, sub mixes from our two outdoor entertainment stages and music from a Click Effects “Pro Audio” system, a Replay 360 and two CD players. For larger games, we might also have multiple feeds from the network trucks (network talent mics and playback) that are also included in our bowl show.”
The largest and most complex sporting events also include a complex RF environment, and must accommodate entertainment, broadcasters, teams with wireless intercom systems, and two-way radio of security and emergency personnel. “We have a game day RF coordinator, who is also part of the core of coordinators for the NFL. He is familiar with our region and with events which might be occurring nearby which might affect our event,” says French. “We use 40-50 RF channels for our in-house production, but for an NFL or college game that is nationally or regionally broadcast, we easily double that, adding in network truck’s audio systems. For Super Bowl, double that. Our coordinator first protects our in-house RF needs (including our entertainment stages), adds the network trucks list, then radio broadcasters, followed by any other requests from news groups, outside camera crews or vendors.”
A complex array of antennas is required, as diverse as the spectrum and locations to be covered. “Helical antennas are mounted below the 4th deck to handle bowl mics and IEMs, as well as IFB. ALS (Assisted Listening Devices, now mandated by the Federal “Americans with Disabilities Act”) system antennas are high above in the catwalk, and our Telex wireless and coaches headsets are at field level. We use a combination of Shure and Sennheiser for our mics and IEMs, Lectrosonics for the Ref mics, ComTek for IFB and ALS (Listen System for back up) and Telex for wireless coms. We use a Lectrosonics system for our referees, with a single Shure lav mic tied to a pair of beltpack transmitters, with a switch up in the control room that allows us to change receiver channels, should one have “issues.”