Tech Art Donisi (right) pauses during mic-check with an NFL referee sporting Shure Axient bodypacks.HOUSTON, TX—They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and Houston’s Reliant Stadium certainly fits the bill. Seating more than 71,000 people, the 12-year-old, 1,900,000-square-foot facility is home to the NFL’s Houston Texans, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and more.
“With a venue this size, we always have wireless frequency issues,” said David Grundy, head of Technology at Reliant Venues. “As the Texans do better and better throughout the season, more broadcasters come in, so it gets more congested every week.” Visiting teams typically bring their own wireless gear, plus there’s plenty of stray RF around from the neighbors—an arena, a convention center and Houston Medical Center. The results aren’t always pretty, said Grundy: “There is a frequency coordinator supplied by the NFL, but things can get overlooked here and there, so typically we had someone else’s wireless mics stepping on the referee’s mic or vice-versa.”
“I’m told by Gubser & Schnakenberg, who did the latest coach-to-quarterback communication system for the NFL, that Houston has the highest noise floor for RF of any NFL stadium,” said Glenn Yates. As lead headset technician for the Texans’ coaches intercom—and senior regional manager at A/V rep firm Highway Marketing—Yates had a plan: “I work in the bowl for the Texans, saw what was going on and was constantly telling the poor guy that handles the refs’ wireless that I was ready to bring a Shure Axient wireless system down anytime they were ready.”
After giving Axient a shot at a mid-November game in 2012, the Stadium was convinced, renting the system for the rest of the season and purchasing a system that included four AXT100 bodypack transmitters and an AXT600 Spectrum Manager before the 2013-14 season, with an eye to adding AXT200 handhelds this summer. The venue’s two antennas are located near the audio booth on the eighth floor, overlooking the stadium floor, located so that there’s a maximum of 300 feet to any given location on the field.
The switch has made a difference. “The ability to look at the spectrum, see what’s going on and find a slot where we could put our stuff has been handy,” said Grundy. “For instance, the NFL mandates that we use a specific frequency, so we’re using the Spectrum Manager to look and see what areas are clear, then we’re telling their frequency manager, who says, ‘OK, well then use that one.’”