Spotting the ball

AUTHOR: Inavate
Pitch side advertising displays can provide clubs with valuable revenue.

The Wide Media Group, a Norway based expert in digital media networks has completed the delivery of a stadium-wide digital signage, TV and video distribution system as well as a production studio, for Norwegian football club SK Brann.

Wide Media Group first approached SK Brann in 2006 with a proposal to provide them with a stadium-wide media network. The club was already involved in a refit of the stadium so the time seemed right for an approach.

Following the initial approach, and being interested in principle, the club entered into further research, looking at other possible solutions, and also visiting the Philips site in Eindhoven, Holland for a demonstration. Based on the proposed technical solution, Wide Media then went on to build a business case for the project, demonstrating the revenue benefits for the club via sponsorship, advertising revenue and increased gate attendance.

Odd Arne Blindheim, WMG’s project manager for the job said: “After the initial agreement, we also involved SK Brann’s management in what we call our Soccer Media Academy. This is intended to give the client some additional education in terms of the kind of technical staff they would need to run the system, and how to get the most out of it.”

The system that MWG proposed was extensive, and comprehensive. A network of LCD screens was installed throughout the stadium by partner firm InfoCare. This encompassed 36 VIP lounges, three restaurants, two conference rooms, two press-rooms and a mixture of other indoor facilities. The screens used were a collection of 37”, 42” and 50” LCD displays from Philip’s professional display range all mounted on brackets from Multibrackets.

The outdoor solution came in two parts. Firstly, WMG provided a total of 120 metres of Philip’s Delta pitch side LED screen. This shows a range of branding and advertising content for the club’s various sponsors. The second part is two giant video walls, one located behind each goal. Each consists of 30 square metres of 20mm pitch LED, again from the Delta range.

“The two screens were designed in such a way that they could easily be broken down. They are built in a truss structure. They can be disassembled in about two hours, making it easy to move them offsite. The ability to rent them out for other use in the closed season was an important part of the business case we made to SK Brann for their purchase,” explained Blindheim.

In addition to the delivery end of the video system WMG were also responsible for providing a production facility to the club. Three Canon broadcast cameras were installed to allow live footage from games to be included in the video content. The studio set up is supplied by Thomson Grass Valley, which takes camera feeds from the stadium, as well as external TV channels, this is then fed as an SDI input to a Cisco Scientific Atlanta SDI : IP encoder. The multicast is then distributed via IP in MPEG-2 16:9 format to the network of Motorola 1910 set-top-boxes that accompany each screen. It is also possible to distribute MPEG-4 since the cameras used are fully HD.

The screen network is zoned in such a way as to allow the club to choose which content is distributed in what area. WMG worked with SK Brenn to develop a series of distinct channels for the different zones.

For example, during matches, the StadiaTV channel, produced internally, is shown on the big screens, mixed in with selected content from external broadcasters, to keep fans up to date with their match and also significant games elsewhere in the Norwegian Football League.

Audio reproduction for the content depends on the location of the screens. In the majority of cases, in the lobby and hospitality areas, audio comes from the stadium’s zoned PA system. In special cases the screen’s own speakers are used, and for the external screens, which there is generally significant crowd noise, the content is often tailored to be audio-independent.

The distribution network itself was reckoned by Blindheim to be the most challenging part of the project: “The most challenging, but also interesting part of the project was to explore the potential of the new IPTV technology. The use of a full-range IPTV set-up combining both internal live production and multicast streaming, and the use of outside broadcast content stream was a challenge. Smart architecture and high bandwidth access enabled the solution to go on air in time. Installation of more than 70km of Cat7 cable (performed by InTelecom) and programming of the set top boxes and TV sets to handle the different content channels was also pretty demanding in the time scale we had.”

The overall value of the AV installation is around €3,000,000 and the project was completed on time and on budget. One of the restrictions on such projects is their time sensitivity. Installation began on the 7th of February and was commissioned on April 13th, three days before the first game of the new Norwegian season.