Revitalizing the Fan Experience

Appropriately communicate adaptive imperatives rather than value-added potentialities.

This article was published on August 28, 2014 in by Brandon Costa, Senior Editor.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications at the University of Nebraska, keeps that quote from Saint Francis of Assisi on his computer screen in his Lincoln office. The message has never been more apropos as the Nebraska athletics department gets set to embark on its most ambitious fan-engagement project since installing college football’s first in-venue videoboard two decades ago.

The university has invested $12.3 million to upgrade Memorial Stadium’s in-venue fan experience, installing the largest distributed antenna system and WiFi network in any college stadium in the nation. Mosier and the university’s outstanding video department, HuskerVision, are taking advantage of the new connectivity by revamping the department’s mobile app to offer special in-stadium-only features, including multiple angles of replays and live isolated camera feeds.

A wide array of video features will be gradually rolled out throughout the season as the system is tested in the game-day environment. The focus is on providing a better atmosphere for Huskers fans inside the stadium, a venue that enjoys a 333-game sellout streak dating back to the days of the Kennedy Administration.

“For a college team, it’s definitely on the cutting edge,” says Jeff Volk, VP, Alpha Video, which served as chief integrator on the video elements of the renovation. “They are the only ones that we know of that have taken on such a massive deployment. Other schools are putting in WiFi, but Nebraska is really taking things to the next level in terms of fan engagement and entertainment. It will rival most anything you’ll find in pro sports from an app and in-stadium perspective.”

Football on Your Phone
With more than 900 WiFi antennas sprinkled throughout the stadium — many in plain sight on hand railings and concourse overhangs — Memorial Stadium, in one offseason, has gone from a venue where it was hard for a fan to use a cellphone at all to one of sport’s top venues for connectivity.

Nebraska is looking to use these new capabilities to put video center stage, offering fans exclusive video content available only to those using the app within the stadium’s geo-fence.

“This is the wave of the future for content in the stadium,” says Shot Kleen, assistant athletic director for HuskerVision. “Our athletic director, Shawn Eichorst, saw the need right away, and that’s why we got out on the leading edge of it. Everyone is tied to their cellphones, and we want them to be that way in the stadium.”

HuskerVision has heeded the call to provide new content exclusively for the mobile app — which is developed by NeuLion — and the 800+ IPTV screens installed throughout the stadium in suites and concourses.

To accomplish this, Nebraska is the first entity in North America to deploy EVS’s XT3 media-production server and the C-Cast connected content platform, a central cloud-based platform that enables HuskerVision to aggregate content, enrich it, and instantly deliver it to any platform. The system first hit primetime when it was used by Host Broadcast Services for international digital distribution of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In addition, HuskerVision worked with Alpha Video to expand its existing control room and add auxiliary space for the gear and crew needed to properly program the new content channels. Each room will have a dedicated IP director watching what comes in and goes out of the EVS. The director in the main control room selects what goes out for the main screens and logs for highlights, while the IP director in Control Room B selects what content goes to the cloud and what clips are available to be pulled by the C-Cast, the mobile app, and the IPTV screens.

In the secondary control room is an extra M/E bank that connects to the main control room’s switcher, a Ross Video Vision. There is also a small Yamaha audio board and stations for point-of-view (POV) cameras.

Three new POV cameras were installed inside the stadium: one on each of the goalposts and one directed at the student section and marching-band seating area.

Teamed with those already in place for HuskerVision’s big-board production — which features a team of 38 students programming five videoboards plus ribbon and fascia boards — the new cameras bring to 18 the number of Panasonic cameras available during a football game — more than enough sources for HuskerVision to feed the needs of in-venue patrons.

“Our fan base is intense,” says Mosier, a Nebraska alum and former HuskerVision student who landed his first fulltime job in the department following graduation. “They know football. They are not coming to the game just because; they are coming to watch football. So one of the main reasons we’re focusing on the video side in our app is, we think that’s what our fans want. They want to watch a replay over and over again and really get inside the game.”

Wall of Sound
Memorial Stadium also received a much-needed refinement of its audio system. The venue was notorious among fans as a place where, in one side of the stadium, the audio blared at uncomfortable levels while, in other parts, it was difficult to make out.

Nebraska teamed with WJHW and Lincoln-based Electronic Contracting to install an all-new cluster of Meyer line-array and sound-beam speakers to better distribute sound throughout the building.

“We’re very excited for the audio upgrades,” says Kleen, who has been with HuskerVision and Nebraska athletics since 1994. “The line arrays allow you to direct your signal where you need it to be and adjust the levels. The sound-beam speakers allow us to throw sound from the cluster in the north end zone clear to the south end zone, which is 700 ft. away, and you can maintain good frequency response and clarity. You also maintain the audio levels throughout the stadium so you don’t blast somebody in order to push sound to somebody else on the other end.”

The new audio system also works in conjunction with the IPTV system, feeding audio to suites, which are equipped with touchpad controls.

Better Fan Engagement?
 Nebraska Athletics is eager to answer the question, Does better fan entertainment equal better fan engagement?

As the department’s social-media guru, Mosier acknowledges that a lot of what the department focused on during football game days in the past was content for the fan outside the stadium: the many tens of thousands watching at home or at a local restaurant or bar. This year, that focus is changing.

“We didn’t worry too much about fans inside the stadium because they weren’t doing a lot of [social-media] talking during the game,” says Mosier. “Now that paradigm is shifting, so one of the things I’m most interested in is seeing how that conversation is different. Is the in-stadium conversation different from the out-of-stadium conversation? Do we need to be talking to the fans in the stadium via social media differently than we’re talking to fans out of the stadium?”

These are all questions that Mosier and Nebraska plan to tackle over time. The department has done both “what is necessary” and expanded into “what’s possible.” Now comes the fun part.

“This is a long-term project,” says Mosier. “We want to make sure that we get it right.”