Venue Q&A: IGS’s Peter Brickman
By: Rick Price, President, MoeBAM! Venue Media Services, and Director, SVG Venue Technology Committee
Peter Brickman, principal consultant for IGS, is a media technologist whose focus has been management of large-scale projects that converge IT, communications, and broadcast. Most recently, he was chief technology officer at MetLife Stadium, new home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets. SVG spoke with Brickman about his role in making MetLife Stadium perhaps the most technology-enabled stadium in the world, his philosophy of sports-venue technology, and important developments in enhancing the fan experience.
Obviously, you were an integral part of the New Meadowlands project as CTO of MetLife Stadium. What did you do prior to that project?
Prior to MetLife, I was at a company called Ascent Media, which provides outsourced playback and uplink services for networks that include A&E, YES Network, CBS Sports, NBC, ABC, Fox, and others. Prior to that, I was at the NFL in the broadcast department; when I initially got in, I was running the Sunday Ticket operation from the operations and technology point of view and then got involved with the NFL Network.
What specifically about the New Meadowlands project was unique or different to anything you had done prior?
Dealing with the league, the broadcasters, the owners, and the teams. The MetLife project presented a great opportunity because the promise was not only to provide a great new fan experience and to create new fan experiences that equal the experiences that fans now enjoy in the home — whether it’s high-definition video, great audio systems, great interactivity to the Internet, or access to fantasy teams — but also to provide the design.
The way we did it was to provide a converged environment between the broadcast infrastructures and the IT infrastructures; over the last few years, IT and broadcast have converged greatly so I saw this coming and saw the opportunity to work with technology companies that were in the space and developing it, such as Cisco, Sony, and Motorola. We got to build an infrastructure from the ground up that exploited the converged technology and created new fan experiences plus the opportunity to track and move large amounts of data to various systems, to better manage the stadium, to provide a safer and secure environment for the fans, and also to run the building better.
As CTO and a person responsible for the technologies of a modern sports venue, what is your philosophy in this area?
The first thing that you do is, you choose leading-edge technologies and products; you don’t choose bleeding-edge. You want things that have been somewhat proven and have the backbone and resources that are available, once you hit a challenge, to be able to resolve that challenge. While you want to leverage every technology that’s out there, you want to be careful that you don’t create something where the need is not defined, the technology doesn’t exist yet, and the resources aren’t available to develop the technology.
At MetLife, we were very successful because we did take some off-the-shelf products; we created new software and development tools to take it to the next level. Plus, we also were able to deliver on the promise of the converged data network.
What is the single greatest change you have witnessed in venue technology? What has been its benefit? What will it lead to in the next five to 10 years?
I think one of the biggest changes has to do with the large-screen displays and the quality and clarity of those displays. The development of high definition and delivery of these crisp signals, where fans feel very comfortable watching the on-field activity but then [looking at] the screens to get into the replays, to see what’s happening, and also then to converge it with the stats of what’s going on within that game and around the game. We provide the fan with a greater and more in-depth in-game experience, and, again, it’s like what the fan can experience at home but with the camaraderie of being in a live stadium environment. That’s one of the major things.
The audio systems have improved greatly. And also the data network — I think that that’s a huge improvement. The ability to merge all the audio/visual needs of the clubs and all the in-building systems has been a huge asset. Also, the point-of-sale [POS] systems that are truly networked now, so the concessionaires can understand what fans want.
You’re providing an in-building experience now that provides all these different live and multimedia types of imagery; plus, as you walk around the stadium, you’re never left out in the cold as far as what’s going on in that bowl. That’s one of the most interesting things that I see in this world of social activity and the need to be social. Quite often, I used to walk around the concourses and marvel at the fact that fans were not necessarily rushing back to their seats; they could see what’s going on in the concourse and get a full activity, but also, whether it’s getting something to eat or drink or socialize with friends from another area, they’re still in touch with the game, and they’re also in touch with their friends.
Tell us a little about your company, IGS. What are some of the things you are doing now, have done, and are looking forward to doing?
At IGS, we’re not a design company; we are a technology company and an operating company. We look at the various designs that others have done, we look at the plans, and we work in conjunction with ownership and the designers to put together real-life situations that work, leveraging current state-of-the-art technology but delivering it in a fashion that’s workable and usable by the ownership and the management teams. We look at everything that’s defined as low-voltage — all the IT systems, security systems, safety systems, communications systems, and obviously the broadcast systems — and basically work with the design team and the operating team to make sure that it’s an efficient environment, that it delivers on the promise of the ownership. Basically, we help to define the workflow — the operating environment, the staffing and structuring — so that team ownership, contractor, subcontractor, and manufacturers are all working together.
There’s a couple things that we’re working on. We’re working on some larger pro-league venues that are coming on-line plus some smaller venues as well. So, basically, we’re looking at 8,000- to 10,000-seat arenas plus 60,000- to 80,000-seat stadiums and arenas. I worked with [Director of Building Technologies] Chip [Foley] at Barclays Center and did a project overseeing their broadcast environment, their IPTV systems, and getting them ready for launch, [which] was very successful. We’re also in other high-trafficked areas; we’re currently working on a school system in San Antonio, building out their IT environment. It’s obviously a lot smaller, but they have security systems, they have IPTV systems, they have AV systems — that’s where our expertise is. We also work with some of the contractors that are in that space now.
What is your purpose in serving on the SVG Venue Technology Committee, and what would you like to accomplish as part of the committee?
I have been around this area all my career. I’ve worked with broadcasters, but I’m not a producer; I’m an operations-technology guy: my background is in operations technology, and I’ve always been fascinated with how technology makes things better. I’ve helped design and develop new forms of and new ways to distribute content, and, along the way, that content has become data, and the data now drives everything.
When I first got involved with MetLife, the second day I was in, they said, You have to go to a POS meeting now. And I thought, What the hell is POS? I had no idea what it was. But, after a little bit of a drill, I realized it’s the same basic stuff: it’s content in the form of data to get from one place to another, and you have to have a great user and fan experience, so I took what I knew in my traditional broadcast and operations role and applied it towards that. We created a POS system that has loyalty systems associated; it had an easy ordering process [and] can interface with mobile ordering.
As I look at things like WiFi, I see that as a pure content-distribution play that we did when we developed things like video on demand and other new forms to distribute content. Now it’s custom: it’s delivered right to your phone, and you can create new experiences, and the teams can reach out and try to create new enhanced applications that fans can drive into and create better experiences. That’s why I’ve been a huge proponent of WiFi: I think it has huge opportunities.
As far as the Sports Video Group, I think we’re all working on the same desires and interests and taking it to different levels for our own areas of expertise. What we create in sports is compelling content that then goes to other areas, and that’s why I like working in the sports-venue [industry], although I’ve worked in others: there’s such a huge appeal that it tends to be one of the first drivers of new technologies and new content. I think that we work with great people, great teams, great technologists, and great companies, and I think that we constantly have the ability to reinvent how we do our jobs faster, better, and cheaper.
Over the course of your career, what is your most memorable moment or accomplishment?
There’s always a fear that what you design, what you create, what you spend so much time on — is it going to work? As we launched [MetLife Stadium] with the Jets and the Giants and that facility started to come together and work, it was so comforting to see that all these plans for the screens, the IPTV systems, and the WiFi came together. It was a huge personal satisfaction. From the technology standpoint, we received nothing but accolades as far as how everything functioned together to create new fan experiences.
From a career experience, assisting the NFL in deploying high-definition television was a huge game-changer for the industry, and I was proud to be a part of that.
When I was at the NFL, I was working directly with the officiating department to provide an answer to the challenge of how we get the officials to respond to the coaches after the game on contested plays. It used to be that the officials would get the [game film], and, by Wednesday or Thursday, they would be prepared to then discuss general issues with the coaches. I worked hand in hand with Mike Pereira, who was running the NFL officiating at that time, and, using a device as simple as TiVo off of DirecTV, we got turnaround done so that the officials were ready to begin their discussion with the coaches on Monday afternoon. It’s using technology, broadcast, [and] consumer devices to help us do what we do better and provide better experiences. That, to me, was a huge opportunity.