Buffalo Bills Complete Top-to-Bottom Tech Overhaul at Ralph Wilson Stadium
As the NFL offseason seemingly gets shorter and shorter each year, even the most uneventful springs can fly by. The Buffalo Bills’ past two offseasons, however, have been anything but uneventful.
After the passing of longtime owner Ralph Wilson and a whirlwind of “will they or won’t they” moving rumors, a new ownership group pledged to keep the team in Buffalo, added a new coach, and signed some key players to revitalize the always passionate fan base.
Add in $130 million in stadium upgrades for Ralph Wilson Stadium, and Bills fans have plenty to look forward to in 2015.
“We have a pretty loyal fan base here,” says Stephen Asposto, senior director of broadcast operations, Buffalo Bills. “We may not always have the best weather, but we do pretty well selling out this stadium even in the nasty elements. Quite a few proposals went across the desks of the powers that be — it was a state and a county project — and I’m happy to say that most of it went into technology in the stadium.”
Many of the upgrades at Ralph Wilson Stadium focused on making the 42-year-old building more fan-friendly by expanding the concourses, concession stands, and team store; improving ingress and egress; and adding a sports bar. Behind the scenes, The Ralph has certainly entered the 21st century.
The building’s original control room, located on the 50-yard line next to the press box, dates back to what Asposto calls “the original Jumbotron days” of the mid ’90s. Cramped and overflowing with equipment racks, the room could no longer accommodate the evolving in-venue game presentation. Last offseason, that room was gutted, and Asposto’s team worked with Diversified Systems to build out an expanded area in the end zone, above the tunnel (the producer and spotter will remain on the 50-yard line and connect to the control room over intercom).
The first step was a call to Ross Video. Since the Jumbotron days, the Bills have worked directly with Ross to install a series of production switchers, beginning with an analog Ross 216 switcher before upgrading to the Synergy and Vision series. For this project, the Bills purchased the first Acuity switcher before it was unveiled at NAB 2014. Although several NFL teams have followed suit, Asposto’s stands out: his was autographed by every Ross employee who had a hand in developing it.
“Ross has learned a tremendous amount about the game-day experience through our relationship with the Bills,” says Ross Video CEO David Ross. “They have generously and bravely allowed me to TD a game on several occasions and have been an early adopter of many generations of Ross switchers, graphics, infrastructure equipment, and more. Steve Asposto, in particular, has been an absolutely fantastic partner with his creativity and willingness to innovate.”
The control room also features a Ross Video router, BlackStorm servers, and three XPression graphics engines, using Ross’s Dashboard for backend management. The Bills also selected Grass Valley’s K2 Summit production client, K2 Dyno S replay system, and Stratus video-production and content-management system, as well as Mitsubishi Electric’s Diamond Vision video processor and Click Effects Blaze fascia-board controller.
For content capture, the Bills use two hard-wired Ikegami HDK-55 cameras, three wireless Panasonic P2 HD camcorders, and six Canon BU-47H PTZ robotic cameras mounted throughout the stadium and operated by a Vaddio controller. The team worked closely with CBS on rewiring camera positions throughout the stadium and added more than 3 million ft. of cable and fiber in new cable trays.
With the control-room project completed prior to the 2014 NFL season, Asposto has shifted his focus to building a small studio where the team’s previous store stood. The studio, measuring roughly 25 by 25 ft., will feature augmented reality and a small control room that ties into the venue’s main video-control room.
“We’ve [been] fortunate enough to always be investing something into technology, whether it was adding a couple wireless cameras or adding our game cameras or a new graphics system,” says Asposto. “Every year, we’ve done something, but this past year was the biggest overhaul yet.”
Although the Bills’ control-room technology, videoboards, and cameras were HD prior to this most recent upgrade, the team received a video facelift from Mitsubishi Electric.
A new video scoreboard, measuring 33.5 ft. high by 164 ft. wide, was installed in the west end zone. The previous west-end-zone display, installed in 2007, was cut into two 59.84-ft.-wide displays and remounted in the opposite end zone. In addition, two new displays measuring 33.5 ft. high by 60 ft. wide were added to the corners of the south end zone, and a 167.6-ft. fascia display was repurposed for digital signage.
Mitsubishi Electric also installed 12 video displays at stadium entrances, each measuring 6.5 ft. by 11.5 ft. and using Real Black LED technology — a first for an NFL stadium.
Adding an IPTV System
With capacity for more than 70,000 fans, the Bills looked for additional ways to keep those fans engaged at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The team tapped Vitec’s EZ TV IPTV portal solution for management, distribution, and archiving of live and on-demand content over IP networks coupled with the Imagine Communications Infocaster on the frontend. Using the hybrid system, the Bills can manage a variety of displays from a centralized location, including luxury-suite televisions, point-of-sale systems, and the exterior LED displays.