Venue Q&A, Part 1: Denver Broncos’ Nick Young, Mike Bonner, Pat Jordan, and Jeremy Wecker
By Rick Price, Committee Chair, SVG Venue Initiative/President, MoeBAM! Venue Media Services
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, underwent a $24 million renovation prior to the 2013 season. Next month, the venue will open its doors to SVG’s annual Sports Venue Technology Summit. SVG caught up with Nick Young, supervising producer; Mike Bonner, senior director of event presentation and production; Pat Jordan, director of broadcasting; and Jeremy Wecker, manager of AV technology and engineering to discuss the video revamp and the lessons learned.
Describe what preparing for and launching the 2013 season was like.
Nick Young: It was a very long and drawn-out process. It started probably a year previous: there were a lot of different intricacies involved with the whole process. There’s the stadium district that we had to work with in order to get the funding to secure the renovation, and, once we got the funding secured and we had the green light, the process of going through all the different vendors that are out there and trying to figure out what was the best fit for our stadium. Once we made the decision on who to go with, we started the whole demolition and the building process.
Mike Bonner: I [started] after the ball had been rolled. I was brought in to make sure the content we were putting on there was going to be dynamic. [If] it was going to involve player involvement, it was making the concerted effort to spend a good 10-15 minutes with each player prior to the season so that we had dynamic player reads. The other thing that was important was making sure that features had synergy, so you had things like “GMC Under the Hood.” The sponsors didn’t sponsor a feature just for the sake of sponsoring [something]. It was making sure that things make sense and that [they were] engaging and entertaining for the fans.
Pat Jordan: We hired WJHW to consult on the project, and that probably started a good year and a half prior to project [completion]. Obviously, you have to have organizational buy-in and, being 10-11 years into this facility, understanding the environment that our fans are living in, the demand for technology, and information that our fans have. From an organizational standpoint, it made sense to move forward. Once we as an organization [presented] the numbers in front of the stadium district, approval was given, and that’s when the rubber hit the road.
We started as soon as the 2012-13 season ended. As soon as that season was over, we broke ground and had a very tight schedule because we wanted to be ready for our summer season, which started in May. It took about three months to rip everything out and then reinstall. Some of the things, like a lot of the TV and sound installation, were more of a July timeframe, but videoboards and control room we needed to have up and running for summer season.
Jeremy Wecker: I’ll give you one word: whirlwind. It was intense, really intense. Honestly, even preparing and all that, we didn’t know what to expect. We’re still kind of wrapping our heads around the gear and the technology, so it was pretty intense.
Any lessons to be passed along?
NY: For us, the biggest challenge would be with the new board. Obviously, that was going to present a lot of challenges and also exciting potential to [show] a lot of new things on the board. Coming up with how we were going to present all the content that we put out there with the new real estate. That took a lot of working through, especially with our marketing department, because with more real estate comes a lot of opportunity for advertising and other things that they want to put out there. So we had to work hard with them and try to figure out how we were going to light up the board, how much we were going to allot specifically for marketing purposes, and how much we wanted to keep for our game-day entertainment purposes — and then figuring out how to marry [marketing and entertainment] together. We had to figure out how we were going to chop up the board and divide it up and make sure everyone was happy with the new configuration.
Working with [the marketing department] early in the process was very advantageous to us because we could help them discover all the potential this new board would offer. We could utilize that space with logos but also put up more content. It was tough because there were certain things that were sold already and the current sponsors that were up there in our trivisions and ribbon boards were losing a lot of that real estate. We had fixed signage that had been there since the stadium opened, and sponsors were losing that and were going to be replaced with rotating ads and other things. The hard part was just trying to convince them that making that content more dynamic would really draw [fans’] attention to that sponsor. They were losing their fixed signage, [but] they were actually going to get a lot more eyeballs on the screens because, if you put compelling content up there, you’re going to get people looking up there.
MB: I would say, don’t ever be satisfied with your look. Our stats look from season 1 to season 2 is drastically different, and I’m sure that, come season 5 with this new board, it’s going to be even more different. So don’t ever be satisfied. Listen to your fans. One thing we learned was that a large fan base was in the south stands and, being in the south stands, could not see the out-of-town scoreboards.
The other lesson learned is flexibility with sponsorship. One of the most amazing things that we do during the course of the game is go full board. When we go full board, you’re going to lose those sponsor logos. It’s [getting] the sponsorship department and marketing folks to understand that it’s not always about the sponsor; it’s about the fans, and it’s about winning games. The bills have to be paid, but there also has to be a give and take. It has to be engaging for the fans as well.
Another great point is, have some sort of training ground or some sort of dry run that you can do, like we were able to do with the Denver Outlaws, so that the first time that you’re utilizing your new system isn’t Opening Night or isn’t your first game where you have 75,000 fans in the crowd. Boy, is that beneficial.
PJ: Number one, you never know. You think you know what your end result is going to be and what you’re going to be utilizing your equipment for. In the end, there’s going to be new things, new technology that you’re going to need to integrate into your room. It’s just the way it goes. You need to think that OK, I need X — double X, whatever it is — and, hopefully, the budget can accommodate that. Infrastructure gets eaten up quickly. As soon as you have it, it’s gone, so, if the budget will allow, double everything you got.
JW: Preparation, like preproduction preparation. Really, really have all your ducks completely in a row before you get to that game day, at least as much as you can. Understand new technology and understand how it’s deployed and how you’re going to use it in your workflow. The other side of that is, it takes a few seasons to get that workflow completely figured out, and the more prepared you can be, the better, because you don’t know what you’re going to be dealing with until you get there.
Watch for Part 2 of this conversation in a future SVG Insider newsletter.