Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium Nears Opening With Halo Display, Video Workflow Ready To Go
The ‘blazing-edge’ new facility features the largest LED video display in North American sports
There are videoboards, and then there’s the 360-degree halo that surrounds Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the soon-to-be home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC. As the stadium takes shape around the one-of-a-kind video display, one thing is certain: the phrase “one of a kind” doesn’t even begin to describe what’s currently happening in Georgia’s capital.
“It’s the most sophisticated stadium in the world right now,” says Pete Soto, senior director of game presentation, live events and stadium productions, AMB Sports and Entertainment. “It’s not cutting edge, like most of these new stadiums are. This is blazing edge.”
AMB Group, the parent company of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC, broke ground on Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2014 and, by 2015, had released several renderings that showed plans for a nearly 60-ft.-high, 360-degree video display sitting just below the stadium’s retractable roof. Engineered, built, and installed by Daktronics, the video display slowly took shape above the field; today, it measures 58 ft. high and 1,075 ft. around, for a whopping 61,900 sq. ft. of video real estate. It is currently the largest LED video display in North American sports.
“The videoboard was the brainchild of our owner, Arthur Blank, who wanted to provide one of the most outstanding, most cool videoboards that he could imagine,” says Soto. “I think he just wanted a unique perspective, a unique environment, and a unique stadium. He didn’t want to be a cookie cutter; he wanted something that [makes] people go, Wow, I want to go to Atlanta just to see that stadium.”
Although the plan was to create a videoboard that can be seen from wherever a fan sits during the game, the challenge was how to program it. Soto and his Mercedes-Benz Stadium Production team first had to determine how the screen should be segmented, striking a balance between maximizing the display’s potential and overwhelming fans with video and graphics. They decided on quadrants, to best serve the fans sitting on both sidelines and in both end zones.
“We had to make sure that [fans] could see the game in progress. That was the most important,” Soto explains. “From there, your imagination became your limitation. … Currently, we are working with 10 different looks for the halo, which is a challenge in itself, but we keep adding more and more as we go. We have a core 10 different looks and presentations that are designed to wow our fans and tell the story of whatever event goes on in this building.”
The halo won’t always be segmented into quadrants showing the game in progress; Soto’s team has plans to split the board into as many as 16 segments to show other NFL games via NFL Sunday Ticket, as well as to show full-board, 360-degree video to pump up fans.
A “blazing-edge” video display requires a truly state-of-the-art video-control room and production workflow to run it. Working with Diversified and WJHW, the Falcons designed a control room on the field level of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Because the control room does not have line of sight onto the field, Soto will call the game from the stadium’s press level.)
The control room features two Ross Video Acuity production switchers — each with its own director and TD — to handle the primary-follow and reverse-follow game presentation. The team also selected three Ross Video XPression Studio CGs and Tessera software for in-game graphics.
At the heart of the 1080p60 video-control room is an Evertz EXE IP router. Evertz DreamCatcher will handle replays, and nine Christie Spyder image processors will handle the amount of video being played out on the halo display. The control room will support all LED video within the stadium; according to Daktronics, the stadium contains more than 82,500 sq. ft. of LED video, including a 101-ft. “mega column” stretching from the first concourse level to the roof.
To capture content, the Falcons purchased 10 Grass Valley LDX-86N cameras, eight wired and two wireless. Of the 10, four will be licensed for 4K, and four will be licensed for 6X slo-mo. The team’s video philosophy, says Soto, will be to show fans that they are a part of the Atlanta Falcons’ brotherhood.
“We try to incorporate everything that Coach [Dan] Quinn is bringing to the team himself: the brotherhood, the battle, all that stuff that is important to the team, and we try to hop out early with it,” he explains. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to connect our team to our fans, and the best way to do that is to present what the team’s got going on, invite [the fans] in, and say, Hey, you’re part of this brotherhood.”
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is scheduled to open in time for a Falcons preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 26; previously announced opening dates had been pushed back because of the complexities of the retractable roof. As the stadium undergoes its final touches, Soto and his team continue to find new ways to maximize the halo display’s potential. Thus far, they like what they’re seeing.
“We walk around the stadium to get different angles and see how it presents in the upper bowl vs. the lower bowl vs. the sides,” says Soto. “And there are times where I get caught just staring, because it’s captivating. … There are so many things that, I think, for three to four years, people are going to just say, Wow. Every time they come in, there’s going to be something unique [that they] didn’t notice last time. As we evolve, [we’ll start to look at] what else we can do in the 360 environment and what else can we do to tell the story of the Falcons.
“Eventually, there will be a building that tries to surpass, and maybe they will,” he continues. “But we’re the trailblazers. [What’s] exciting to me, more than anything, is that, no matter what comes after this, we were the first to do this. And I think our fans are going to enjoy the ride.”