Minnesota United’s Allianz Field Takes the Soccer-Specific Venue to New Heights
Set to host its first MLS match on April 13, the 19,400-seat facility is the latest jewel of MLS expansion
American soccer is in a golden age of stadium development. In just the past five years, six new venues have opened as homes for Major League Soccer clubs, and five of them are soccer-specific venues (the sixth is Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Atlanta United fans have done an admirable job making that NFL facility feel like a soccer-specific stadium).
The latest venue is Allianz Field, rising near Interstate 94 in the Midway neighborhood of Saint Paul, MN, and shimmering in the night with its multicolored LED-lighting exterior. Of all the new stadiums cropping up across the country to host the “beautiful game,” the new home of Minnesota United FC may just be — depending on whom you ask — the sleekest one yet.
Opening for its first MLS match on April 13 (vs. NYCFC, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2), Allianz Field is a 19,400-seat, open-air (yes, even in Minnesota) facility designed by the global firm Populus. It has garnered much praise nationwide both for its design and for becoming one of just four MLS venues to be built entirely with private funds. Its $250 million price tag is nothing to sniff at for a venue of its size, but, when that is compared with the more than $1 billion cost of building U.S. Bank Stadium in Downtown Minneapolis, this place is a bona fide bargain.
In-stadium fan experience is where Allianz Field promises to truly shine. Sure, it has fantastic sightlines and fun, accessible amenities like its Brew Hall (which features more than 90 unique taps and is open to the public year-round), but it’s Minnesota United’s in-house video-production and operations team that will be tasked with jacking up Loons’ support.
The Supporters’ Videoboard
The crown jewel of Allianz Field is its 116- x 22-ft (2304- x 456-pixels) Daktronics videoboard at the back of the stadium’s south side. It looms over the 2,920-seat “Supporters Section,” where many of the crowd’s rowdiest of fans will stand, cheer, and sing throughout the game.
The main board, a 15mm screen, is accompanied by 13 LED displays (also from Daktronics) throughout the stadium, including two smaller boards embedded in the Supporters Section.
Having spent its first two MLS seasons handling home matches at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis (home of the University of Minnesota’s football team), the Minnesota United video crew is thrilled by the prospect of having videoboards to call its own.
“Having complete ownership of all of the displays and the day-to-day workflow is going to be so much better for us,” says Daniel Claxton, senior director, production and match day presentation, Minnesota United FC, who joined the club fulltime about a year ago. “Loading is easier, and we’ll be able to come in and test content whenever we need to. We’re spending much more time in here and taking the time to tweak to get this ready to go.”
In addition to the video action inside the bowl, there’s a Daktronics 2,800- x 675-pixels screen in the building’s Stadium Club, which is reserved for Club Level season-ticket holders. The board can serve as a carbon copy of the primary video board, but Cole Mayer, production engineer, Minnesota United FC, expects it to be used as a quad box to display the broadcast of the game and other MLS match and advertising-related elements.
In the stadium’s video rack room, a Daktronics VP-6000 video processor handles all signal-input and -refinement functions, such as video mixing and keying effects, for the two large Dak displays.
A Control Room for a New Era
Allianz Field’s video-control room is a 1080p 59.94 HD facility that Claxton and the MNUFC video team built in collaboration with WJHW and Alpha Video, the popular facility integrator that also calls Minnesota home.
The room is built around a Ross Carbonite Black (3M/E) sports-production switcher with a Ross Ultrix router as74 i0ts backbone. There are three channels of Ross Xpression for graphics, and an Evertz DreamCatcher DC-ONE (12 channels in, four out) replay system and a four-channel Evertz Clip Player support playback for the big screen. Comms have been entrusted to RTS and its Odin intercom matrix. The team also uses RTS Roameo, a wireless intercom system. There’s Dante audio networking and the stadium’s IPTV system and digital signage is supported by VITEC.
Going 1080p was a huge factor for Claxton, not only for its resolution quality but for helping streamline all of MNUFC’s video-content production and operations. Now all video created by the team can be used anywhere: videoboards, broadcast, digital, or social.
“That was a big thing that I wanted to do,” says Claxton. “From a postproduction standpoint, it helps us use the content outside of the control room day to day. TCF [Stadium] is 720, so we typically didn’t use much of the footage that we got out of our [in-stadium] replay systems. We wanted to get more use out of that stuff.”
To program the various screens, MNUFC deploys five Sony cameras (four operated on tripods, one a roaming wireless) throughout the stadium, shooting at 1080p from traditional angles. The cameras are fitted with Canon glass, including the KJ20x8.2B portable 20X HD lens with 2X zoom extender. In addition, three Panasonic robotic PTZ cameras are scattered throughout the stadium bowl.
Setting the Stage For ‘Something Special’
With fans set to pack the building for its first MLS match in just over two weeks, preparations are naturally at a frantic pace for the MNUFC video and ops team. As opening day nears, the anticipation and excitement in house are palpable.
“It’s really exciting that this venue is soccer-specific,” says Mayer, who came on fulltime in January after freelancing with the club in previous seasons. “It’s built for the game of soccer. That’s exciting for Minnesota. [Given] the scale and where the seats are, you’re always on top of the action here. That will create a unique experience for everyone.”
Although Claxton isn’t giving anything away, there are certainly big plans for a grand in-stadium video show in the minutes leading up to both the first game and the first night game (April 24 vs. LA Galaxy). For a sport like soccer, which has no inning/quarter breaks or timeouts, much of the success of the videoboard show lies in what happens before the game kicks off. It’s one of the challenges in directing a videoboard show for soccer.
“The most important aspect is the 60 minutes prior to kickoff,” notes Claxton, who directed his first in-venue soccer show last year. “When the teams walk out for warmups, it’s our job to start ramping up the excitement and the energy. The 20 minutes after warmups end is that special moment when you have to do something to get the crowd excited to lead into the procession. It’s all about that pre-kick atmosphere and energy, and we try to build that as much as possible.”
A key factor that may play a role in that is one of the features of Allianz Field: its exterior LED lighting system. The 1,700 emotive LED lights embedded into stadium’s exterior are fully flexible and can be lit up in an endless array of colors. The stadium features an innovative and translucent PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) stadium skin that allows the colored lighting to be seen from many points within the stadium, which means it could help in that pregame hype.
Claxton believes that the lighting capabilities may even become one of Allianz Field’s defining characteristics and make the stadium a highly identifiable landmark in the Twin Cities.
“It’s going to be pretty cool when we get the fans in here and fill the stadium,” he says. “It’s going to be special.”