SVG Sit-Down: Van Wagner’s Bob Becker Ponders the Future of In-Venue Production

Consultancy contemplates the use of audio to make up for the lack of fans

As leagues begin to slowly come back after a prolonged stint dealing with the coronavirus, in-venue production still resides in a state of limbo, with games being played behind closed doors. One company in particular, Van Wagner Productions, lends a hand in high-profile sports events, including the recent 2020 NFL Draft, but, without massive crowds, its duties are constantly changing.

SVG sat down with EVP Bob Becker to examine the pandemic’s effects on producing a videoboard show, why audio can play an important role while seats remain empty, and what control rooms may look like when the virus subsides.

Van Wagner’s Bob Becker envisions audio playing a major role in future in-venue productions.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the future of an in-venue show?
From vendors and teams to organizations and leagues, we’re all talking about it every day. There is still a need to fill the void in the venue, and doing that is going to be different in every sport. In hockey, when the puck goes in the stands or in the net, you’re going to do something until they drop the puck again. In football, you’re going to still create stingers for a great tackle. Since the whole world is going to be watching on television, ratings and viewership are going to be through the roof, so you still have to light up the building with graphics. You won’t have the traditional dance cams and kiss cams or the great moments in history, but you still have to produce a show with the mindset of how the broadcast can gain from these elements.

There have also been a lot of discussions on how to fulfill sponsorship obligations. At a league or team level, part of it is strategic placement, and the other is working with broadcasters to identify where those areas are that allow the people at home to see it. Can you put a logo on the board when coming back from a commercial break? Can you place LED screens in the broadcast with sponsorship or do it virtually?

How will audio play a factor in the instance of no fans being in the stands?
You still have to provide something for the players because they’re going to feel different without fans in the venues. In college football, you need the chants, and, in basketball, you certainly need the crowd noise and cheering when something positive happens.

Van Wagner has handled multiple high-profile events, including the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship game.

There are a number of ways to handle this problem, including fans’ being able to do it at home. During these games without fans, you’re going to need a very limited crew handling game presentation with all of these assets.

What are some issues that arise in the layout of a physical control room?
In the near term, travel parties that once were 45 are going to go down because that’s the new reality. In most control rooms, you’re sitting on top of each other. You’re able to combat the lack of space with masks and possibly putting a small plexiglass shield between workers, but it’s really hard to talk to each other and communicate with masks on for an entire game. Do you provide face shields for employees in the control room?

As for headsets, everyone’s going to have to take care of their own pair until a vaccine is developed and we’re back to normal again. Possibly, the same [is true] for other things that we’ve taken for granted in the past, like keyboards and a computer mouse.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.