University of Florida Ushers in New Era of Baseball Excellence With Florida Ballpark
Daktronics has supplied a right-field videoboard, ribbon boards, Show Control system
It’s the dawn of a new age of collegiate baseball in Gainesville, FL. The University of Florida opened its 2021 campaign and the new Florida Ballpark with a win over intrastate rival Miami 2½ weeks ago. The $65 million stadium, built with the latest video amenities by Daktronics, is more than fitting for a program that has become a perennial contender in the SEC and in the nation.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re there in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening, it’s impressive and has this aura,” says John Gandy, associate director, marketing, University of Florida. “We’re fortunate to have another premiere facility where we can provide a high-quality and positive student-athlete experience.”
A Pandemic Project: Construction Completed in Summer 2020
The venue has garnered much attention since its opening, but the project was originally discussed and conceived at the midway point of the 2010s. Through a diligent partnership between the institution’s administration and athletics, the proposed plan was to erect the building on a parcel of land controlled by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). Led by Assistant Athletics Director, Facilities, Bill Smith and IFAS VP Jeanna Mastrodicasa and Director, Facilities Planning and Operations, Kevin Heinicka, the two parties were able to pinpoint a 13.63-acre site for a blueprint that would materialize in March 2018.
“When we started thinking about doing this five years ago, Jeanna and Kevin approached us about a piece of land that they wanted to convert for different types of research,” says Chip Howard, executive associate athletics director, internal affairs, University of Florida. “They’re both big baseball fans and understood what we were trying to do, so this partnership really got the ball rolling.”
Dignitaries and high-ranking officials kickstarted the construction with a ground-breaking ceremony in February 2019. Aided by designer Populous and general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie, construction moved along without a hitch throughout most of that year, including installation of the 30- by 50-ft. videoboard in right field in April and the multiple ribbon boards in May. A majority of the build was completed prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, but the crew still needed to add some finishing touches after the remainder of the baseball season was postponed. With a little more time on their hands, the university and Brasfield & Gorrie operated with extreme caution and safety to refine any details.
“We still had close to 200 onsite workers when the pandemic hit,” Howard explains. “We were able to stagger our crews, so there were no overlaps or multiple vendors working inside a single area. It granted us more flexibility to finish the project on a bit slower but safer pace since most of the construction was in an outdoor space.”
After the brick and mortar were laid down, the technological team went to work on getting the stadium online with its control rooms in the College of Journalism and Communications’ Weimer Hall. This portion of the process hit a few hiccups due to the pandemic’s impact on shipping gear from across the country.
“Whether it was coming from overseas or from within the country,” adds Howard, “there were some delays in equipment being shipped. Some of the gear backlogged or completely stopped shipping for about six months. Those were the last components that we put together before the opener in February 2021.”
At the same time, at the beginning of January 2021, the facilities crew began work on an entirely new project for another high-profile program: Florida Gators football. To start that endeavor, the team needed to wait until the demolition of the baseball team’s former home of 31 years, Alfred A. McKethan Stadium.
“We had to complete this new baseball facility before we could demolish McKethan Stadium and start our football project,” he notes. “Even though we didn’t have a hard deadline for completion, we did have the deadline to get the baseball staff in so that we could demolish the old property.”
Lighting Up the Swamp: Daktronics Provides Video, In-Venue Firepower
The venue’s crown jewel, the Daktronics videoboard is configured for multiple uses throughout a game. From traditional lineups and statistics to sponsorship implemented in an engaging way, fans are treated to a well-rounded presentation with the help of the Daktronics DMP-8000 digital media player and Show Control system.
“[The videoboard] is wired through fiber to our two control rooms,” Gandy explains. “We have the ability to produce the linear show on SEC Network and the videoboard component [from Weimer Hall].
Associate Athletics Director Alicia Longworth, Gandy, and the rest of the production team are experimenting with different layouts on the new LED display, including wide video output (1,056 x 441 pixels), home and visiting lineup (160 x 441 pixels each), player headshots (896 x 441 pixels), two areas for sponsorship (160 x 159 pixels each), balls/strikes/outs and line score (736 x 110 pixels), and clock (150 x 49 pixels). With the Daktronics Scoring-Timing Interface (DSTI), real-time information can be updated and accurate during the game. Since the baseball team is always in the hunt for the College World Series in Omaha, NE, the videoboard will get a new element before the start of the conference schedule.
“We’re currently using StatCrew. We’re in the process of transitioning to DakStats to get a little bit more creative flow,” Gandy says. “This hasn’t been integrated yet, but we’ll have other score updates from other Top 25 matchups.”
As with any other venue, getting sponsorship involved is critical to a successful show. With full operability through Daktronics, sponsored elements will flash on the screen after a play on the field.
“We have a two-tower look, so we can keep our sponsorship elements to the side during a live video or replays,” he adds. “For example, we’re using it right now for our Krispy Kreme Double, where everyone in the stadium gets a donut if someone on the team hits a double.”
Along with the videoboard, a LED ribbon board provides additional space for information. Running from first base to third base and behind home plate, it comprises 5,346 x 66 pixels. The middle section is reserved for a more generic welcome message but can also be used during big moments in the game.
“It’ll mostly say, ‘Welcome to Florida Ballpark,’ but we also have the ability to take this piece and change it for eruption moments,” Gandy says. “If we’re up 8-2 and we hit a home run, we put an element on the left ribbon board, right ribbon board, or the entire thing, and that becomes your crowd prompt.”
Stylistically speaking, the layout of the 360-degree concourse plays well with the video displays to give fans an immersive viewing experience that those would get at a professional stadium.
“We wanted our fans to be able to see something and have game information no matter where they were in the ballpark,” says Howard. “We really want to get the crowd into these games and provide that little bit of extra energy.”
Extending the Legacy: UF Intends To Write a New Chapter of Gators Baseball
Known as “The Mac,” McKethan Stadium hosted Gators teams that won 14 NCAA regionals, nine SEC championships, and a national championship. As the door closes on the past, a new and exciting road is ahead for the Orange and Blue. Its replacement, Florida Ballpark, has a big footprint to fill in becoming a formidable and legendary place to play college baseball.
The University of Florida will continue to break in the new stadium with five home games in seven days: Georgia State on Tuesday, March 9; Stetson University on Wednesday, March 10; and a three-game series with Jacksonville University from Friday, March 12 to Sunday, March 14.