Create an exceptional experience for fans, players, prospective students and university partners in and around Baylor University’s McLane Stadium .
Larger-than-life sound and a video infrastructure that streams game-day excitement to every type of screen imaginable.
“I’m in the business of getting you to come to my stadium, watch the game at my stadium, support our program and be really engaged in the game-day experience,” says Drew Pittman, Assistant Athletic Director of Facilities and Operations at Baylor University.
With that in mind, in August 2014, the new 860,000 square-foot, 45,000-seat Baylor University McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, was wired and ready for kickoff.
For Pittman, the project started 27 months earlier, when the school engaged with architectural firm Populous, known for designing stadiums, ballparks and other large venues. The company assembled a championship-caliber AV team, starting with Dallas-based Idibri, a technology and acoustical design firm, to conceptualize and design a multilevel experience, from audio systems and video displays, to scoreboards, production control, broadcast and acoustics.
“The way to describe Baylor is a stadium focused on the experience of a fan,” says Brian Elwell, Senior Consultant and Vice President at Idibri. And that experience started with roar.
“The low frequency really gets the heart thumping,” explains Elwell. “It’s the energy, the feel, and the shaking in the lungs and heart when it hits you.”
At a time when big video is the name of the game in sports stadiums, the project team working on McLane Stadium understood the need for great audio.
“Originally we had two video boards, but after working with Idibri and the architect, we decided that one large video board in the center was a better plan for us,” Pittman says. “You may not have the newest, crazy, jumbo video board, but the audio has to be good. It is a requirement.”
For McLane Stadium, designers chose to fill the space with that low-frequency punch using “a large number” of subwoofers. “It just doesn’t sound that way in most stadiums,” Elwell insists.
Today, there are two large JBL speaker arrays integrated into the scoreboard at the south end of the horseshoe-shaped bowl. Those arrays cover upwards of 85 percent of the bowl seats — an important acoustical accomplishment.
Elwell explains that unlike older massive speaker arrays, “Today’s technology can throw more energy and focus it all the way down the opposite end of the field, while minimizing the energy to the seats close by.” This combination of space, technology and game-day sound forms the foundation of Baylor’s football experience.
Loud is Not Enough
“The sports experience is truly a tribal experience. The fans all come together to do something extraordinary,” says Ted Leamy, Chief Operating Officer of Pro Media/UltraSound, the company responsible for installing the bowl’s main sound system and audio control room. Pro Media/UltraSound has cultivated the sound engineering for Baylor’s home games for a decade. “We have to make this an experience you can’t achieve at home or in the parking lot,” Leamy says. “You can only achieve it by being part of the tribe at that singular event.”
To achieve big sound, you must practice good sound engineering, Leamy explains. “It’s about quality content and preserving that quality content,” he says.
There is an ebb and flow to the excitement of an event, and the sound system helps maintain fans’ exhilaration. For example, the crowd naturally gets louder when it witnesses a touchdown. After a touchdown, Leamy tells the announcer to count to 10. If everyone starts to sit down, the announcer loudly declares the touchdown. “He gets everybody out of their seats again,” Leamy says. “It is the art of how technology is used.”
“The sound reinforcement mix area, which was placed at the front of the production suite, allows for the mix engineer to have his ‘ears in the bowl’ through glass partitions directly in front of the mix console,” says Stuart Reynolds, Senior Manager at Diversified Systems, another AV integrator on the project. “This allows the mix engineer to more accurately judge bowl sound levels and stay in touch with the overall energy of the game.”
In fact, every fan experience throughout the stadium is topnotch, from the stadium seating, to the 1,200 outdoor club seats, 74 loge boxes and six suites. Elwell emphasizes that advanced planning and understanding the stadium’s architecture helped the project team anticipate how the space would perform — and that was the key to success.
Video Feeds to Personal Devices
What about the visual experience? Yes, McLane Stadium features a beautiful, bright high-definition LED video board, one of the largest in college football. A continuous ribbon of LED displays runs the length of the horseshoe for showing advertisements and boosting fan engagement through moderated tweets and messages like “Make some noise.” The stadium now also features about 600 different screens, including one in every outdoor loge area.
But it’s the personal touch that makes the stadium’s video system perfect for fans. For instance, Pittman says, “We now have an app for in-stadium streaming. You can stream any of the camera feeds from the production guys in the stadium. You can watch whatever angle you want to watch. You can see whatever replay you want to see.”
Approximately 350 antennas fill the stadium with wireless bandwidth. “I can’t say enough about the Wi-Fi and distributed antenna system,” Pittman says. “Giving fans access to high-speed networks has been an incredible success for us.”
Not only does the video streaming system feed fans’ personal devices, it sends a feed to the 600 screens throughout the stadium. Diversified Systems handled the game-day video production systems for the end-zone video display and in-house distributed TVs. Parsons Technologies, an AV and technology integration firm, was responsible for video in locations such as the team locker room, recruiting rooms, luxury areas, as well as in the tailgating and (yes) “sailgating” areas. “Every area is unique with very different requirements,” says Jasyn Rousselow, Systems Technician at Parsons.
“Tailgating for us doesn’t mean just pulling up, putting your tailgate down and having a barbeque,” says Pittman. “It means you’re there all day or maybe the day before.”
Approximately 400 RV and tailgating hookups offer power and cable TV to fans. “Not to mention,” says Pittman, “the stadium is on the Brazos River, so we have boat slips where we provide access for folks to ‘sailgate,’”
The Players’ Experience
Of course, audio and video technologies are critical to the fan experience, but so is the team on the field. At one point during planning, Pittman told Idibri’s Elwell, “We never build the right environment for our players to get really warmed up before the game.” Elwell encouraged Pittman to “go wild.”
The result: Even more low-frequency, heart-pounding energy.
“I guarantee you it is the best audio system in a football locker room on this planet,” Pittman says, thanks in part to six, dual-21-inch subwoofers. “It’s crazy. It’s got to be the new gold standard. The coach loves it, the staff, the team — everybody loves it.”
“When they turn that sound system on — when new recruits are in that room — their jaws drop,” says Elwell.
The experience carries over into the recruiting lounge, where there are assorted gaming stations, a 4×4 videowall for watching the game and, of course, a high-energy surround-sound system.
Pittman stresses that recruiting is a significant part of the stadium experience. “Time is always running for us to find new athletes to continue a successful program,” he says.
The field-level recruiting suite was built for prospective students and their families. “There are video screens on the wall to display content when mom and dad have questions,” Pittman says. “We want student athletes to leave thinking they want to be part of our school. We found some great kids this year. And the technology absolutely had an impact.”
Not to mention: Last season, the Baylor Bears went undefeated at home in the new McLane Stadium.
The Baylor University’s McLane Stadium includes audiovisual systems from many different manufacturers, including but not limited to:
Alcorn McBride (digital messageing)
AMX (control, video processing)
Atlona Technologies (HDMI routing)
Blonder Tongue Laboratories (signal distribution)
BSS Audio (signal processing and distribution)
Chief Manufacturing (mounts)
Christie Digital Systems (projectors)
Crestron (media receivers, controller)
Da-Lite (projection screen)
Extron Electronics (video switching, scaling)
Fulcrum Acoustic (loudspeakers, subwoofers)
Furman Sound (power conditioning)
Lab.Gruppen (amplifiers, remote monitoring/control)
Listen Technologies (assistive listening)
Meyer Sound (audio processing)
Middle Atlantic Products (equipment racks)
Premier Mounts (mounts)
RFvenue (antenna system)
Shure (microphone systems)
SurgeX (surge protection and power conditioning)
By Cindy Davis, Special to InfoComm International®