The brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis might be one of the few sporting venues where spectators can not only watch the action on the field and on video screens, but also see how that action gets from the field to those screens. Right there on a bustling concourse between concession stands is a row of large windows providing a view of the venue’s high-tech video control room and the high-caliber production crew that provides the next-level fan experience that was a priority when designing the stadium.
This was a real crowd-pleaser for one particular audience that toured the venue last month—the technology end users who attended Alpha Video’s Tech Expo on October 19. Alpha Video recently completed work on the attention-grabbing control room, which was built as part of the multi-platform fan engagement goals of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and its primary tenant at the venue, the Minnesota Vikings.
The event was Alpha Video’s largest ever, attracting more than 300 customers in a year when the firm’s business is up 20 percent. Part of the draw was certainly the venue, said CEO and owner Kevin Groves, “but to get this kind of client response and to have more vendors exhibiting at the show than we’ve ever had, we feel like this is a great success. Our purpose for this event is to get closer to our customers and build those relationships and trust.”
Those relationships lead to projects, and as far as business goes, Groves said, “We’re growing rapidly right now. We’re working on scaling the company, trying to create a better organization to do business at a higher rate, and increasing our support through the organization so that we can provide the best customer service of any integrator in the business.”
In the 15 months since Groves bought into full ownership of the Minnesota-based, 130-person company, the leadership team’s focus has been on creating an organization with what Groves called a “direct line of sight” for all employees to the company’s goals and their role in achieving them. “That’s important,” he said. “We want to create an organization that thrives on the success of our team as well as our customers. We see our clients as being a part of our team, and we need to make sure that they’re successful along with us.”
Now in its 47th year of business, Alpha Video has three areas of practice: AV integration, digital signage design and implementation with its CastNET solution, and its nine-year-old Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment division, which focuses on HD control rooms and IPTV solutions for sports venues.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the stadium venue for Alpha Video’s Tech Expo, sports is the largest driver for its business at present. Led by Alpha Video veteran Jeff Volk, who holds the post of VP of Sports & Entertainment, the division specializes in control rooms, concourse and suites displays, and digital signage integration.
In this age of fan engagement, Alpha Video is well positioned to provide back-end support on evolving in-house production capabilities in stadiums, which are increasingly starting to look like full-scale television production operations. Particularly at U.S. Bank Stadium, which Volk noted has gone far beyond the usual setup of four or five facility-owned cameras that supplement feeds from broadcast production trucks. Instead, the venue has 23 or 24 of its own internal cameras, including studio, wireless, handheld, and POV cameras.
That’s a lot of content generated in-house. As such, Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment provides advanced support as stadium crews roll out their new systems. In the case of the U.S. Bank Stadium production team, Alpha Video has been on site for every game since the venue opened, including soccer events, preseason games and of course, the Vikings extravaganzas.
“We’ll continue to work with them to roll out new fan engagement and game presentation features, because as the operators become more comfortable with the room, the workflow will continue to adapt and change,” Volk said. “That’s what we find for most of these projects after finishing the initial implementation through the first handful of games—that sort of minor tweaking of the workflow, tweaking of the system, and understanding that if you’ve never driven a Ferrari before, the first couple of laps around the track, you’re probably not going to drive it as fast as when you’ve taken it 100 times around the track.”
Alpha Video’s sports venue work also encompasses CastNET digital signage, where it excels in content creation, integration with scoring and real-time stats, and menu board updates via point-of-sale (POS) systems.
Across all the verticals that CastNET serves, including the 1,000-plus casinos where its systems are deployed, Alpha Video has honed its integration chops to create transferable skills for other projects. Having done the groundwork to connect with various gaming systems to trigger casino-wide events, it’s a natural extension for Alpha Video to trigger stadium-wide digital signage “moments of exclusivity” in conjunction with game-day events.
“We applied the technology we’ve been developing for more than a decade on the casino side and integrated it for use on the sports side,” said Lance Hutchinson, VP of CastNET. So, in a casino, where a jackpot might trigger a system-wide screen domination, at a football game, “when somebody scores a touchdown, we can trigger a celebration that appears on all the screens.”
Fan engagement is definitely a growth market, and U.S. Bank Stadium provided a good venue for Alpha Video to talk about its ability to translate the need to create an experience into a reality for venue owners and team management. Speaking to the Tech Expo luncheon crowd, the Minnesota Vikings’ VP of content and production, Bryan Harper, summed it up: “Our relationship with Alpha Video goes back about 10 years, when the web video side of things started to blow up and we realized from an organizational standpoint we had an opportunity to grow from a content perspective. So we did that, took baby steps along the way, and built a great relationship with these folks. We trust them, and have a lot of faith in their helping us reach our vision…. It was a tough process to go through, there are a lot of great products out there, but again, we leaned a lot on the folks at Alpha Video to give us some advice and help us with our direction.”
With media-savvy crowds filling stadiums today, it makes sense that video technology is emerging from basement rooms and out into the light. Now it’s about more than keeping score; it’s about creating a show, and that puts AV integrators front and center.