High-fidelity football Scoreboard: Visitors to the Ravens' stadium will be treated to $10 million in sophisticated audio-visual technology that might become the outdoor model for sporting events.

Stadium Watch

July 16, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

It won't take long for fans arriving at Ravens games to figure out they aren't at just any football stadium.

Perhaps the first clue will be the full-color Bugs Bunny cartoon playing on the two 24-foot-by-96-foot end zone scoreboards before game time. Or the crystal clear Frank Sinatra emanating from the 1,600 speakers sprinkled throughout the seating bowl.

And just in case those elements of the $10 million audio-visual system don't make the point, there is the Hollywood-produced film short that will run just before the coin toss, accompanied by a blend of hip hop, acid jazz and classical music.

Enabled by cutting-edge technology, the team is planning an electronics extravaganza that may very well end up as the most memorable aspect of a Ravens game and set a new standard for outdoor sporting events.

The technology will be unveiled in a media preview today.

"The visual appetite of the average viewer is much more $H sophisticated than it was just 10 years ago," said John Modell, a Los Angeles-based music producer who is coordinating the team's use of the new technology.

"When you sit at home watching a game, you are getting a lot of information. We want people to come here; we don't want them to sit at home and watch it. We have to bring some of the enhancements of home here so you're not missing anything," said Modell, who is a son of team owner Art Modell.

The younger Modell said the electronic show may prove so dazzling that fans will someday be willing to pay to watch video-based entertainment at the stadium when no games are being played.

"We will be able to do stuff that has never been done before. We are leading the way to the next millennium," John Modell said.

The first step was assembling the hardware, which the team and Maryland Stadium Authority have done over the past two years. A big gamble was going with untested, light-emitting diode technology in the video boards.

The science has been employed for years in everything from watch dials to alarm clocks -- it's the stuff that makes the familiar red glow. But it was only in recent years that scientists were able to re-create the color blue in LEDs, which, when combined with the already-existing green and red diodes, could re-create a full range of color.

The team and state studied several proposed systems and eventually selected LED boards manufactured by a Canadian firm, SACO SmartVision. If the devices catch on, they could render obsolete the Sony JumboTrons now familiar in other stadiums, including Oriole Park.

With the stroke of a few computer keys, operators can dedicate the entire board to a high-fidelity video replay, then break the board up into 16 sections showing simultaneous live cuts of games going on around the league or out-of-town score updates.

The boards, and the ultra-high-fidelity sound system, will be controlled by a team of technicians from a room at press level in the stadium's southeast corner. Packed with television monitors, computers and sound equipment, it is the most sophisticated video control room on the East Coast, Modell said.

He said he has been extremely pleased with the performance of the boards, which are brighter, less expensive to use and provide a wider viewing range than competing technology.

In fact, they are so sophisticated that they have opened up new creative vistas. For this, the team has hired artists and technicians schooled in producing rock concerts, stage shows and movies.

Modell, for example, runs a California-based company, Modular Entertainment, that produces and mixes music for CDs, commercials and multi-media events. He produced many of the digital masters of the Grateful Dead's CDs. He is also a composer.

Marcia Kapustin, the Ravens' new video producer, came from the rock group U2, where she was in charge of the giant LED board the band employed in its recent concert tour. Larry Lachman, an associate producer for the Ravens, used to produce the video shows for the Grateful Dead, touring with the group between 1987 and 1991. He also was in charge of special effects for the 1994 anniversary concert at Woodstock.

Barry Levinson, the Academy Award-winning, Baltimore-based moviemaker, has also been consulted. Modell calls Levinson the "guru emeritus," and is trying to talk him into debuting his next movie, an autobiographical film, at the stadium.

Levinson declined to produce the movie short that will be seen at the start of each game, but referred the team to a Hollywood-based company, Imaginary Forces, that specializes in making the short clips that play in the background while the titles and credits are rolling before and after films.

Modell said the team will be experimenting with the capabilities of the system throughout the year. Some ideas now being tried: flashing the quarterback fading back for a pass on one board and showing the receiver on the other board across the stadium. A flashy set of videos to accompany player introductions concludes with each player "morphing" into a fierce, stylized raven.

There will also be the traditional scores and facts and, at the bottom of the board, a written synopsis -- sort of a "closed caption" -- for hearing-impaired fans (who will also have the option of borrowing wireless headsets that carry the public address system at enhanced volumes).

As many as six games being played elsewhere can be shown simultaneously on the boards, which the team plans to do after early games so fans can linger, eat more hot dogs and watch the 4 p.m. contests. Post-game news conferences from the locker rooms will also be aired live on the boards.

The stadium will open two hours before each game and stay open for an hour and a half after the conclusion.

Modell acknowledges concerns about the fare becoming too "out there," and becoming a distraction during games, something his father has asked him to avoid.

"Football will be the focus, 100 percent. We're not the focus. We're here to support the team and bring the fans into the game," John Modell said.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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