Longhorns

Video, au­dio set­ups, cell­phone zones to be ready for sea­son.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Brian Davis bdavis@states­man.com

Ev­ery ath­letic di­rec­tor gets a boat­load of com­plaints ev­ery Mon­day af­ter home foot­ball games. Ei­ther the park­ing is too far away, the pop­corn was stale or there’s too many ads on the video board.

“The first year I got here, I be­gan get­ting com­plaints from peo­ple about the in­con­sis­tency of the sound sys­tem,” Texas men’s Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Mike Per­rin said.

The hulk­ing, 11-year-old video board in the south end zone at Royal-Memo­rial Sta­dium, once named Godzil­la­tron, is also show­ing its age. “It was great when it was new,” Per­rin said, “but it was time to make some changes.”

In a bid to im­prove the over­all fan ex­pe­ri­ence, UT of­fi­cials on Thurs­day an­nounced sweep­ing au­dio, vis­ual and tech­no­log­i­cal up­grades be­ing made in­side the sta­dium that will be ready for the 2017 sea­son.

New speak­ers, a new video board and a stronger cell­phone sig­nal? This sounds like sta­dium nir­vana. School of­fi­cials are pur­posely hop­ing they can un­der-prom­ise and over-de­liver, and they ad­mit the new up­grades will be tweaked through­out Sep­tem­ber. All in, Per­rin said the school spent $6 mil­lion.

“The younger peo­ple like to watch what’s go­ing on the field but also text each other dur­ing the game, or tak­ing self­ies in the stands,” Per­rin said. “The whole idea of con­nec­tiv­ity is so im­por­tant, so we felt like we had to up­grade that as well.”

The up­grade an­nounce­ment came one day af­ter the Amer­i­can-States­man re­ported that sea­son ticket sales are down slightly for the 2017 sea­son. UT of­fi­cials pri­vately hope that a bet­ter fan ex­pe­ri­ence with a bet­ter team will turn those num­bers around.

Austin-based Big House Sound over­saw the in­stal­la­tion of 384 speak­ers through­out the sta­dium, in­clud­ing 48 18-inch sub-woofers. The same com­pany just re­cently fin­ished a com­plete sound over­haul at Rice Sta­dium in Hous­ton.

As for what’s play­ing on the speak­ers on game day, that’s a Tom Her­man ques­tion. The new coach has been in­volved in choos­ing spe­cific playlists for pregame warmups and even cer­tain songs for spe­cific in-game mo­ments.

Some UT fans may need to brace them­selves. They may not hear Wil­lie Nel­son or Ge­orge Strait 45 min­utes to kick­off.

For­mer coach Char­lie Strong put speak­ers on the field in 2014 to blast hip-hop mu­sic, some­thing the play­ers loved. Mean­while, coun­try or pop mu­sic blared from the sta­dium speak­ers, thus cre­at­ing a mu­si­cal mess. Af­ter some fan com­plaints, those field speak­ers dis­ap­peared by mid­sea­son and Strong gave up the fight.

Her­man is tak­ing the mu­sic is­sue head on.

“For me, the big­gest thing in terms of be­ing in­volved in that is one, our play­ers,” Her­man said af­ter Thurs­day’s prac­tice. “What songs are we play­ing on third down? When we run down on kick­off, what are we show­ing on the video board? And the re­cruits. I want to make sure re­cruits have a great time at our games.”

Per­rin said the type of mu­sic will vary based on how much time is left be­fore kick­off and whether or not the team is on the field. “Again, it’ll be col­lab­o­ra­tive,” he said.

UT changed the land­scape with a gi­gan­tic video board that cost $8 mil­lion in 2006. It mea­sured 134 feet long by 55 feet high. It was the largest in the world at the time, one that re­quired spe­cial parts to work at full ca­pac­ity.

Over time, tech­nol­ogy got bet­ter and Godzil­la­tron slowly be­came ob­so­lete. Now all new sta­di­ums have over­sized video boards. Just last sea­son, UT’s board flick­ered off and on at var­i­ous points or the col­ors would look out of whack.

Tech­nol­ogy com­pany ANC won the con­tract to in­stall a new video sys­tem that con­tains 14,000 square feet of LED tech­nol­ogy. Frankly, it looks like a gi­ant HD-qual­ity tele­vi­sion hang­ing over the south end zone. The new video board mea­sures 134.38 inches wide by 55.85 inches high, to­tal­ing 7,505 square feet. ANC of­fi­cials said the new board will be the fourth-largest in the NCAA.

Her­man’s cre­ative team will con­trol part of the mes­sag­ing that’s shown on the new video board, school of­fi­cials said.

ANC also in­stalled 770 feet of rib­bon board that runs down the east and west fa­cade, the sta­dium tun­nels and end zones. Those rib­bon boards can show ad­ver­tise­ments, out-of-town scores or other per­ti­nent fan in­for­ma­tion.

UT of­fi­cials worked with cam­pus wire­less in­fra­struc­ture provider Crown Cas­tle to im­prove cell­phone zones within Royal-Memo­rial Sta­dium. Pre­vi­ously, there were 12 iden­ti­fied zones where fans had strong LTE cell cov­er­age. Now there are 28, Per­rin said.

Mul­ti­ple car­ri­ers, like AT&T and Ver­i­zon, con­trib­uted to the tech­nol­ogy up­grades; UT did not spend a dime, of­fi­cials said. The school re­fused to say whether cer­tain car­ri­ers have bet­ter cov­er­age than oth­ers go­ing for­ward.

“I think both the sound and the con­nec­tiv­ity are go­ing to re­quire a lit­tle give-and-take over a few games,” Per­rin said. “They’re go­ing to vary de­pend­ing on where peo­ple are seated and how much they’re try­ing to use mo­bile de­vices and what the band­width are at dif­fer­ent times.”

Of course, the prod­uct on the field mat­ters, too.

“Hope­fully ev­ery­body that en­ters the sta­dium will have a good time when they leave,” Her­man said. “And you know, the fan ex­pe­ri­ence is a lot bet­ter when you win.”

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