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Lights, Camera, Action: Introducing 12th Man TV

Matt Simon, AggieAthletics.com Editor
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

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- Japhus Brown calls it "the ninth wonder of the world."

12th Man TV
The new 12th Man TV stands 110 feet tall in the south end zone of Kyle Field.

Stephen McGee says it's "just spectacular."

Martellus Bennett terms it "Big Bertha"…and wants to put one just like it in his living room.

"It" is Kyle Field's new state-of-the-art video board. Called "12th Man TV," it was constructed from scratch this summer and will debut at Saturday's home opener against The Citadel.

While it will be the most visible addition to the stadium this fall, it's just part of a multimillion-dollar project that went from dream to reality when the Athletics Department inked a deal back in March with Texas A&M Sports Properties, a division of Learfield Sports, to handle its multimedia rights.

It might be better to call it a "massive undertaking" instead of a "project," as Chris Williams, managing principal of the Dallas consulting firm Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams, Inc., points out.

"No matter how it is measured, the Texas A&M video and scoring project is the most comprehensive and complex scoring, video and fan entertainment project undertaken in North American collegiate sports, or professional sports for that matter," Williams said. "I can't think of any more complex, permanent scoreboard project undertaken at one time worldwide."

Director of Athletics Bill Byrne points out while the video upgrades hope to have a strong, positive impact on recruiting, it is the fans who will benefit the most from the improvements.

"The 12th Man TV is first and foremost for our fans, hence the name 12th Man TV," Byrne said. "This is a fan enhancement to all of our facilities that is totally funded through sponsorships."

IN-DEPTH: 12th MAN TV


SCREEN SIZE: 3,954 square feet (seven times larger than previous setup)
RANK: 2nd largest in collegiate sports
PANELS: 154 (total 590,000 pixels)
STRUCTURE HEIGHT: 110 feet

RIBBON BOARD: 1,130 feet in length
RANK: largest in collegiate sports, 2nd in US stadiums

"The thing that will grab fans' attention right away is the size of the screen and the amount of ribbon board we have, but then I know everyone will be very impressed with the quality of the Mitsubishi product. We did a lot of research in this area and found that Mitsubishi makes the best video boards in the world, hands down."

There are three main elements to the new setup at Kyle Field. The first two are what you see when sitting in the stands on gameday-the video board and ribbon board that rings the second decks on the east, north and west sides. Third, and possibly most impressive, is the state-of-the-art control room underneath Kyle Field.

THE VIDEO BOARD

The Mitsubishi-installed 12th Man TV measures at 3,954 square feet (approximately 54' by 74') and is made up of 154 LED (light-emitting diode) panels that total nearly 590,000 pixels. The screen is capable of taking and displaying HD signals and, when it debuts Saturday against The Citadel, it will be the second largest video display in collegiate sports and will rank among the five best in either collegiate or professional sports today.

"We wanted to make it larger than life," Brandon Verzal, director of 12th Man Productions, said. "Whether it be our fans, recruits, or the opposing team, we wanted them to walk in the stadium and say 'Wow!' "

Seven times larger than Kyle Field's previous display, the majority of the screen during the game will show video or graphical elements, with a small part of the bottom housing in-progress game data such as score, clock, timeouts, down, distance and possession. However, producers have the option of dropping the statistical portion at anytime and going to a "full video" mode. In addition, the brightness can be easily adjusted to the time of day.

The entire structure, which rose from foundation to full operation in just about eight weeks, stands 110 feet off the ground and is crowned by a 10-foot tall Texas A&M logo. There is ample room at the top for both team video and television cameras to work during the game.

Between the camera platform and the video screen sits a massive state-of-the art sound system. The setup has been described as "concert quality" and can be heard clearly from well outside the stadium.

THE RIBBON BOARDS

Approximately 1,130 feet of ribbon boards ring the bottom of the second decks on the east, north and west sides of Kyle Field. It is made up of 217 of the same LED panels used on the video board in the south end.

Ribbon Boards
Over 1,100 feet of ribbon boards ring Kyle Field's second decks, more than all but one football stadium in the United States.

The ribbon boards will be used for many different things during the game, but perhaps the most noticed and appreciated use will be for information-and lots of it. Fans can expect to see up-to-date out-of-town scores, player and team stats from the game and much more.

"What people are going to be most impressed with is how much they will add to certain elements of the game," Verzal said. "Almost every team uses ribbon boards to encourage fans to 'get louder' or 'make noise,' and that's not our intention at all. We know we have the loudest stadium in the country. Our ribbon boards will enhance but not distract from the action on the field or what's being displayed on the video board."

The sheer length of the ribbon boards is impressive-in fact, Kyle Field has the most of any collegiate stadium in the country, and ranks second in all of the United States behind only Dolphin Stadium in Miami.


THE CONTROL ROOM

While the part of the project visible to the public was taking shape inside Kyle Field, the nerve center of the operation was being pieced together underneath the southwest corner of the stadium in the 12th Man Productions offices.

When installation was complete a few weeks ago, the Aggies became the proud owners and operators of the finest video control room in collegiate athletics, one that would easily rank in the top 20 of even professional sports setups.

"In order to drive a nice car, you need to have a nice engine, and we have a very nice engine," Verzal said. "Because our staff has had past experience in running big screens across the country, we knew what tools we needed to put on a good show, and we got those tools. As enjoyable as it will be for the fans, we can't wait for kickoff either so we can show off the new setup and hear and see the reaction to all that's been done."

Control Room
The multimillion dollar control room features a massive control board and three 65-inch screens.

What jumps out at you when you enter the control room are the three 65-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) flat-panel monitors mounted on the wall. Each can divide into 12 segments to give the producer up to 36 "elements" (live or replay video, graphics, and more) to push to the main screen.

A massive control board can take up to 60 inputs and runs on a state-of-the-art digital switcher. A replay machine is used to control and feed replays to the screen, and can take in three angles at once and spit out the same number-all at the same time. The operator can also use the software to instantly file away replays in different categories-for instance, all the big hits of the game in one folder and all of a certain player in another-in order to piece together a package on the fly.

Among the other "toys" in the room are five joysticks that control robotic point-of-view cameras located around the stadium and inside the Aggies' locker room.

With miles of wiring and numerous processors, the room must be kept very cool to protect the equipment. At the start of the summer a state-of-the-art cooling system was installed in the control room to keep everything at a constant 60 degrees.

As part of the installation, fiber cables will be run to both Reed Arena and Olsen Field-allowing the production staff to control in-game entertainment in those venues from the same room they use for football.

PREPPING FOR KICKOFF

The staff has been hard at work over the past month or so, which is about all the time available to prepare for Saturday's season opener from the system's standpoint. The production crew had a good idea of the sizes and ratios to make the elements that will entertain the fans, but couldn't know exactly until the main video board and at least one side of the fascia were operational.

Both went online for testing in late July. Since that time, around 500 graphical and video elements have been pieced together, all by five full-time members of 12th Man Productions-another unique element of this setup. About 95 percent of the in-game elements fans will see on Saturday were produced in-house, very rare in an in-game entertainment industry where usually only half are created internally.

During the last month, countless interviews and shoots with the players have taken place that will be used to make up a lot of the features fans will see on Saturday. Everything that was shot was done so at Kyle Field-from the player interviews in the studio to the headshots in the deepest, darkest reaches of the stadium.

With an incredible attention to detail, the finishing touches are being put on Saturday's "show" this week. Once the 60-second team introduction video is complete, over 120 man hours will have been used to piece it together, bit by bit.

"We have hired the best video staff in the country to run 12th Man Productions," Byrne said. "This group has many, many years of experience in collegiate and professional sports and they've won a number of national awards, including an Emmy, for their work."

THE GAMEDAY OPERATION

A crew of over 30 will have a hand in producing the show on gameday. Ten people will staff the control room during the game. Three will sit upstairs in the press box and help coordinate things from a game operations standpoint. At least 13 will work the cameras and other equipment outside, with another five people inside the 12th Man Productions offices editing several features that will actually be produced from scratch during the game.

A total of five cameras will be run at field level and the main play-by-play shot is filmed from the 8th level of the stadium (just below the press box). The lens on that particular camera is so powerful that it can zoom across the stadium and be able to read seat numbers on the east side's third deck.

In fact, staffers during a recent test were able to see clearly the faces of people walking into and out of the local Best Buy store on Texas Avenue across from the main end of campus-well over a mile to the east of Kyle Field.

Control Room
The control room screens can display up to 36 different "elements" if the producers choose to do so.

Including the five stationary point-of-view cameras mounted in the stadium and locker room, producers can choose from 10 camera angles on a non-televised game. If a game is being broadcast on television, the 10 cameras used by the truck can be fed into the control room, thus giving A&M staffers up to 20 angles from which to pick.

The student workers of 12th Man Productions must not be forgotten when talking about all the hard work that goes into the gameday operations. While lots of places bring in freelancers to shoot the games for the in-house feed, every camera at an A&M game is run by a student.

"We chose to use the students that we do because they are as good as anyone we can bring in," Verzal said. "We have 37 students on staff and all play a key role in not only what we see on gameday, but in everything that we do. They have a keen interest in video and love working for Texas A&M Athletics."

The Aggie Band won't have to worry about losing any playing time to the board, either. A high percentage of the in-game features that the board will show will be silent, much more so than in the past, allowing the band to play without interruption at the same time the board is in use.



Every player is thrilled about the new addition to the stadium, for various reasons, but all agree that it will have a tremendously positive impact on an already amazing atmosphere at Kyle Field.

"We're very excited to have something like that," Brown said. "To see the crowd's reaction to it is very exciting. It gets you really fired up to see the big hits and some of the things that are shown up there. I'm looking forward to seeing my face on there, smiling and saying some of the things I say."

"It's one of the biggest video boards I've ever seen," senior L'Tydrick Riley said. "My freshman year, we played at the Steelers' stadium in Pittsburgh, but I don't even think that one was that big. That's the only thing I can try to compare it to."

"At the beginning of the game, imagine how big your face is going to be when they put it up there," Bennett said. "That's like going from a personal DVD player at first to a 54-inch flatscreen TV right there. It's a big difference. That thing is humongous!"

"Big Bertha," as Bennett deemed it, should provide Aggie fans even more excitement for years to come.

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