Somewhere within the bowels of Nationwide Arena a few years ago, the idea of instigating a complete upgrade of the in-house video production was born.
Was it a realistic endeavor at the time? Probably not, but the subject didn't stray far from the forefront as time progressed. The now-former video board that hung vividly from the rafters of Nationwide enjoyed a full, wholesome life of 12 years, but like all things, it was time to move on.
Once the Blue Jackets' arena lease was finalized and other assorted dominoes fell into place, the one-time dream became a distinct possibility. The multi-million dollar project is now in its final stages, and the brand-new "Dispatch Media Center" is on schedule to be completed on or before September 15.
It's an exciting transition for the organization and its fans, as the arena moves to a full-on high definition (HD) experience throughout the building. Monitors throughout the concourse, press box screens and LED boards around the arena bowl have been upgraded as part of a process geared toward making the Blue Jackets' fan experience among the best in professional sports.
"For everyone who participated in this project, at the end of the day, the No. 1 question was 'how does this affect the fans?'" said Derek Dawley, director of event presentation for the Blue Jackets. "If there was something that didn't benefit the fans, it came out of the project immediately. That was 100 percent what went into this project."
Within the last year, discussions about an in-arena upgrade got serious. Dawley and several Blue Jackets representatives traveled to Ottawa, Ont. for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, where the Senators had recently undergone a similar face lift. While their video board upgrade wasn't directly linked to hosting the All-Star Game, there were certain elements that the Blue Jackets wanted to take a closer look at.
And though there has been speculation that the 2013 edition of the All-Star Game was the catalyst behind the Nationwide Arena upgrade, Dawley said the groundwork had been laid well before this past January.
"What really expedited the whole process was getting the lease straightened out and having that settled," Dawley said. "We met with (the Senators game operations staff) in Ottawa and learned how they upgraded their video board, and then we were awarded the All-Star Game shortly after that. But the All-Star Game itself really didn't have an affect on why were doing this project.
"We had the plans in place to do this well before we were awarded the All-Star Game. Ottawa hosted the game, and they were originally going to have the game with their old video board, but some financing came through and they were able to expedite their project."
The Dispatch Media Center is the crown jewel of the project, but there are a handful of components that make up this revolutionary makeover.
All "ribbon boards" that line the arena bowl are being replaced and upgraded to higher resolutions, the two sets of backlit signs attached to the arena's party towers are switching to LED boards, both Matrix boards (east and west) in Nationwide are moving to LED, and the entire audio system has been removed and will be updated, as well.
Here are some of the nitty-gritty details about the project: it encompasses 5.2 million LEDs, and the brand new video board features four (4) HD screens that each measure 25 feet-by-15.5 feet. There are two HD "rings" on the bottom of the video board and another ring atop the board.
It's by far the largest renovation in the dozen-year history of Nationwide Arena, and the core essence was to provide a major enhancement to the fan experience. A total of 12 cameras (including overheads already used by the NHL, and new in-net cameras) will be available to capture live action and provide instantaneous access to replays.
Blue Jackets fans previously had a Lexus, but now they have a Ferrari.
"They're going to say 'wow'," Dawley said. "The video board itself is going to fill the building. When I walked into Ottawa's building and saw their new board, it was just amazing. It was amazing to see their centerpiece fill up the place, and now people are going to have that here. It's going to be the big piece to this whole thing.
"I think going to total HD is a big step up from where we are. The fans are going to notice that and appreciate it. We really take it as our job to provide a better experience than you're getting on TV. We want to have more replays, better replays, faster replays, more stat information. You should be consumed by the hockey game when you're here."
The other eminent parcel in the upgrade project is the Blue Jackets production room. What has been a windowless, standard-definition operating space for the past 12 years is going to look completely different on September 15 than it ever has before.
At the heart of the production room transformation is a six-HD screen complex on the back wall, which will be used for live in-game statistics, replays, graphics and shots from around Nationwide Arena.
Dawley said the Blue Jackets didn't want to follow the model of other NHL teams and solely upgrade the video board without making the production room part of the project; doing so "just didn't make sense," he said, and the club decided to move forward with its 100 percent HD manifest.
"It's the chicken and the egg, I guess," Dawley said. "Ottawa did their board before they did their production room, but we're taking the approach where both are upgraded at the same time and we're completely HD. Everything that's sourced is total HD -- that includes computer graphics, editing equipment, all of it. With those close plays and close calls, fans are going to have direct access to them."
Watching the project develop is like an agonizing and prolonged wait for Christmas morning, Dawley said. The waiting is always the hardest part (so goes the cliche), but the payoff comes when it's time to get familiar with all of the new toys.
"If you think about your TV 12 years ago and your TV today, you've probably upgraded once or twice," Dawley said. "Our guys in the production room have wanted to upgrade since they stepped foot in the room.
"This can't get done fast enough. Guys are working hard and working over the weekend to get everything installed. We can't wait to get to September 15, then we can actually get a hold of it and start figuring out how all this stuff works."
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