Behind the Show Control Upgrade at American Airlines Center

A behind the scenes look at the American Airlines Center and implementing Daktronics Show Control.

On a recent episode of The Daktronics Experience podcast, Matt and I talked with Scott Davidson, Broadcast Systems Engineer at American Airlines Center, about his experience with a Daktronics Show Control solution upgrade. Continue reading to gain his insight into the control solution, how they use it, the support they receive and all it has to offer.

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Justin: Scott can you tell us about your role with the American Airlines Center? Scott:
My role with American Airlines center is, I’m the guy that gets to have all the fun. I get to deal with all the events, deal with all the production stuff. I don’t have to deal with the stuff making sure the building doesn’t fall down, cleaning up after people or selling tickets. I get to play with all the fun toys, and I enjoy that a whole lot.

Justin: You recently did upgrade your control system, could you tell us a little bit about the key driver behind that?
Scott:
Age of the system was the primary driver. A very close secondary driver was the fact that control systems software had improved dramatically over the past five or six years. We were looking at some of the new features that the vendors had out there and thought this could save us time, improve our workflow and improve the overall look. Then, we look at things like we have more data integration now, additional workflow and file formats that we need to look at. So, we factored all of that together and it helped us make a case, go to ownership and say, “We believe it is a responsible time to update things at this particular juncture. What we have is old and we have run it beyond what we told you we really should, and we can make a really nice investment now that will give you dividends to help improve your workflows and shows we’re moving forward.” We need to be very fair here and say, thankfully, the Mavericks and the Stars – who are the primary company that I work for, the owners of that team – understand that they need to invest in the game production and building production capability.

We needed a new control system because we needed to be more current and to be where the state of the industry was, ideally, moving forward from there. We really hit a home run with the Daktronics system.

Matt: How did you establish your list of needs for what you wanted a new control system to be able to do?
Scott:
Between my boss, myself and the team’s game-day producers, we all talk amongst ourselves quite often as to what features we would like to have. The teams will say, “We want to be able to display stats. We want to have self-rendered graphics. We want to be able to load MP4 files.” I am looking at it from the standpoint of, “I want a system that is not going to crash every other button click. I want a system that will have support and I want a company that will make sure they are going to work with this and get TV updates as we need them.” We need a company that wants to evolve as the industry evolves and will get us ideas and ways to do things and help us come up with a creative solution if we have a one-off problem that we need to solve.

If I wanted to be greedy, I would say I want as many features as I can get. Realistically, there are a lot of features that every system has that I will never use but other people will. A perfect example is there are certain automated features that are built into the systems, and Daktronics has a great one, that if I was a college sports operator, I would absolutely love. Because I could automate this, and one person could do tons of stuff. Well, I am not a college sports operator. What I do, I have personnel to create things and different pieces in place because I am a different operator. But I understand why the companies have to do that because I am not their only customer, which is both good and bad at the same time. If I can have an entire crew of people in South Dakota to build me the perfect system, I have to be fair to them and realize that they make a product with more broad appeal than just me. The good part is well-built systems will easily translate. Even though I am in the professional sports market for NBA and NHL, someone in college football could come in and use our controller as well. There is a lot of crossover and even things in talking to Michael Cruz, my Daktronics applications manager, I have never met anybody who thinks as well outside of the box as he does. Because he will sit and listen to me and go, “Okay, so your end result is this? Well, what if we went a different direction than you just described?” Usually, I have taken five minutes to describe something he can describe in 10 seconds and say, “If you just go the other direction then it’s already there.”

Justin: How have you worked with Daktronics to design this system and integrate it into the facility?
Scott:
I guess I will go back to when we first put it in. Daktronics has taken a proactive interest in what we are doing to try and come up with features that will make my life easier and will make the operators’ lives easier. And the help and support on that aspect is what has been phenomenal. I joke about having a private crew in South Dakota working for me, but I kind of do. They are wanting to make sure that stuff works. We have shown them the use case because there are things that we are doing and things that we wanted to do that they had never had to deal with before. They had never seen the use case before and never dealt with somebody that operates like we do. It might mean we are completely wrong to be completely honest but that’s the part where instead of making me change everything, they are all meeting together to say, “Okay, this is where we have to move down the line.” There is a whole crew of people in South Dakota and all over the Daktronics universe that are taking a very keen interest in what we are doing to make sure that it is not only doing what we need it to do, but also functioning optimally in the Daktronics ecosystem.

Having a product like Show Control that is so versatile, they have done updates to this stuff that’s awesome. I’ll ask for a little thing and when they come back, they not only did they do the little thing but six more with it that I haven’t thought of. That’s the kind of support that we are getting from Daktronics. They are a fantastic crew that really does have the customers interest at heart.

They make sure we have got all the support we need. They want to make sure it is the best product on the market. We have had some major updates in the past 12 months, so it is the best product out there. For what we are doing, it’s hard to beat. Even when I sit here now and look at what the competition has, I sit there and think, “I can do that with my Daktronics system, I can do it easier with my Daktronics system.” When we made the decision to go with Daktronics, we felt pretty confident. But it has been reinforced very strongly after the past few months.

Justin: Is there a certain feature that sticks out in your mind as one of your favorites that we have been able to provide for you?
Scott:
The biggest and best feature that we have seen improvement on has been the Live Clips box. From where it started when it first came in the door to where it’s at now, it has improved tremendously. There are things that we took for granted on our older systems that when we came to the Daktronics Live Clips, we are going “Oh, what about this?” And the level of commitment from Daktronics to get that box to a point where it’s doing everything better than what any other box was just outstanding. It looks the same, it functions better, it has more features, we’ve got multichannel audio we are working on and there are still more features that are being worked on as we speak. The Live Clips is a huge feather in the hat at Daktronics right now because of where it was to where it is.

The other big thing that we have seen improvement on or updates on, I guess I’ll say, is the data package from the NBA. Now, instead of having a limited amount of data over here in the corner, I have a fire hose of data. But, because of how the product sets it up, it’s giving me features and a way to sort that data and make it easy to use. Whereas the competition just says, “Here’s the fire hose and good luck digging it out.” It’s things like that. Daktronics is taking the user in mind and looking at how the programming works. When the Daktronics system first came in, I knew there was going to be a learning curve, that I would have to learn a lot of new stuff. I watched the Daktronics people that came in to help us with the programming and commissioning. They knew how to do stuff and I’m like, “WOAH! Back up, I need to see that because that is really cool!” And then they will back up and show me. There are things that I see there and that I look at and say, “So, there is even more power here than I thought.” It’s things like that that I’m very excited about. Daktronics has built a very solid system, especially the data side of things. Daktronics has knocked it out of the park. The data and the stats are the things that you can’t get while sitting at home watching the game on the TV. You have to be in the arena to know, “Oh, I can watch the game here and get this stat there.” Those are the things that we look at and say, “Man, this is awesome.” And then we look at the Show Control side of things and what it can do for us and the way it’s talking to everything and we can use the same button to control numerous things. The Show Control system takes off and does that and it’s easy to go through and make one edit to change something. There is a lot of good features here. If I had to go through and pick one thing, I couldn’t do it. It’s a very solid system.

The other big piece we look at aside from the Daktronics support was the reliability. I understand these are Windows computers and they will need to get rebooted every now and again. That’s the bottom line, every computer does from time to time. On the old system, we were forced to reboot every day before an event, sometimes even the middle of the event. Now, there are times where we don’t have to reboot the Daktronics system for weeks. That’s probably not smart because we don’t like rebooting in the middle of an event. But the backup does really work wonderful for that if we must. I have only had to once. But the stability of the software, it’s something that not a lot of people appreciate or something that a lot of people talk about too much, but the stability of the Daktronics software is just superb.

I’m always amazed how right now, we are sitting at home, nobody has been into the arena for well over a month. We haven’t touched any system for well over a month and I had one of my editors call me last week saying he was amazed that he was able to log in, work on something, and put a graphic up to test (having a remote access camera he can look at). He said, “That system is still running, when did you reboot it?” And I said, “I haven’t rebooted it since the last time we were there.” He said, “You’re kidding! I figured you had gone down and rebooted everything at some point.” I said, “Nope.” It’s still kicking away there. That stability just speaks to the backend of the product that is super, super reliable and super solid. That’s something that Daktronics probably needs more credit for, and they do but from my standpoint that has been a big feature that is so out of sight and out of mind that I didn’t even think of it to start with. It’s something that is pretty awesome.

For more information on Daktronics Show Control, visit our webpage at www.daktronics.com/showcontrol.

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