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Projection Mapping & Sport

Audiovisual systems that turn sports arenas into digital canvases have become key elements of venue design.

No longer is a sporting event itself the lone reason that attracts fans to go to the game and sell out an arena. By adding to the overall experience through technology, a larger demographic of fans have now been enticed to become part of the action.

What this is called: Projection Mapping.

An example: A few years back at Oracle Arena, the former home of the powerhouse Golden State Warriors of the NBA, fans were introduced to the new PlayStation game God of War. Animated content came at the audience from every angle of the arena’s large jumbotron. But it didn’t stop there. The content soon transitioned to the actual court itself – turning into a snowy array of projected light on the court as the sold-out audience watched the video game’s animated characters battle it out on the floor.

Projection mapping combines powerful projectors, media servers, computer software, and video content to create a unique and immersive show for the many attendees of an event. Projection mapping has become an added element of stimulation across all professional sports – namely the NBA & NHL.

This is all made possible through AV, or audiovisual & digital technologies. The content displayed on the court is derived from multiple projectors that shape to fit the target surface through mapping video pixels virtually in specific locations on the surface so that it appears that the display is happening in real life.

A Few Examples

Advertisements: Just as I wrote about in a recent blog post detailing the power of QR codes. Fans would be much more likely to engage with an advertisement at an event if it were projected on the field or court as opposed to a TV ad on a jumbotron. Taking it a step further, perhaps companies could pay sports organizations to have their QR codes projected on the surface of play. This could cause fans to be curious enough to pull out their smartphones and find out what a company has in store for them.

Pregame Introductions: This is how audiovisual systems began. Right before the home team comes out, the lights darken, and animated features appear in anticipation of the athletes coming out. While this has been the norm in new arenas for a good bit now, the expansion of the technology into other realms and venues is a more recent development.

Other Venues: At the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., technologists projection-mapped the stadium’s infield. At one point, the U.S. Capitol appeared from home plate and enlarged. Projection mapping an indoor arena is one thing. But to do so at an outdoor baseball stadium is another and a testament to the true capability of this technology. Heck, perhaps we are not far off from being able to watch our hometown team’s away games broadcast live through projection mapping in their home arena. Wouldn’t that be cool? I bet it wouldn’t be terrible for the revenue of hometown teams either to be able to sell tickets to “away games”.

A Shocking Fact: Less than one-quarter of every major arena has built to accommodate the capability of projection mapping into the arena’s infrastructure. While this does not mean projection mapping cannot be done in these venues, it is still rather surprising. It would not be a shock to see these numbers skyrocket in the coming years as architects of future venues have this sort of technology in the forefront of their minds.

The Cost: Roughly $1 Million dollars. Seems like a lot. But I would argue that entertainment value and overall increase of excitement on a nightly basis at a sporting event justify the cost. Some venues hold more than 200 events a year. A usual projection-mapping system is comprised of eight to 12 large projectors. PNC Arena in Raleigh most recently put in a whopping 18 projectors. The result? A state-of-the-art system that is arguably the best of its kind.

Exterior Venues: While the current rage of projection mapping is taking place within the interior and of a venue, it will not be long until we see this expand to the exterior. An Example: Little Caesars (perhaps in the running for worst pizza on planet earth) Arena in Detroit was designed with a curved “skin” that stretches to 600 feet of its outer wall. 12 projectors are utilized to “paint” the exterior of the building. This allows for branding and advertising to be projected from the outside of the arena. While I have no doubt this was a big investment, it makes total sense. This outside space can now be sold to other companies for advertisements and upcoming events can be showcased to locals driving nearby the arena. Not to be outdone, in London, the roof of the O2 Arena put in an enormous projection area totaling 16,000 square meters. 68 total projectors span across this outside space. 68.

Summary: So, what is the future of AV projection mapping? While already a fascinating product, the technology is seemingly just getting started. In the future, who knows what is possible? It isn’t outlandish to think that at some point this technology could become interactive. Perhaps eventually fans will not only be able to watch games on the “ice” or “court” but also play games themselves. More on this to come in the coming years.


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