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Stadium audio part 1 – how expectations have risen

Expectations for stadium audio – like just about everything else provided in stadiums – have risen in recent years. Phil Ward reports

Expectations for stadium audio – like just about everything else provided in stadiums – have risen in recent years. Phil Ward reports

With this summer’s soccer World Cup under way, the industry looks to Brazil for the latest statements in stadium audio and, well, stadium everything else. When the new Wembley Stadium opened in London in 2007, it had 2,168 toilets – compared to 361 in the previous structure. At the other end of human activity, it had 688 catering facilities as opposed to the meagre 152 of yore, yet the capacity of the whole stadium had increased by only 13%. Every seat had more legroom than the old Royal Box VIP section and, whereas 16,000 tickets used to afford obstructed views, now there were none, anywhere. Suffice to say: expectations had risen.

In the same year that Wembley reopened, football’s ruling body FIFA published a 125-page bit of light reading called Football Stadiums: Technical Recommendations and Requirements that gave these raised expectations an official framework. Everything from hygiene to access got an infrastructure overhaul, but the biggest impact on the most services came from one of FIFA’s ‘pre-construction decisions’ called the Green Goal: “an initiative to address environmental sustainability” that the organisation “fully expects its partners to embrace”.

Clearly a more efficient energy system would figure prominently, and indeed all technology suppliers involved directly with World Cup projects have had to respond to this edict, along with the rest. It has been adopted widely, with Fernando Guerra, Harman Brazil’s national sales manager for install & cinema, describing the book as “the ‘Bible’ on which all audio integrators base their projects”.

More generally, Peavey Commercial Audio’s operations manager James Kennedy views this development as the most pressing adaptation that technology suppliers are having to make across the spectrum of global-standard stadium business. “Things like Energy Star certification, promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, are really coming into play,” he says. “It’s an absolute must for amplifier upgrades among many people I’m talking to now.”

For Brazil this summer, according to Guerra, two general categories of stadium have been created. Twelve new arenas have either been built or comprehensively refitted to host official matches: of these, Corinthians, Manaus, Brasília, Cuiabá, Recife, Fortaleza, Salvador and Natal are brand new from the ground up. Three more arenas are to offer support services, such as for use as training grounds, but will not host fixtures: Grêmio and Palmeiras are new-builds; Independência is a refit. All are based on FIFA requirements.

“The company that signed with the main contractors in each arena is the system integrator,” Guerra explains, “but in most cases this company is not an audio specialist. As a result, they all hired an audio integrator to help them deploy the systems. These audio integrators have had final responsibility for selecting the technology and applying it.”

This is the kind of opportunity audio integrators need to stamp their mark on stadium excellence. “Electro-Voice and Dynacord’s past references include events such as the World Cup in South Africa and Brazil and the Olympic Games in London, Athens and Sochi,” comments Oliver Sahm, Electro-Voice’s director of technical support for pro audio EMEA. “Here, and in other stadium installations, we’re seeing a trend to higher quality, especially in speech intelligibility for voice announcements and alarms, as well as increased audio quality for entertainment.”

Colleague Juan Montoya, of Bosch Sistemas de Seguridad, Central Latin America, has been busy doing exactly that. “A stadium is a place where a spectacle is happening, where people watch the top sport stars perform,” he adds. “Everything around that spectacle should be at the same quality level, so the audio should not sound a note of discord. The audio must be absolutely clear.”