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Entertainment Events Help Converge U.S., UK Venue Sound Development

11/02/2021

Entertainment Events Help Converge U.S., UK Venue Sound Development Music-tour bookings spur need for sophisticated audio systems By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Thursday, February 11, 2021 - 7:02 am

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Over the years, venue sound systems in the U.S. and UK have been designed to meet different considerations. Today, though, the systems' sophistication and quality in the two countries have moved toward converging.

Live sound in sports stadiums in the U.S. has been driven largely by economics. Pre COVID, the need to better leverage the billion-dollar stadiums (and arenas that seem to getting close to that number) increasingly made them into concert and live-event venues; during the pandemic, the venues have housed virus-testing and vaccine-distribution centers.

In the UK, however, sound quality seemed driven by tragedy, most notably by the infamous 1989 Hillsborough disaster in which 96 spectators were fatally crushed during an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest FCs at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.

That was a tipping point, recalls Stephen Hogg, director, stadium and sports venues, d&b audiotechnik, a Germany-based audio-systems manufacturer. Speech intelligibility, measured by the Speech Transmission Index (STI) metric, and its importance to life safety, he notes, became vividly recognized as a necessity for modern sports-venue design. Even then, though, the metrics of that criterion were clinical and didn't reflect larger, more subjective sonic-quality issues.

It was still about the sporting event, says Hogg, who works from Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. Measurements like STI don't have [sound]-quality components attached to them. The bowl still wasn't a place where production-quality audio was deemed essential.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, designed to handle NFL games, is among UK and European venues actively seek entertainment-related revenue streams.

But the benchmark sound of NFL stadiums, where concert-grade line arrays are now de rigueur, has had its effect on UK stadium design, with the brands that have come to be regarded as rider-ready - that is, conforming to the requirements of contracts for top-tier music-touring acts - moving to the fore in design and installation, for both new and retrofit venue projects.

The NFL stadium and its extended low-frequency energy has certainly led stadia here to recognize the noise value of entertainment, along with the need for big video screens, says Hogg, referencing the 1 billion Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which opened in 2019 and is designed to accommodate NFL games and which most agree was an inflection point in sports-venue AV in the UK. (In the UK, d&b has a system installed at Derby County FC's Pride Park Stadium.)

However, certain aspects of football make sound systems and their designs for UK and European venues somewhat restricted. First and foremost are size - a typical football pitch is about half again as large as an NFL gridiron - and roof lines, which, Hogg points out, are designed to keep rain off seats and not to support thousands of pounds of line arrays.

Weight loading along the edge of a corrugated-metal roof line isn't designed to support distributed sound systems in most cases, he says. And there's really no acoustical treatment there to reduce reverberation, which could interfere with meeting STI requirements.

Another consideration for outdoor sound systems in Northern Europe in general is weather. As more sophisticated sound systems find their way into open-topped stadiums, more emphasis is placed on the IP Code (ingress protection), a two-digit metric that assesses the degree of protection provided by mechanical casings and electrical enclosures against intrusion of grit and moisture. (The broad standard is the IEC 60529; the UK references the European EN 60529 standard.)

More Music Requires Better Sound Nick Screen, director, business development, sports and transportation, Harman Professional, whose JBL brand was used extensively throughout the Tottenham Hotspur venue as well as venues including Stade de Metz in France and Bloomfield Stadium in Israel, also cites disasters at sports and transportation venues in the UK in the 1980s as turning points for large-scale venue sound. He also acknowledges football-stadium form factors - particularly, roof lines unable to support distributed line arrays, compelling the use of endfiring point-source systems - as potentially hindering integration of more-advanced sound systems.

Screen, who works from Harman's Hemel-Hempstead office just outside London, also notes a divergence in the ownership models of large sports venues between the U.S. and Europe as part of the reason that the venues have evolved differently in terms of their primary uses.

Most stadiums in the UK are owned by the teams that use them, he says, rather than by municipalities, counties, or states that often partner with corporations to construct large venues in the U.S., where pressure has been growing to make those venues pay their own way. As a result, UK football stadiums have less impetus to seek alternative revenue streams.

That's changing, however, with UK and European venues starting to actively seek music-touring and other entertainment-related revenue streams. For instance, in December, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium opened the Dare Skyway, a glass walkway nearly 47 meters above the football pitch.

According to Dan Palmer, business development manager, sports facilities, USA and Canada, L-Acoustics, other European football stadiums have been upgrading their sound. He cites major upgrades at the 75,000-seat Allianz Arena in Munich and the 67,000-seat Olympique de Marseille Orange Velodrome. However, he acknowledges that adapting modern sound systems to the sport's traditi
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2021/02/11/entertainment-events-help-conve...
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