[email protected]: One-off opening ceremony technologies can become stadium standards

Scott Willsallen: "We make a godawful mess, we take the credit for a fabulous massive event – the biggest event that venue will ever host – and then we leave!"

Scott Willsallen: “We make a godawful mess, we take the credit for a fabulous massive event – the biggest event that venue will ever host – and then we leave!”

Sports Venue Technology Summit @ ISE keynote presenter Scott Willsallen from Auditoria based in Sydney has worked on giant opening and closing ceremonies for events like Baku 2015, Sochi 2014, London 2012 and Rugby World Cup 2011. These shows may be seen as extravagant one-offs, but Willsallen argued “they give us a window into what sports presentation will look like in a few years.

“They give examples to event producers of what might be possible in years to come, albeit In a downscaled environment. These major events provide the money to allow very creative people to invent things, and those things then become a commercial product,” he told the Amsterdam audience last week.

Having begun his career as a professional musician, Willsallen completed a Master of Design Science in Audio Design. The first big show his company worked on was Rugby World Cup 2003, followed up by Athens 2004, Doha 2006, Melbourne 2006, Vancouver 2010, Singapore 2010 and Delhi 2010. His wealth of experience gives him a strong perspective both on landmark projects and how they can impact the sports and live-event communities into the future.

“We do high performance venues and events,” he said. “Up to 1,000 people enter a venue – a venue that was very happy before we walked in. We make a godawful mess, we take the credit for a fabulous massive event – the biggest event that venue will ever host – and then we leave!

“And hopefully we clean up the mess we made. Every time this occurs, it represents the absolute limit of the mechanical, structural and human resources available for a period of time, to deliver one three-hour event.”

But those ‘absolute limits’ can quickly work their way into the vernacular for Grand Final days, other staged venue events and even concert tours. “It’s not unusual for a rolling stage and a band to perform at half-time. Where did that come from? Well, it wasn’t that long ago that everyone looked at the Super Bowl as being something utterly remarkable,” said Willsallen.

“Now, we’re doing that stuff fairly regularly – perhaps not at a club game level, but for example every September in Australia we have, one week apart, the NRL Grand Final and then the AFL Grand Final. The two biggest annual sporting events in the Australian calendar. They always involve some kind of entertainment – pre-game, half-time and quite often post-match. It now happens all the time.

“Audience LED: it was something that was delivered for London 2012. Nine LEDs per panel, enabling the audience area to become an LED screen. It seemed unlikely to think that kind of thing could be delivered in a regular stadium event. But at the recent Taylor Swift concert tour all of the audience had PixMob wristbands.

“So these technologies that we see, as examples of something remarkable and unattainable, actually fairly quickly become something that can be part of a special, or even a regular event.”

Consultants, he said, have a key role to play in changing expectations — for venues, promoters and hirers. “Our job as consultants, working in any part of the game-day environment, is improving the experience. That’s not just the audience experience: there’s also improving the experience for the hirer. “These venues do compete with each other. They are starting to produce their own events, to fill dead time in their calendar. Our job should be to help that stadium make more money and attract events that would otherwise not be there. Anything to give the place life and make it a destination. The centrepiece of a town – not just on game-day.

“We should do anything we can do to make overlay easier,” he continued. “And [we should help] remove the barriers. If we ask, ‘well can we hang something up there?’, the answer should always be, ‘Let’s see’. It should never be ‘No’. The more we can help hirers stand out, or their event stand out, the better.

“A high performance audio system is vital. It used to be about delivering information: screens and audio were about ‘this is the score’ and not much more. Delivery of entertainment has become much more important now, and again [that’s driven by] competitiveness between codes, competitiveness between teams.

“Wi-Fi is this other thing that every stadium seems to be trying to deliver. I don’t know if there are any fabulous stories of success yet! But it’s certainly something that, once you have delivered that platform as a venue, you then allow the hirers to create an environment for their audience. It’s kind of like joining a club. The theming of the venue is also a pretty big deal for a venue that’s a home ground to multiple teams.

“A great thing for a stadium is a non-sport event,” Willsallen said. “Sporting events can be written into the calendar at the start of the year, and they know how many there will be. Then they also know how much space they have to fill. Music events can be fantastic: they can be loaded in a few days, gone again in a couple of days and the revenue is great.

“Every single person who enters a concert has a 20 Euro note that they’re desperate to spend on beer, and you can’t take it from them fast enough! The more of those days that can be added for a venue, that’s fantastic revenue for them,” said Willsallen.

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