The in-venue team prepares for the club’s 50th anniversary in 2022-23
Less than six months after the New York Islanders’ first-ever game against the Calgary Flames, Islanders fans are already enjoying the UBS Arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY. After multiple false starts, games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and a global pandemic, this project for NHL fans in New York has been a long time coming from completion. The club’s match presentation department, now based in the team’s new home, seeks to blend the energy of the Nassau Coliseum with the industry’s latest in-venue technologies.
“It’s about making fans feel at home,” says Ryan Halkett, SVP, event presentation and production experience, New York Islanders. “We are not changing our traditions and production model, even though we are in a new building.”
Planning phase: Employees set their sights on the new arena with a wish list on site
From a geographical point of view, the islanders have come quite a long way. From 1972 to 2015, the franchise won four Stanley Cups and hung several banners for famous players from the rafters of the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. The next three seasons, from 2015 to 2018, would be spent 27 miles west at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. During the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, the roster split their home games between Uniondale and Brooklyn. The final season before heading to the UBS Arena, the Islanders made the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals to a sold-out crowd at the Coliseum.
Nicknamed “The Old Barn,” Nassau Coliseum gradually became an antiquated relic of the organization’s glory days. When it came time to say goodbye to that, most of the technology was outdated and in dire need of a refresh.
“Whether it was an older playback style, a smaller mixer, or not enough playback equipment,” says Halkett, “our options were very limited. Our team drove this forward [control] Space wider than it should have been.”
After dealing with the old-fashioned equipment in the Colosseum’s control room, Halkett and his crew knew what they wanted when they moved to the UBS Arena. Their wish list of hardware and software prompted the team to envision the in-game show they wanted.
“[Nassau Coliseum] helped us understand the equipment and skills we needed to put on the show we wanted,” he says. “We did so much research while staying at both the Barn and Barclays Center.”
While the game presentation department was still working with the older technology, they began coming up with ideas for this year’s show. The practice not only provided a target for the crew to shoot at, but also provided ample time to become familiar with the elements that would be played using an entire arsenal of surefire technology.
“We have different systems in place so that when we get it [to UBS Arena], we were a little more intimate,” says Halkett. “There are many examples where the Colosseum has been a great training and planning ground.”
Technologically, the in-venue show is complemented by a significant amount of LEDs from Daktronics (15,000 sqm, 34 million pixels in total), IP and HDR-capable workflows and a high-quality projection system from Panasonic. On the LED side, 45 displays are anchored by a 12-display center-suspended video board (eight main displays measuring almost 26ft x 34.5ft, four corner displays measuring 26ft x 3ft) at 5.9mm. The four underbelly displays, measuring 8ft high x 23ft wide, are also 5.9mm. In the control room, Diversified brought together the production tools that make the enhancements possible. The New Jersey-based systems integrator has a long-standing relationship with the NHL club.
“Helping the islanders was one of the first jobs we ever did at Nassau Coliseum,” said Chris Sullivan, VP, business development, sports and live events, Diversified. “We were really happy to be part of this whole project.”
In a New Home: Game-Day Show features familiar elements, new activations
After more than four decades with the Islanders in Uniondale, the team’s fans have grown accustomed to a passionate gameday atmosphere. Its unique culture has become synonymous with the fan base, and anyone familiar with NHL history knows that an Islanders game is a different setting.
Inside the UBS Arena, key visuals nod to the fans that make the Islanders who they are, including images of cheering crowds in the sprawling arena and the names of all season ticket holders from that inaugural season on a wall. In the $1.1 billion arena, attendees will recognize features of the $32 million Uniondale building: fans singing the national anthem, original goal horns, chants, organ playing and the beloved Blue And Orange Army in Section 329 In this special group of fans, this venue reinvents a cherished post-game ritual.
“After wins [The Blue and Orange Army] have a big post-game parade that goes from their area to the outside of the building,” explains Halkett. “We could never show that [at the Coliseum] because we didn’t have cameras going to the back of the hall. We had four cameras [one hard, one robo, and two wired]but now we have a show with 21 cameras [four hards, two wireless, and 15 POVs]. When you add network feeds, we have about 30 different angles to draw from, and we’re adding four more at ice level.”
Complete equipment changes the way the videoboard show is recorded and edited. At the previous venue, following the action was rudimentary and basic, but at the UBS Arena, fans will experience closer shots that allow for a closer look at the ice. The final level features additional flourishes that bring together the game day’s entertainment.
“We have our projection system [during pregame and intermissions], our outdoor displays, and the lighting that triggers the lanterns outside and the lower bowl,” says Halkett. “We have this big matrix [of elements] to complement a single track running on the video board.”
All aspects of technology went into overdrive on Nickelodeon Day, March 19, against the Dallas Stars. The development of the popular children’s television channel’s intellectual property, the graphics shown on the video board and tapes, on-ice projections, in-game prompts and personal activations were based on programs such as: rocket performance and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Constant Improvement: Fan and staff feedback provides opportunities to improve
Despite achieving a top notch atmosphere, the crew still finds their way to optimize the productions to the highest possible level. Before the venue opened, the production and operations teams worked closely to bring the systems online. The deadline got even tighter when a private event with a performance from Chicago was held the day before the first game.
“We didn’t have an optimal schedule until the official opening,” says Brian Jones, lead engineer at UBS Arena. “By the time we were ready to take control of the building, we were only 10 days away from our first hockey game.”
With the frenetic opening behind them and the last home games of the 2021/22 regular season still on the calendar, it’s all about finding ways to improve. This includes the integration of both internal and external suggestions.
“We listened carefully to what the fans wanted to go into this new arena,” says Halkett. “Now that we’re here, it’s about listening to how we can do better. I have people at the front door interviewing 15-30 fans after every game, but we also encourage our staff to provide constant feedback.”
Future-proof foundation: Islanders rely on Advanced Control Room
Back in a permanent home, the islanders are writing a new chapter in their illustrious history. The opening of UBS Arena comes at the perfect time as next season marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise. The celebration began during Nickelodeon Day with the waving of a 50th Anniversary flag by a longtime season ticket holder during a break in the third period. These activities will continue throughout the 2022-23 season and as fans remain at the heart of their shows, Halkett and his team, led by Director, Game Presentation, Danielle Lewis, will leverage the flexibility of their brand new facility.
“It’s all about future-proofing,” says Halkett. “We’re going to have that setup this year, but we need to be prepared for newer technology that’s coming in five years and beyond.”
The New York Islanders will host five more home games at the UBS Arena this season: Florida (4/19, 7:30 p.m. ET on MSG+), New York Rangers (4/21, 7:30 p.m. MSG), Carolina (4/ 24, 1:00 p.m. MSG+), Washington (4/28, 7:00 p.m. MSG+) and Tampa Bay (4/29, 7:30 p.m. MSG+2).