The in-venue team is building up to the club’s 50th anniversary in 2022-23
Less than six months after the New York Islanders’ first-ever game vs. the Calgary Flames, Islanders fans are already enjoying UBS Arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY. After multiple false starts, games played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and a global pandemic, the completion of this project has been a long time coming for NHL fans in New York. Now settled into the team’s new home, the club’s game presentation department is looking to mix the energy of Nassau Coliseum with the industry’s latest in-venue technologies.
“It comes down to the fan feeling at home,” says Ryan Halkett, SVP, event presentation and production experience, New York Islanders. “We’re not changing our traditions and production model even though we’re in a new building.”
Planning Phase: Staff Sets Sights on New Arena With In-Venue Wish List
From a geographical standpoint, the Islanders have come quite a long way. From 1972 to 2015, the franchise won four Stanley Cups and hung multiple banners for iconic players in the rafters of Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. The next three seasons, from 2015 to 2018, would be spent 27 miles west in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. During the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, the squad split their home games between Uniondale and Brooklyn. In the last season before heading to UBS Arena, the Islanders reached the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals in front of full-capacity crowds at the Coliseum.
Nicknamed “The Old Barn,” Nassau Coliseum gradually became an antiquated relic of the organization’s glory days. When it was time to say goodbye to it, most of the technology was obsolete and in desperate need of a refresh.
“Whether it was an older type of playback, a smaller switcher, or not enough replay machines,” says Halkett, “we were very limited in what we could do. Our team pushed that [control] room further than it should have been.”
Having dealt with the old-fashioned equipment in the Coliseum control room, Halkett and his crew knew what they wanted when they made the move to UBS Arena. Their wish list of hardware and software pushed the team to envision the desired in-game show.
“[Nassau Coliseum] helped us understand the equipment and capabilities that we needed to put on the show that we wanted,” he says. “We did so much research when we were at the Barn as well as at Barclays Center.”
While still working with the older technology, the game presentation department began scripting out ideas for this year’s show. The practice not only presented a goal that the crew could shoot for but also provided ample time to become familiar with the elements that would be played out with a full arsenal of surefire technology.
“We put different systems in place, so that, when we did get [to UBS Arena], we were a little bit more familiar,” Halkett says. “There are a lot of examples where the Coliseum was a great training and planning ground.”
Technologically, the in-venue show is supplemented by a substantial amount of LED from Daktronics (15,000 sq. ft., 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 centerhung videoboard comprising 12 displays (eight main ones at nearly 26 ft. high x 34.5 ft. wide, four corner displays at 26 ft. x 3 ft.) at 5.9 mm. The four underbelly displays at 8 ft. high x 23 ft. wide are also at 5.9 mm. In the control room, Diversified brought together the production tools that allow the enhancements. Located in New Jersey, the system integrator has a long-standing relationship with the NHL club.
“Helping out the Islanders was one of the first jobs that we’ve ever done at Nassau Coliseum,” says Chris Sullivan, VP, business development, sports and live events, Diversified. “We were really happy to be part of this entire project.”
In a New Home: Game-Day Show Offers Familiar Elements, New Activations
After more than four decades with the Islanders in Uniondale, the team’s fans have become accustomed to a passionate game-day atmosphere. Its unique culture has become synonymous with the fanbase, and anyone who knows the history of the NHL knows that an Islanders game is a different environment.
In UBS Arena, major focal points offer nods to the fans who make the Islanders who they are, including images of cheering crowds throughout the spacious concourse and the names of every season-ticket holder of this inaugural season on a wall. In the $1.1 billion arena, attendees will recognize features from the $32 million edifice in Uniondale: the fans’ singing of the national anthem, the original goal horns, chants, the playing of an organ, and the beloved Blue and Orange Army in Section 329 In this special group of fans, this venue reimagines a treasured postgame ritual.
After wins, [The Blue and Orange Army] put on a big postgame parade that goes from their section to out of the building,” Halkett explains. “We could never showcase this [at the Coliseum] because we didn’t have cameras that went into the back of the concourse. We had four cameras [one hard, one robo, and two wired]but now we have a 21-camera show [four hards, two wireless, and 15 POVs]. When you add in network feeds, we have about 30 different angles that we can pull from, and we’re adding four more at ice level.”
The full complement of gear is changing the way the videoboard show is captured and cut. In the previous venue, following the action was rudimentary and basic, but, in UBS Arena, fans will experience tighter shots that establish a closer point of view toward the ice. At the final layer are additional flourishes that time the game-day entertainment together.
“We have our projection system [during pregame and intermissions], our exterior displays, and lighting that triggers the lanterns outside and the lower bowl,” says Halkett. “We have this big matrix [of elements] to complement a single piece that runs on the videoboard.”
All aspects of the technology were firing on all cylinders on Nickelodeon Day, March 19 vs. the Dallas Stars. Tapping into intellectual properties from the popular kids-TV channel, graphics shown on the videoboard and ribbons, on-ice projections, in-game prompts, and in-person activations were based on such programming as Rocket Power and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Constantly Improving: Fan, Employee Feedback Provides Opportunities To Get Better
Despite achieving a top-tier atmosphere, the crew is still finding its way to optimizing productions to the highest possible level. Prior to the venue’s opening, the production and operations teams worked closely to get the systems online. The deadline shrunk even smaller when a private event featuring a performance by Chicago took place a day before the first game.
“We didn’t have an optimal schedule leading up to the official opening,” says Brian Jones, engineer in charge, UBS Arena. “By the time we were ready to take control of the building, we were only 10 days out from our first hockey game.”
With the hectic opening behind them and the final home games of the 2021-22 regular season still on the calendar, it’s all about finding ways to improve. This includes integration of both internal and external suggestions.
“We listened a lot to what fans wanted going into this new arena,” says Halkett. “Now that we’re here, it’s about listening to how we can do better. I have individuals at the front entrance after every game interviewing 15-30 fans, but we also encourage our staff to constantly provide feedback.”
Future-Proof Foundation: Islanders Rely on Advanced Control Room
Again 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 because next season marks the franchise’s 50th anniversary. 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. Such activities will continue throughout the 2022-23 campaign, and, with the fans remaining 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,” Halkett says. “We’re going to have this setup this year, but we need to be ready for newer technologies that will be coming in five years and beyond.”
The New York Islanders will host five more home games this season at UBS Arena: Florida (4/19 at 7:30 pm ET on MSG+), New York Rangers (4/21, 7:30 pm, MSG), Carolina (4 /24, 1 pm, MSG+), Washington (4/28, 7 pm, MSG+), and Tampa Bay (4/29, 7:30 pm, MSG+2).