Thursday, February 2, 2023

PGAV Destinations and Cosm: Playing games

The new generation of sports fan experiences

interviews by Joe Kleiman

Sports is a trillion-dollar, worldwide industry and fan engagement plays an ever-increasing role. It plays out through interactive zones at stadiums and arenas, modernized halls of fame and museums, new game broadcast platforms, and even branded themed lands and theme parks. This spells opportunity for themed entertainment providers, such as the two featured here, PGAV Destinations and Cosm. Headquartered in St. Louis, with additional offices in Orlando, PGAV Destinations is a design studio serving the global industry for 55 years, known for its work with theme parks, waterparks, zoos and aquariums, museums, and brand experiences. New projects include halls of fame for baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals (2014) and football’s Pittsburgh Steelers (2022). Under the Cosm umbrella is 50+ years’ experience in visualization and media systems. The Cosm Experience Center at the company’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, features its premium product, the CX Display powered by CX Engine. In addition to serving specialty cinema markets, Cosm will soon open its own branded venues in major cities, where the programming will include live-streamed sporting events. – J.K.

 PGAV Destinations   
 Diane Porthouse Lochner, Vice President   
 "Every institution, team, brand has a unique story."
Is there a template when creating a hall of fame museum?

We do not use a template when designing our experiences. Every institution, team, brand, has a unique story. Conversations with team ownership define the goals and objectives of the project. Leadership is humble about self-promotion but very focused on the players and fans. In the discovery phase, we research the history, stories, people, and artifacts that define the team. We do not just consider the design for the super fans. We also design for those who may not know as much about the sport or team.

How have media and interactives enhanced the hall of fame experience?

Clips from iconic broadcasts are a part of every team’s history. Including these media moments allows fans to reconnect, remember the moment, share where they were on that game day. There are many very recognizable plays that can reach a broader audience, such as the “immaculate reception.” [In a 1972 playoff game, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass in the final 30 seconds of the game. While it has long been debated if the ball hit the helmet of a member of the opposing team or the hands of the intended Pittsburgh receiver, Pittsburgh’s Franco Harris caught the ball inches above the ground, securing the win.] We always consider the best tools to communicate information to the visitor. Digital interactives can allow for deeper dives based on visitor interest. Physical interactives create opportunities to communicate what it takes or what it might feel like to be a player.

At the Steelers Hall of Honor Museum, fans can compare their stats and abilities to Steelers players. Photo courtesy of PGAV Destinations

At the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, we engage audiences by allowing them to hold bats formerly used by actual players. Visitors stand at the plate for their very own photo op in front of the stand full of fans. Museum visitors can even try on a World Series championship ring. It is a joy watching families discuss their favorite players, selecting the bat of choice and recalling great Cardinal memories.

Because space may vary, how do you control traffic flow?

Just as we want to guide the guest through the experience, creating an engaging environment, we also recognize that we do not want to create barriers or frustration for guests. We consider dwell times and capacity for the individual exhibits and the entire experience. We look at the best way to present an activity, considering what is the best-suited medium and how long a fan might engage with the exhibit.

Working within physical constraints is a challenge that spurs our creativity. For the San Francisco Giants, we created a permanent exhibit in 2018, transforming a small boiler room in a back-of- house area at Oracle Park. Called The Vault, the exhibit area presented a wonderful collection of artifacts, including one of Willy Mays’s jerseys. The first point of interaction for visitors is through the Willy Mays gate, then to a long hallway before arriving at the Vault. We created a series of interpretive graphics using the hallways as the canvas to tell the key moments in Giants history. The timelines create preparation for the visitor, so they are ready to fully engage once arriving at the Vault. At the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, we were given a tenant space within a multi-use building at Ballpark Village. Using the important and unique history of the team’s stadiums, we created a visitor flow organized around galleries highlighting the years at each stadium.

Do you work with the teams on developing stadium tours?

PGAV Destinations has been involved with creating content and drafting scripts for various tours. We also consider how additional experiences work together with the visit to the halls of fame. At Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, visitors tour the FedEx Great Hall and take the stadium tour. In St. Louis, the Cardinals Hall of Fame is adjacent to the ballpark. Visitors have the opportunity to get up close to player statues, take a tour of Busch Stadium and, of course, visit the Authentics shop just below the Museum to purchase their own piece of history.

Visitors to the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum have the opportunity to hold a bat once used by actual players in a photo op. The interactive directly links fans with players from throughout the team’s history. Photo courtesy of PGAV Destinations
There is a museum element to the halls of fame. What museum practices are employed?

Our extensive museum work helps inform the solutions for halls of fame. The collections, artifacts, and archival material are important to care for and preserve for generations to come. We understand the environmental effects on sensitive objects and collection materials. In St. Louis, we were very involved in selecting display cases to control temperature and humidity as well as considering security for the contents of the cases. It is imperative to preserve the collections.

Branding is an important differentiator for teams. How is it integrated into a hall of fame?

Each team has a robust set of brand standards and guidelines. We take the time to understand the parameters and the reasons for the guidelines. At times we are able to push the use of the elements a bit, but always respect the standards.

For the Steelers project, we used the iconic hypocycloid and integrated the forms into the patterning for the space. It is a prominent element throughout the exhibit space, just as it is prominent in the Steelers identity. Showing the evolution of a team’s logo and uniforms is also an important part of their brand and story, and one with which fans connect.

Besides field sports, what other sports activities has PGAV Destinations designed for?

We’ve had a long relationship with Anheuser-Busch and have worked with AB InBev in various stadiums, creating fan amenities. At the Daytona International Speedway, we’ve designed branded areas based on specific AB brands. The Busch experience at Daytona is a great place to relax before the race. Its experience is connected with the brand, the cars, and its drivers. Guests enjoy food and beverages, relax in Adirondack chairs, and enjoy activities like cornhole as they wait for the event to start.

Cosm 
Devin Poolman, CTO 
“Ninety-nine percent of fans never get to watch a home game. We can bring them courtside.”
Cosm is presenting sports broadcasts at 8K in both VR and on LED domes. How do both formats complement each other?

VR is the existing way to deliver immersive experiences when we’re talking sports experiences. It allows you to be on the field on the side of the pitch during a ballgame. Our goal, whether via VR or in an LED dome, is to deliver the same type of immersive experience as the attractions industry or a planetarium. We are bringing people together in a social setting.

On the VR headset side, there is a true feeling of presence, but it’s still undergoing a technical evolution. The promise is there. VR allows different viewers to watch a sports match together on opposite sides of the world, creating connectivity in virtual space. VR is becoming more and more a replacement experience for live events. The distribution to our entertainment venues with Cosm technology, with the CX Display and CX Engine, enables us to bring sports as a full environment. Because our screens are made from LED, we’re able to recreate the natural light of being onthe field. This is important because it makes you feel as if you’re actually on the field, and not just looking at the field. We can use the same streaming mediums for both platforms.

In VR, do you broadcast in 360, or do you use windows?

We have done 360 broadcasts, but we focus on a 180-degree viewing area, which also complements our LED domes. For the most part, the experience is in front of you. We can put our viewers in a virtual suite that simulates a VIP box in a sports venue. In VR, we can broadcast in both stereo and monoscopic. Monoscopic is preferable, since stereo is limited at depths. We’ve found that a distance of 10 to 30 feet is the sweet spot that’s ideal for stereo capture, so it works better with combat sports (boxing, MMA, martial arts) than field sports. Producing for VR needs a minimum 4K capture, but 8K is so important, because it feels more like 16:9 resolution. We do our production work both in- house and with partners in the industry. We’ve moved away from specialized equipment. We use standard high definition cameras with fisheye lenses and we often work with broadcast crews.

At the Cosm entertainment venues opening soon in Los Angeles and Dallas, how will the lobbies and other public areas integrate with the programming on the domes?

At the Cosm venues, these areas will be used for secondary experiences. The chamber, with the LED dome, will show the main game. Other areas will be shown on the screens in the secondary areas. These will be more traditional broadcasts. In sports, there’s always more than one great event going on at the same time.

Cosm entertainment venues are opening soon in Los Angeles and Dallas. Courtesy of Cosm
Tell us about Cosm’s relationship with Comcast and NBC Sports.

The partnership started with Sky, which is owned by Comcast, where we worked on bringing the English Premier League into VR. We put together a production playbook and trained their production team on how to capture for VR. Sky provided the production services. This could be streamed into an app we developed with them. With the Olympics coming along, Comcast was a perfect fit. We delivered 8K resolution with the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.

How have you utilized OMAF technology?

For distribution, we use Omnidirectional Media Format, or OMAF, which takes large areas of view, and then concentrates only on the area where the viewer is looking. A typical VR broadcast requires 80 mbps of bandwidth. OMAF is able to reduce this to only 20 mbps by breaking the image into rectangles. As the head turns, the system is only loading the area the viewer is seeing dynamically.

Courtesy of Cosm

For capture, we are using fixed camera positions, which we often share with broadcasters. Nine times out of ten, there’s no movement of the cameras. There are tricks where subtle motion can be used to avoid motion sickness. We’ve also tested using a jib camera, which allows for smooth motion. With this, we can create some otherworldly images.

Are you in discussions with individual teams, leagues or other broadcasters?

We are in deep conversations with a number of major leagues and broadcasters. We have worked with ESPN on college football. We’ll also be making some big announcements soon. Our VR and LED domes add to the fan experience. Ninety-nine percent of fans never get to watch a home game. We can bring them courtside.

How important are local sports audiences and niche fan communities when determining a location for a Cosm entertainment venue?

We have a number of location factors. Sports interest is high on the list. We also look at creative communities beyond sports, and other immersive entertainment and art as well. It’s important to have the right partners with our venues. Sports culture is very important. Soccer is important as a less obvious sport, but there’s a fan community that will always show up for the game. Cricket is another underdog. Fans will always show up early in the morning for international games. And there’s a large and loyal fanbase for combat sports as well. • • •

Fans are immersed in the action of beach volleyball during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the giant dome screen at the Cosm Experience Center. Photo courtesy of Cosm
Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleimanhttp://wwww.themedreality.com
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, ThemedReality.com takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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