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Steelers Game-day entertainment built around NFL's biggest scoreboard

Wednesday, August 01, 2001

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Bigger is better when it comes to the scoreboard at Heinz Field. The Steelers, by a foot or so, have the biggest NFL scoreboard. It's a Sony Jumbotron and similar to the ones in PSI Net Stadium in Baltimore, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay and Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Video, audio and scoreboard special effects are controlled in this room on the suite level of Heinz Field. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

It's 27 feet tall and 96 feet wide, three times larger than the old scoreboard inside Three Rivers Stadium.

Rick Fairbend is the executive producer/broadcasting manager for the Steelers and is in charge of game-day entertainment. Fairbend has been a scoreboard producer for the past 12 years. He was a producer with the Baltimore Orioles for five years and spent the past seven with the Buffalo Bills.

"The fans have no idea what to expect. They'll be surprised at what we do, the size and entertainment quality of what we do," Fairbend said.

Most of the entertainment will be fan interactive. There will be in-stand giveaways, trivia contests, features on players and facts and figures about Heinz Field. The interactive show will be produced like a television broadcast, which suits Fairbend just fine since he produced and directed Orioles baseball games and produced two television shows in Buffalo in conjunction with the Bills organization. Fairbend also will produce the Bill Cowher television show in conjunction with Fox Sports Net.

The control room next to the press box is as well-equipped as any broadcast truck for a national television game. The network feeds and video signals are wired to the control room and distributed throughout the stadium. It's also where the production crew will create and produce animation for the scoreboard. Cartoon characters will salute first downs, touchdowns and field goals.

Five cameras will be dedicated solely to the Jumbotron. The scoreboard in Three Rivers had only one.

"It'll be bigger and better than anything they've ever seen before," Fairbend said. "They'll be amazed at the whole entertainment package from now on."

The Jumbotron model is actually more cost-effective for organizations to install. It's an LED scoreboard, which stands for light emitting diode. In layman's terms, the thousands upon thousands of light bulbs on the scoreboard are tinier than older-model scoreboard bulbs and allow for bigger images to be produced on the screen while expending less energy.

Three Rivers Stadium had television sets in many seating areas because access to the scoreboard was bad for fans seated under overhangs. There are no television sets in the bowl of the new stadium because everyone has a clear view of the Jumbotron, a unique quality that sets Heinz Field apart from many of the newer stadiums popping up around the league.

In addition to the Jumbotron, there are four auxiliary scoreboards -- two on each side of the stadium -- that will show down and distance, score and time. There also are two thinner LED scoreboards above the north end zone that will be used for animation and advertising.

A "cluster" sound system is located in the south end zone and will distribute sound throughout the stadium. Speakers will be located in the bathrooms and concourses, so fans can follow radio play-by play of game-action, a feature Three Rivers had as well.

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