Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Behind the calculated noisemaking at NBA arenas, technology for amplification

I wrote in December 2008 about attending a Nets game at the Izod Center:
The game itself wasn’t bad--if you’re close enough, and we were, you can see professionals playing hoops at a high level. If you can get over the fact that the Nets are essentially fungible--a collection of players remixed at will, certainly no long-serving Brooklyn Dodgers--the team is rebuilding but promising.

But the wrapper around it, as with so much sports entertainment, is ever-increasing hype. Team Hype, the name of the Nets’ acrobatic pep squad, also describes the Izod Center experience—noise, flash, and a relentless marketing effort that can obscure the game.

As with my visit two years ago, the crowd seemed to get the most excited when “Team Hype” tossed free t-shirts, in a bit of a bread-and-circuses moment.

The loudest thing in the arena was the artificial noise generated on the public address system. The volume reminded me how music was used to drown at boos when, in October, Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin dropped the puck at the home opener of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Well, yesterday, in an article headlined Stoking Excitement, Arenas Pump Up the Volume, the New York Times reported that such hype is standard practice:
At sporting events across the nation, and in the N.B.A. in particular, noise has become a part of the show — rarely more so than in Dallas, where the Mavericks face the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the N.B.A. finals Tuesday night. It is hard to tell if the Mavericks’ favorite machine during these playoffs is Dirk Nowitzki, their star player, or their sound system.

The Mavericks’ equipment involves more than simply pumping up decibels to levels that some experts fear could contribute to long-term hearing loss. Rather, with fans spoiled by earbud fidelity and 5.1-channel home theater systems, owners like the Mavericks’ Mark Cuban have turned hosting a game into producing an event — with “assisted resonance” and “crowd enhancement,” buzzwords for insiders and euphemisms for others.

Sixty mammoth speakers hanging above the court thunder music and clamorous sound effects louder than a jumbo jet engine. More speakers encircling the seating bowl replicate a roaring herd of horses in perfectly timed surround sound.

After tip-off of the recent playoff game against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, microphones in the backboard amplified rim clangs, sneaker squeaks and the occasional player profanity, while devices dangling above the crowd — in the rare instances when the public-address system was not active — could redirect courtside crowd sounds into the distant upper mezzanine.


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