Toronto, Canada | March, 2015 - It's a principle that applies to virtually any industry – cultivating talent, in most cases, reaps significantly greater rewards than simply purchasing it. It was with this very principle in mind that, in the second half of 2011, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) announced plans to build its $21 million Toronto Football Club Kia Training Ground & Academy at the city's Downsview Park for its soccer franchise.
The facility, which borrows inspiration from athletic academies in the more football-frenzied European market, includes four natural and artificial fields and is focused around a 40,000-sq. ft. building that hosts dressing and dining rooms, a significant strength and conditioning centre, administration offices, a presentation theatre, and other amenities for the development of Toronto FC's senior team – the one that takes to BMO Field for each home game of the Major League Soccer (MLS) season – as well as its developing academy squads.
MLSE's position as multi-sport franchise operation gave its administration a head-start in understanding the infrastructure required to have the first-class facility meet the needs of its athletes and auxiliary personnel, and that of course included A/V components, which would need to put state-of-the-art capabilities and functionality into the hands of athletes and coaching staff – a user base with understandably limited technical savvy.
David August, Manager of Venue Technology and Production with MLSE, was the primary overseer of the system design and implementation on behalf of his employer. August began researching what the various sections of the building would require and then determined which products would ensure a fully faceted and future-proof A/V system for the facility and aid in its goal of inspiring athletic excellence at every level of the club. For the audio components, he relied heavily on input from colleague Courtney Ross, the Lead Audio Engineer with MLSE.
"There were two things we were focusing on when putting together the outline," August begins. "First, we often approach A/V as a coaching tool, so it had to be designed in a way that would help coaching staff communicate with players," he says, listing capabilities such as the integration of media playback, video and image manipulation, support for local and visiting PCs, reliability, and ease-of-use as extensions of that. "The other aspect is that the training facility is really a home for the players during the week – they train there, they dine there, and they relax there, so we wanted to make sure they had some functionality and a certain level of enjoyment – some creature comforts for what can be a high-stress environment."
The facility was broken down into four main zones – the gymnasium, first team dressing room, the dining area, and theatre space. From there, the gymnasium and dining rooms were segmented once again into sub-zones, keeping consistency throughout the spaces at-large but allowing more independent control for those sharing the spaces.
The project went out to tender, with MLSE calling on a number of past collaborators to submit bids. "We were targeting integrators we've worked with before, and when we were reviewing bids, the process was really two-fold," August explains. "We wanted to ensure the bids were complete, and we were scanning them really closely for any holes, but with that, we were looking for places where they may have found holes in our spec, meaning they've thoroughly reviewed the smallest details. That really inspires confidence in us."
"I looked at the spec and it really fit the kind of work we do," comments RP Dynamics Senior Account Manager, Cynthia Wong, CTS. RP Dynamics' bid was accepted and the firm's work was underway. "From our standpoint," adds Wong, "I'd like to believe what [MLSE likes] about working with us is our attention to detail – whether it's colour-matching components or speaker layout, everything is re-verified and reconfirmed before we begin."
Tying the audio system together across the various zones is Rane's relatively new HAL DSP platform and its complementing RAD2s (Remote Audio Devices) to offer inputs and a variety of controls with simple operation that suited the space and offered plenty of flexibility and a foolproof experience for daily operation.
In total, RP Dynamics installed Rane RAD2s in five locations throughout the facility, each offering XLR, stereo RCA, and 3.55 mm inputs for simple plug-and-play operation in the various spaces. Along with the input panels came five complementing DR3 digital smart remotes that, via two knobs and a backlit programmable LCD display, offered volume control for the different sources. Finally, each RAD2 station features a Crestron dock welcoming iOS devices.
Comments August: "There is a wide spectrum of people using the system, and some aren't technically-oriented, nor should they be if their objectives in the space are to focus and train. We wanted the best flexibility with the simplest and most informative control panel, and the HAL platform met those needs perfectly." He adds that, regarding audio quality, the A/D converters offered by the RADs right at the input panel plus its digital audio over Cat-5 back to the central HAL1 processor in the equipment room offered broadcast-quality audio throughout the entire system.
The HAL platform also fit with the mandate of achieving high levels of functionality user friendliness and considerable potential for future expandability. "I quite liked the Rane product because of that," states Wong. "It was a lot easier to operate than I initially thought it would be."
Mike Sones, Senior Technician with RP Dynamics and the project manager and lead programmer for the Kia Training Ground & Academy, elaborates: "An open-source DSP is always easier to control," and adds that since the platform is entirely Cat-5 based, the electrical contractor was able to handle all of the wire pulls, resulting in minimal troubleshooting and labour costs.
It also reduced costs for wiring infrastructure and the need for additional components as the platform maximizes its use of pairs in a typical Cat-5 cable and relays signals upwards of 500 ft. – notably high for an Ethernet-based product – between the RAD2s and the main HAL1 unit in the control room. What's more, each unit confirms that the wiring is properly terminated, saving time during the physical integration.
"The HAL control panels are nice and simple," Sones continues. "They do exactly what they're supposed to; they're easy to program and easy to use." The ease of programming can largely be attributed to the internal grouping of multiple processing devices within the system, meaning EQ, mixers, and routing matrixes come as pre-arranged "packages" to reduce programming time and, subsequently, cost.
"The nice, small panels work really well with the facility, too," he adds. "They give the feedback the users need and basically handle everything we need them to."
The system in the theatr