If Commissioner Gordon’s bat signal was standard definition, then Mississippi State’s newest projection into the sky is the switch to HD. The most recent addition to the campus skyline isn’t a building, but a 70-by-125-foot HD video feed projected onto the back of the massive video board sitting atop Davis Wade Stadium’s north endzone.
Every night, when the sun goes down, the feed is fired up for the biggest screen in town, with videos, graphics and assorted Bulldog-related items shining over the campus. Visible from the highways and roads on the way into Starkville and MSU’s campus, the projection is the newest piece of the expansion of Davis Wade. When the $75 million expansion and renovation project began, the possibility of this board quickly became a pet idea of MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin.
Based on the design of the stadium, Stricklin knew the back of the video board would provide a very large surface for, well, something. The question was what? A big M-State logo? Perhaps a vinyl cover like the back of the video board over at the baseball stadium. Maybe just a script ‘Mississippi State’ would be good.
Before long, however, Stricklin asked, “What if we left it open and projected onto it?”
“He knew we were going to have this big scoreboard standing out,” said Scott Wetherbee, MSU’s senior associate A.D. for external affairs and the man charged with making Stricklin’s vision a reality. “We were thinking, this thing is going to be so big, it’s kind of like a drive-in movie theater screen. So that’s when we said, let’s see if we can project on it.”
So, as construction continued, Stricklin asked that board be painted a plain white, leaving the possibility open down the line. The video board itself debuted in the fall of 2014, and it was following that season when Wetherbee began working in earnest to make the project a reality.
In the spring of 2015, Wetherbee started looking at the options, searching for companies who did similar things and making calls to price such a project. It was a difficult challenge, as more entities in recent years have projected things onto basketball courts and hockey rinks, but something like what MSU had in mind hadn’t exactly been done before.
By the summer, groups were flying to Starkville to perform demos for MSU.
“I got in a car and drove out on the highway to see where you could start to see it,” Wetherbee recalled. “We were showing ‘Thunder and Lightning’ and I could just sit there and watch it. You could see people pulled off on the side of the road wondering what was going on.”
So, it turned out, it could be done. By the end of the 2015 football season, MSU had reached an agreement with Quince Imaging – they were going to build a system that would allow the athletic department to have the biggest screen in the state.
Through multiple visits – and several bouts of creativity – Quince (who had caught Wetherbee’s eye for their work on NBA courts and NHL rinks) and MSU made it happen. Using nearby Memorial Hall as a base, Quince found a way to build a cage that is now drilled onto the top of the building’s chimney, with a swiveling base capable of not only projecting onto the back of the video board, but anywhere nearby. (One of the engineers on the trip even suggested the possibility of having a rocket take off using the adjacent water tower, using the base and all.)
And that’s where the fun (and work) comes in for Wetherbee – figuring out what to do now that they have it. Currently, everything has to be loaded directly onto the server located in the stadium, but soon, MSU will have a new control room in Davis Wade that will be capable of live-streaming anything at any time.
After football games this fall, fans driving home will see highlights of the game on the back of the board. They’ll see video of post-game press conferences. There are even plans of creating a short-range radio signal and having a radio station those in cars could tune to for audio to go along with the video.
Even now, the opportunities are many. After MSU’s baseball team beat Ole Miss two weeks ago, for example, fans leaving the baseball stadium were treated to a “Bulldogs win!” video package playing in the skyline. During the week, infographics are shown with times and information for various athletic events over the course of the week. Highlights and hype videos for MSU’s teams are broadcast through the night.
In the future, Wetherbee has hopes of doing something that integrates the Starkville community on a regular basis, too, possibly having movie nights during the summer, for instance.
“If we want to have a Star Wars night,” he said, “we can watch Star Wars. It’s going to be endless, and we’ll be able to feed things very quickly.”
For a school with conference ties to the Worldwide Leader in Sports, that quick feed is helpful, as MSU can, with the flick of a switch once the new control room is finished, pop up ESPN or the SEC Network on the back of the board so tailgaters can watch whatever is on before MSU plays.
This project, Wetherbee believes, is just another example of the aggressive nature of MSU’s athletic department and Stricklin’s desire to be innovative in their world of college athletics.
“Scott wants to be the first to stuff,” Wetherbee said. “We don’t know anyone else on a college campus projecting on the back of their video board.”