Nick Ross

video. audio. design. live production.

Behind the Scenes at the Carrier Dome

I like to blog when I get to take part in something cool and new, and today I did just that. Through the BeIT undergrad program at SU, a tour of the Carrier Dome with the incomparable Jeff Rubin was offered and I had a lot of fun taking a behind the scenes look at the Dome. I took some photos and learned some cool stuff that I thought I'd share on my blog.

The Carrier Dome opened in 1980 and has served Syracuse University as its primary facility for home football, basketball, and lacrosse games. The dome hosts many other events (as you'll see in the photos) throughout the year and is truly a very versatile space. But, being built in the '80s, it's showing its age and talks are currently occurring about its future. The biggest issue facing the Dome right now is that the current roof (more on that in a minute) has exceeded its expected life span. Jeff said nothing's been ruled out or set in stone, but possibilities include building a new stadium or replacing the existing roof with a fixed or retractible roof. 

The roof itself is probably one of the coolest parts of the dome. If you don't already know, the dome is air supported. That's the reason every door that can be opened has an air lock and all the doors that the fans use are revolving. It's pressurized at about 4 PSI of pressure to keep it inflated and domed. 18 fans can run at any given time based on pressure outside or which events are taking place. These allow the control crew to keep the dome at peak inflation no matter what the weather is doing at any given time. Stadium control is staffed round the clock 24/7/365 to make sure everything is operating as it should be.

Snow presents an interesting problem for the dome. Since it's air supported, the weight of heavy snowfall obviously can't be allowed to accumulate. Crews are hired to go up on the roof with hot water hoses to basically spray down the snow so that it melts. Snow shovels would obviously be disastrous with a cloth roof, but the water allows them to keep things from icing up or creating too much weight on the dome. When the dome is going to get more than 4 inches of snow per hour, they go into "Snow Mode." They crank the heating inside to where it gets up to 120 degrees at the roof (heat rises, after all) to help melt the snow upon contact with the roof.

Another interesting thing I learned was how the game photographer gets those awesome aerial crowd shots you see during basketball games. If you look at the dome roof, it's separated into panels. If one of these panels happens to collapse in from the weight of ice or other factors, there are two small plugs in the panel which work almost like a bathtub drain. If the panel deflates, they can pull the plugs causing pressure to be quickly released to "pop" the panel back into place. To get those great shots, the photographer has to go up onto the roof during the game, (in whatever Syracuse weather happens to be doing) pull one of the plugs, and put his camera lens through the hole to shoot the shot. Jeff says he hates doing it, but it's a fantastic photo to be sure.

After learning a little bit about the roof itself, we saw the athletic director's and chancellor's boxes. They're very, very nice and some of a few places where the dome is actually air conditioned.  They're naturally stocked with coolers of water, soda, wine, and beer but also feature televisions and scoreboards so that the people inside can see exactly what's going on from anywhere in the box.

We got to take a look at in-house video control which was near and dear to my TRF heart. This is where all the video graphics you see on the video boards and TVs throughout the stadium is switched and generated from. They're using a NewTek 3Play instant replay system to put plays on the board after they happen and they're also cutting highlights as the game happens so that the highlight reel is done immediately after the game ends. The newest thing for the dome is a partnership with ESPN 3. The dome spent almost $300k installing new video hardware in order to provide video for any game that happens in the dome that isn't men's football or basketball. This way, ESPN can pick up the fiber feed from SU (which runs from here to NY then is sent over to Bristol) which allows them to broadcast any game that the dome puts on without having to spend the nearly $25k per day to bring in a mobile production truck.

After the video control room, we ventured inside scoreboard control. This is Jeff's area since he deals with some of the live social media and out of town stats that you see (especially on the video strips around the edges of the dome) during the game. He said that the software that runs it is actually pretty antiquated in terms of how it all functions. For out of town stats, for instance, they have to pay quite a bit of money to subscribe to an XML feed that really doesn't give them much flexibility. It's actually a little amazing just how not cutting-edge some of this stuff is.

We got to take a look inside Club 44 which is a sort of "VIP" area where fans who buy tickets to it can go before and after the game as well as during half-time. Since Club 44 is separated from the playing field by a concourse, you couldn't really go there to watch the game, but people obviously use it to socialize. Jeff talked a little bit about how things have changed since stadiums were designed in the 1980s. Club 44, he said, is 2015 stadium design, the crowded concrete concourses are 1980. Everything now is about the experience.

The Carrier Dome is super unique, it's the only college facility that hosts both football and basketball as well as (at some times) lacrosse, hockey, and even softball. We had the chance to hear from John DeFrancisco who serves as the dome's Facility Systems Specialist. He's responsible for a lot of the infrastructure that goes into the dome and it turns out that the dome is so unique that a lot of what they have (from scoreboard configurations to basketball court setups) are actually totally unique. Those blue mats you see them put down on the field for basketball? Those are actually military helicopter landing pads and cost more than the football field underneath that they're protecting. It's kind of crazy.

During our tour, the dome was prepping for Monster Jam, the touring monster truck rally. To make this event happen, they lay down plastic sheeting over the entire football field then lay on two layers of plywood in alternating directions. Then, nearly 200 dump truck loads of dirt are brought into the dome and bulldozed into place. Further complicating things is the fact that you are literally dumping 40,000+ yards of dirt into a stadium which means that everything is going to get dirty. Everywhere we went (press box, video control, locker rooms, etc.) plastic sheeting was covering all the floors and carpets as well as most TVs and furniture to protect everything from damage.

The following are some photos I took during the tour for your viewing pleasure. I probably got a little more of Jeff than he would have liked, sorry about that Jeff... Thanks again for the awesome BTS look at how the Carrier Dome makes it all happen.


Copyright 2017 by Nick Ross