Croke Park Stadium in Dublin has completed its programme of design and installation of a permanent PA/VA sound system. This iconic sporting venue is the national stadium of Ireland and home to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), and it has been at the heart of Irish sporting life for over 100 years. With capacity for 82,300 people, it is the third largest stadium in Europe (behind Camp Nou in Barcelona, and Wembley Stadium in London). Less well-known is the fact that it is also the widest; its 88m-wide pitch, nearly twice the size of a conventional football pitch, is designed to accommodate the Gaelic sports of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
Mongey Communications, the full-service AV and communications provider from Kildare, has been involved with Croke Park for nearly 15 years. This year, the Mongey team finished its extensive upgrade of the audio facilities in the stadium, working closely with technology consultancy Vanguardia.
Intimately involved in the planning of the upgrade, Mongey Communications has been instrumental in guiding the GAA, the managing body for the stadium, to a world-class audio set-up, which not only benefits its regular audience of sports fans but also elevates its provision for concert sound. Like many other large-format venues all over the world, Croke Park has to balance the commercial imperative of hosting music and entertainment shows alongside its sports brief.
The GAA’s criteria for the audio upgrade focussed on qualitative improvements to the stadium facilities for voice alarm and evacuation (VA), and for announcement and music reinforcement for matchday entertainment (PA). “The audio system in the stadium was in the region of 20 years old. Technology moves very quickly and certainly we were very conscious that it was time for us to pay attention to the improvements made in technology, as regards playing music and speech intelligibility,” explains Brian Conlon, Head of Stadium Operations & Projects.
The bowl sound system design options, done in accordance with relevant British Standard guidelines and industry-standard practices, looked at the reinforcement of live and pre-recorded entertainment audio during sporting events, audio reproduction for video content, and reinforcement for pitch-side interviews.
In addition to improving audio throughout the stadium, the brief required the new system to have the capability to supplement coverage for concert use. Visiting productions can now tie into the Croke Park house system to deliver the best possible results for the upper seating levels in the Hogan, Cusack and Davin stands.
“From a reputational point-of-view, the GAA wanted a best-in-class production type sound system,” explains Kevin McGrath, Mongey Communications project manager. “Croke Park Stadium is in a highly residential neighbourhood so it doesn’t host that many live music shows. However, when they do, they host the top artists in the world, like Coldplay, U2, the Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift, so the GAA wanted to ensure that audio coverage was top-flight in all areas of the stadium.”
The stadium roof canopy now carries 18 clusters of NEXO’s GEO S12-ST specialist long-throw loudspeakers, each curved cluster containing 8 modules. Powered by NEXO’s proprietary NXAMP4x4 amplifiers and controlled over a Dante network, the new system addresses the three grandstands of Croke Park. The 18 identical clusters give uniform coverage across all seats, and significant improvements in SPL without infringing the very stringent noise regulations applied to the stadium’s events. The fourth side of the stadium, known as Hill 16, is maintained as traditional terraces and has a discrete audio system.
The GAA’s stated goal of equipping Croke Park with the highest international level of technical facilities, allowing them to attract the finest performers in the world, required a well-researched supply chain. Mongey and Vanguardia refined their choices down to three different suppliers, focussing on the issues of price: performance ratios, the manufacturer’s ability to deliver, and engineering issues such as the number of loudspeakers necessary to do the job.
“Our first dealings with NEXO included the examination of reference sites like the Stade de France, and we found them highly credible,” says McGrath. “The company’s support from the planning to the implementation was near flawless.”
Croke Park’s amplification hubs had been upgraded earlier in the year, and 8km of electrical cabling was installed. London company RG Jones were tasked with rebuilding of all the Croke Park racks and doing all the cabling from the marshalling boxes back to the NEXO NXAMPs, together with the power distribution and cabling to route the controlling Dante network straight into the amplifiers.
The job of installing nearly 150 NEXO loudspeakers had to be fitted into a frighteningly small window of opportunity, bracketed between the Rolling Stones concert and the Gaelic hurling and camogie championships followed by the Papal visit.
“We had 2 weeks for the physical installation work,” continues McGrath. “We created the sub-assemblies, fixed into custom-built steel frames. Given the height of the roof canopy and the weight of the loudspeaker clusters, the only way to do it was to send the riggers onto the top of the roof to haul the arrays up into place. With all the wiring done from the top side of the canopy, they were then bolted into place under the roof structure, which had been modified with special steelwork to hold them.”
Astonishingly, the Mongey team completed the installation of all 18 clusters in less than 2 weeks, allowing another week for finetuning the network, and testing and commissioning the system. “Probably we shouldn’t tell people how quickly we got the job done, as it might encourage other stadium owners to expect the same from their integrators!”
With the advantages of the Dante network, the stadium can now deploy pitch side mixing positions very easily, depending on the entertainment content.
Since the bulk of the new system was brought into service last summer, the Stadium has hosted a wide variety of events. In addition to the normal annual calendar of sporting fixtures, which culminated with the 2018 All-Ireland Hurling and Gaelic Football Finals in August / September last, His Holiness Pope Francis visited Ireland as part of the World Meeting of Families 2018. It was the first visit by a reigning pontiff to Ireland since 1979, and one of the highlights was the Festival of Families at Croke Park, attended by 53,392 people. Musically speaking, Michael Bublé returned to the stage at Croke Park and was the first to use the Stadium’s installed sound equipment for acoustic reinforcement for the Upper Terraces of the Cusack, Davin and Hogan Stands.
In every one of these cases, sporting, cultural and concert occasions, the NEXO system has met with universally positive reviews. Audio quality is vastly improved and bears favourable comparison with international best in class standards. In addition to meeting the required life safety standards in full, the new equipment provides very high-quality public address for general announcements. Reinforcement of live and pre-recorded entertainment audio during sporting events and audio reproduction for video content has been deemed exceptional, and commentary and feedback on both pitch-side interview and concert audio reinforcement has been universally positive.
NEXO GEO S12-ST
NEXO’s compact 2-way GEO S1210-ST is a high-output, long-throw version of the standard GEO S1210 cabinet, and has been optimised for stadium installations. It offers exceptional SPL for long-throw applications, with enhanced speech intelligibility. The module displays exceptional MF/LF output (105dB SPL nominal sensitivity) from a single 12”, using NEXO’s proprietary Directivity Phase Device.