Stepping up to The Big League with RCF

Pro Audio Systems delivers RCF system for AVSL Technical install at newly-promoted Harrogate Town’s EnviroVent Stadium…  

In August 2020, Harrogate Town FC were promoted to the English Football League (EFL) for the first time in their history thanks to a 3-1 victory over Notts County in the National League play-off Final at Wembley. With promotion came new responsibilities. The League’s regulations precluded the use of the club’s Wetherby Road (EnviroVent) stadium’s synthetic pitch, and, as a narrow window of time did not allow the work on a replacement to be completed before the start of 2020/21 season, Harrogate Town arranged a temporary ground-share at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium. Comfortably maintaining their new League status during a season largely played in empty stadiums due to COVID-19 restrictions, the club, with work on a new grass pitch completed, prepared to return home.

Other EFL infrastructure criteria also had to be met at the EnviroVent, one of which was provision for a permanent public address system, which according to the League’s regulations required ‘… adequate speaker output to relay information to all spectator areas, as required by the local authority, with the ability to interrupt for safety announcements from the stadium control room’. With the possibility of a future further development of its facilities, the club sought to install a high quality, future-proof system, that could be expanded if required.

Sheffield-based technical services specialists AVLS Technical, who had previously supplied temporary pre-match PA requirements on a hire basis, were engaged by the club to consult over the permanent installation. The club’s plan at this stage was to upgrade audio provision in four of the ground’s six distinct areas, and work with their existing set-up in the remaining two…

Tom Vickers, Partner at AVLS explains:

“When we took a close look at what was required, it was quickly apparent that it wasn’t a simple case of dropping in a few speakers, so we spoke to Pro Audio Systems for some advice. They came highly recommended, and our contact turned out to be Dave Simpson, who we’d worked with many years before when he was at a different company. It felt like completing a circle! Dave and his team focused their attention on supplying us with the best tools for the job, and after explaining his thinking, suggested that he discuss a potential system with RCF. It definitely turned out to be a good call.”

Dave Simpson, Projects Director at Pro Audio Systems, duly recommended a system based around RCF’s range of loudspeakers. RCF have a long history of supplying audio for stadia around the world and offer a comprehensive range of products to suit every scale and type of stadium application. Confident in his selection of the brand, Simpson then worked closely with Francesco Venturi of RCF’s Engineering Support Group, who assisted the project by providing design options for the different areas of the stadium’s stands and communal areas, using EASE prediction software.

The chosen system predominantly comprised products from RCF’s compact, lightweight and weatherproof P Series. These rugged IP55 rated enclosures deliver excellent music and speech intelligibility, and were deployed in three out of the four principle areas to be covered. In the Main Stand, AVLS installed 6 x P3115T cabinets, whilst the greater depth of the Black Sheep Brewery Stand required 12 x P2110T for even coverage. The EnviroVent Stand was catered for with 2 x P3108 cabinets, and 20 x MQ80P (which will be redeployed upon further development) completed the picture in the Myrings Terrace area.

Simpson recommended Yamaha PX Series amplification for the project, based on build quality and reliability, controlled by a QSC Q-Sys Core 110f processor. On match-days the stadium announcer uses a small personal mixer with a microphone and line feed to address the whole ground and play background music, whilst in the security office the club’s safety officer has an iPad with a custom built user control interface designed to replicate the stadium layout. This intuitive setup enables him/her to override the entire system and/or individual stands, as well as allowing the storage and playback of pre-recorded safety announcements. In the event of future expansion of the system, the Core 110f had ample capacity for additional I/O, something that subsequently proved useful…

At the point where AVLS had completed the originally planned installation, it became apparent to the club that the difference in quality between the new system and the remainder of the existing system was significant. Vickers takes up the story:

“Once we’d completed the initial job, we were immediately asked questions about the huge quality gap between the new system and what was left of the old one. It had been picked up by everyone from the fans to the chairman, and the decision was quickly taken to design a second phase to the upgrade. Dave Simpson and Jake Brown from Pro Audio Systems visited the site and were able to swiftly draw up some costings for the club.”

Once approved, this second phase saw 10 x RCF P3108 speakers deployed in the Wetherby Road Stand with 6 x P3108 added in the AON Stand. Another 3 x P3108 in the AON Stand and 4 additional P3115 positioned in the Main Stand took care of the pitch area. As with the first phase, all amplification was by Yamaha. To complete the picture and ensure total coverage of the ground and comfortably meet every safety requirement, AVLS installed Ecler 100v line speakers in all concourse and walkway areas. The club invested in 2 x Sennheiser Evolution Digital radio microphones for match day pitch-side interviews.

Vickers reflects on the completed installation:

“What started as a one-off visit to supply a temporary sound system developed into a comprehensive permanent install. Dave and Jake acted as sounding boards throughout the project, and RCF themselves had major input on the system design. They too were very helpful throughout the whole process. The selected products and system design have achieved everything we set out to do across both phases of the job, and I’m glad we spent time at the beginning of the project finding the correct supplier. At AVLS we put a real emphasis on service and quality, so to have that mirrored in the support we received was great. We look forward to continuing our relationship with both the club and Pro Audio Systems.”

Most importantly of all, Harrogate Town FC are delighted with their new system. It has attracted favourable comments from a variety of quarters, comparing its quality with that of leading Premier League clubs. Stadium announcer Alan Toothill is impressed:

The new system is easy to use and makes my job so much easier! Before it was in place I would regularly get supporters telling me they missed things, or that the announcements weren’t loud enough, but now the message comes through loud and clear. We can get important information out about future matches and events, so the fans know exactly what’s going on.”

His enthusiasm is shared by the club’s Assistant Manager Paul Thirwell:

“Having that buzz on a match day is massive to us. When the lads are walking out, the music is blaring and the fans are all on their feet - it gives us all a massive lift. In the warm-ups, having the music on nice and loud is something we always wanted, and now we have the new PA system in place, we know we can rely on this at every home match.”

For Chief Executive Officer Sarah Barry and Operations Director Dave Riley, meeting the highest standards of ground safety was imperative - both are agreed that not only have the necessary criteria been more than met, but that the new system significantly adds to the supporters’ match day experience. Sarah Barry comments:

“Tom and his team have been superb, totally reliable, professional and flexible about working with us around fixtures, which for a football club is essential. The quality of the system is fantastic, we've had excellent feedback from supporters already. Ours was a significant investment which will last us many years to come so it was very important we chose the right company who could advise us from the design to installation. The Service we have received from Tom and AVLS has been first class from the initial site survey to final completion.”

Dave Simpson of Pro Audio Systems has the last word:

“The success of the project was based on identifying what products would work best within the club’s budget without any compromise on quality, and then working closely with both RCF and AVLS to ensure that the system delivered exactly what was required. Judging by the response of everyone at the club, the project can be considered a great success, and one that we’re very proud to have played a part in delivering.”

Install featured in mondo stadia magazine issue 21