When sports bars exploded in the 1990s, few people had access to the big screen (then projection-based) TV displays that were the venues' major lure. Today, that's hardly the case, making Gizmo Guy ponder. Does South Philly's new Xfinity Live! (officially opening at 4 p.m. today) offer a different kind of dazzle to pull you away from your own big screen and through its' doors, when you aren't already in the 'hood for a game or concert?
The Best and Biggest Sports Bar/Restaurant Video Screen: That's the claim of Xfinity Live! v.p. of marketing Rob Johnson, pointing to the HUGE, 14 foot tall and 24 foot wide screen which immediately grabs your eyes, sauntering into the facility (built on the former, hallowed grounds of the Spectrum.) First impression: I think I'll like it here.
The screen is officially part of the NBC Sports Arena zone, but also is viewable in the adjacent Philly Marketplace - fitted with bars, seating areas and fast food vendors like Chickie's and Pete's.
Made by public space-screen specialist Daktronics, the display is both brilliantly bright and ultra-high resolution, built with millions of tiny. 6 mm red, green and blue LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. "It represents our highest level of technology," said Daktronics' Scott Willson, and cost "close to a million dollars," shared Johnson.
By contrast, the 12-by-20 foot outdoor Daktronics screen greeting visitors at the southwest entrance of Xfinity Live! offers slightly less defined, 10 mm LED resolution. And the enormous screens built by the same, South Dakota company for the Phillies' and Eagles' stadiums use "15 mm and 25 mm LEDs."
Daktronics also takes pride in the "unique," high res ribbon displays - an electronic ticker tape showing sports news and scores - which circle and animate the Xfinity Live! interior.
But Wait, There's More: For added eye candy - and to deliver a second and third game experience, that really big Sports Arena screen is flanked on both sides by large "matrix" style displays assembled from the stacking of nine, 46-inch Sony LCD TVs. Game action is likewise compelling, once you get past the distracting grid of black lines between individual panels.
As Xfinity Live's overall systems integrator, Sony has actually placed more than 100 of its branded screens and video projectors around the complex - "a combination of consumer and more rugged professional displays," said Sony spokesman Thomas DiNome. Sony's done other mega-sports bar/restaurant installations, including the four-year-old CBS Scene at Patriot Place in Foxboro, Mass. (next to Gillette Stadium) where some patrons get to enjoy individual pop-up TV screens at their tables. But we've done nothing of the magnitude of Xfinity Live!", said the Sony guy. "Wherever we see a blank space, we ask for another screen." half-joked Johnson.
Who's On First?: If a Philadelphia sports team is playing anywhere in a televised game, you can be sure it'll get prominent play at Xfinity Live! - with the crisp house sound system blasting the most important play-by-play in open court areas. Elsewhere in the facility - in the Spectrum Grill, PBR Bar and Grill, Broad Street Bullies Pub, Victory Beer Hall and the second floor balcony zone called The Mezzanine - other games may be on display, too, as selected by the facility's marketing and event team with "some patron input on a first-come, first-serve basis," said Johnson. (Got a suggestion? Hit up the guys working the open control booth on the Marketplace floor.)
A Shocker: As Comcast's Xfinity brand is all over the joint, Giz Guy was shocked to discover even more DirecTV satellite receivers (24) than Comcast cable boxes (16) hiding backstage in the racks of the master control room. "We've got to be able to show all the NFL football games on Sunday," explained a technician with shrug of shoulders. DirecTV still has the exclusive pay TV access to most of that content with its "NFL Sunday Ticket" package.
Lively Sounds, Too: Live music (local, regional and ocasionally national acts) also plays a part of the Xfinity Live! party mix. The Victory Beer Hall will host a house band on its decent sized stage every night, said Johnson. The Broad Street Bullies Pub has a smaller (removable) platfom for acoustic acts. The Marketplace also can serve up shows, with some furniture adjustments.
And in warmer weather months, live music will be blasting outdoors on that (southwest corner) Plaza Live! stage. That's where you'll find Third Eye Blind headlining tonight (Friday) at 8, for free, as part of the official grand opening. (The B Street Band did tributes there for Bruce-aholics Wednesday and Thursday nights.) Then tomorrow (Saturday), you'll find a rotating cast of Philly bar bands - including Burnt Sienna, Flamin' Caucasians and Mr. Greengenes - rocking all day and much of the night, starting at 11 a.m.
Another Lure, Free Parking (Mostly): When nothing else is going on in the Wells Fargo Center or sports stadiums (the case on Saturday), parking at Xfinity Live! will be free. On days with games and concerts, parking becomes free an hour after the last ticketed event starts. "It's worked out fine at other facilities like ours," said Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. "People quickly learn the drill."