Feb. 11, 2013
By Chad Shepard
As Michigan fans cram into Crisler Center to continue watching their uber-talented Wolverines, they'll notice that the facility has undergone quite a facelift. Most of the improvements are self-explanatory: a widened, remodeled concourse, a state-of-the-art digital scoreboard and the debut of a merchandise shop are all enhancements to the Michigan basketball viewing experience; but the addition of several touch-screen interactive displays provides the most intriguing improvement.
The construction and installation of the interactives began in November 2012 and was completed just before the holidays. Michigan fans have had access to them since the first week in January, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I think they did a beautiful job. The best part to me is that they have a lot of history that I can search by, so that if I'm young or old there are memorable moments," said UM-Flint grad Chris Studer (Class of 1986).
Upon taking the new escalators inside Crisler's Northeast entrance to the concourse level, fans can find the 55" diagonal Cazzie Russell interactive along the wall opposite the Block M fountain. The Cazzie interactive tells the story of "The House that Cazzie Built," crediting him with "single-handedly lifting the U-M men's program to national recognition" and acknowledges that the enthusiasm generated by Cazzie's presence is what spurred the construction of the original Crisler Arena.
The project also features 18 separate 46" screens located throughout the concourse. These displays promote Michigan athletics with up-to-date stats, current team photos, video highlights and more available through the touch screen. Information on all of Michigan's sponsored sports can be found through these displays.
Michigan's new WDPDC, or William Davidson Player Development Center, features a display of its own. The recruiting interactive display, located in the main lobby, is just under 125" diagonally and gives Coach Beilein and his staff a unique advantage when talking to prospective Wolverines and their families.
Designed to tell recruits the Michigan story, the display offers a hi-def, attention-grabbing account of what it means to be a U-M athlete. In a world where recruits' attention is constantly being sought after, having modern, tech-savvy ways of expressing the Michigan message is pivotal and a welcome addition for the coaching staff.
As an imposing Block M stares down from above, and built-in speakers blast Wolverine propaganda, potential signees explore the essence of Michigan basketball through tabs like "Current Team," "An Athlete's Life" and "Gear" on a display that features pictures of Zack Novak and Darius Morris as much as Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr. The display features an equally comprehensive look at the women's program, offering all the same perks and detailed information for the Crisler Center's co-tenants and providing the same recruiting benefits for Coach Barnes Arico and her staff.
The crown jewel interactive can be found between Sections 204 and 207, just on the other side of the merchandise shop on the concourse level. The Hall of Honor display is made up of two separate structures, each with 15 digital screens -- some of which are equipped with motion capture technology -- and each totals nearly 213" diagonally. Extensive capabilities of the screen allow fans to talk to Bo, answer trivia, try the "Pop-A-Shot" game or explore the archives of Michigan's storied past through touch-activated search tools and video.
Chadd Lowderman is manager and project developer at Dimensional Innovations, the company responsible for the interactives; he provided some insight on what makes Michigan's displays so special. For example, the "Pop-A-Shot" game uses what Lowderman calls "Microsoft Kinect-like game play" to simulate putting up a shot from the real Crisler Center floor. What makes the Hall of Honor display so unique is its sheer size; the interactive features two of the largest active, multi-user, multi-touch screens in North America according to Lowderman.
Fans are eating the renovations up, and the Crisler Center staff has noticed the difference. Dean Cook has worked in the athletic department for six years under various titles, including his favorite responsibility as an usher for men's hoops. He thinks the fans who haven't experienced the renovated Crisler will love the experience.
"(It's) all top of the line," Cook said. "You can work with the interactives and computers, and it will show you the history of U-M, from 1817 to now. Crisler Center, today, people have to come see it. They'll be amazed."
Bruce Madej is the project manager attached to the touchscreen installation, working directly with the people at Digital Interactive to make this a reality. He says this department endeavor is just getting started and calls it a "living project."
"Data collection will continue for years to come, not only for future events and student-athletes but also to build this data center with stories and information from the past. In essence, this will become the encyclopedia of Michigan Athletics," said Madej. "The development of this project from the get-go was for the data to be developed and placed in a format that would provide opportunities to share the information at various venues, not only in athletic department facilities, but at numerous satellite sites where our material would be a valuable addition."
Spreading the Michigan brand is an easy task when it sells itself the way the restored Crisler Center does. The same commitment to technological advancements that has propelled Michigan forward for years now propels its basketball programs back to the national spotlight.