Software Sound System Jazzes Up Game Action

Paul Nelson can generate a thump-thump-thump or a clap-clap-clap at Portland Trail Blazer basketball games in no time at all. The team's audio engineer and former organist can also play specially selected, prerecorded music while a three-point shot attempt is still in the air.

What allows Nelson and his counterparts employed by more than 200 teams and sports programs to be part of the game is a computer software program called Game Ops Commander.

The system, designed to enhance the spectating experience at sports events, was jointly developed by the National Basketball Association's Trail Blazers and multimedia developer Asymetrix Corp. Both are owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

Game Ops Commander, and other similar programs, act as push-button sound systems that can be used to quickly access music, sound effects, recorded announcements, sponsorship spots, and video clips via personal computer. They provide the accompaniment to the game action.

Ryan Engweiler, system sales manager, says pro teams can be reluctant to buy the software compared to schools eager to jazz up everything from volleyball games to gymnastic meets.

"We were a little apprehensive about how this would work at high schools," Mr. Engweiler says. But when the software was tested, students quickly mastered its operation.

Unless you clone the operators, says Blazers sports communications director John Christensen, the use of the system varies from arena to arena. "Our interpretation of what it takes to get a Rose Garden crowd fired up is totally different than what it takes in the Forum in Los Angeles."

A greater concern may be sound assault. The NBA has had to place a loudness limit on its public-address systems. This, however, doesn't prevent monotonous repetition of certain crowd prompts and sound tracks. "Whether the game would be better or worse without all the [manufactured] sounds and sights is one of the biggest arguments in the league right now," says John Walker, the Trail Blazers' director of information technology.

These extras help keep people in huge arenas feeling connected to the game, Walker says, adding that he expects the Blazers to eventually bring the sound of sneaker squeaks to fans in the top row.

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