When the NBA needed help figuring out how to successfully and remotely monitor court and bowl conditions to ensure player safety, they turned to a team they could trust. Henderson Companies had been involved in multiple NBA arena updates and renovations, bringing a unique mix of engineering expertise from Henderson Engineers and in-the-field construction experience from Henderson Building Solutions to the projects. The league turned to Henderson once more to custom design and install an environmental monitoring system to address challenges at NBA arenas related to the monitoring of indoor conditions.
The catalyst for the project was the failure of the HVAC system during Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals in San Antonio, which caused elevated arena temperatures and slippery playing conditions. The unforeseen event preceded similar unfavorable conditions in Philadelphia and Minneapolis that led to several game cancellations during the 2016-17 NBA season. In addition to the risk of player injuries, these setbacks could result in lost revenue for the impacted teams.
While the NBA already had an advanced environmental monitoring system in place, each team independently tracked and reported data that was hard to verify for accuracy. Monitoring did not occur in real time and the monitoring devices weren’t close enough to the court. As a result, it was difficult to predict and prevent temperature, humidity, and dew point issues before they happened. Henderson was charged with designing a new monitoring system that would overcome these challenges and deter further game disruptions.
In collaboration with the NBA and Elite Automation, Henderson developed VESS (Venue Environmental Support System), a first-of-its-kind environmental monitoring system that independently tracks building and court temperature, humidity, and dew point conditions on the court. Monitoring this interior environment is critical as unfavorable combinations of temperature and humidity could result in condensation on the court and lead to player injuries.
The innovative building monitoring system uses infrared technology to track court surface temperatures and wireless sensors on each stanchion to track interior temperatures and humidity. Both the league and arena operators can access the data in real time via a proprietary online dashboard that is accessible on desktop and mobile devices. VESS also sends automatic text and email alerts when conditions fall below league standards, providing advance notice of potential issues before game play.
To prove that an automated process would work, Henderson worked with the NBA to test several technologies to identify the best solution. VESS was beta tested at the 2018 NBA Finals in Cleveland. Proof-of-concept tests were conducted shortly after during the 2018-19 season at both Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee and the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Following these successful trial runs, Henderson installed and implemented VESS into 29 NBA venues for the 2020-21 season.
“Before VESS, the league didn’t have a reliable, early warning system to alert them if court conditions were unfavorable,” said Greg York, director of special projects at Henderson Building Solutions who helped oversee VESS installation. “Now, they are able to take proactive steps to correct the issues before game play and have access to data about court conditions across all venues in real time, from anywhere. VESS is an example of the efficient and effective solutions that can be created through great partnerships.”
Since VESS is positioned exactly the same across all locations, the NBA has accurate measurements without relying on each venue to independently track and report back on court conditions. The league uses the information collected to calculate the probability of future complications to preemptively notify arenas and other necessary parties. Arenas also use the information to proactively identify infrastructure issues in mechanical systems that require repair. Previously, such concerns would have been identified too late.
“We are a company of problem-solvers who love to find innovative solutions that help our clients succeed,” explained Kevin Lewis, Henderson’s CEO. “Projects like these are a favorite for our experts because they offer us the opportunity to achieve something unique. VESS has completely shifted the way NBA arenas operate, which is a testament to the vision and expertise of everyone involved.”
VESS earned the Commissioner’s Award for Innovation courtesy of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. It has been so impactful that Henderson was asked to help develop a compact travel version to allow the NBA to monitor court conditions and gather the same data as the permanently installed equipment from any location during any domestic or international games.
The travel-ready VESS debuted during the 2019-20 NBA Bubble, an entire modified season that was played in isolation at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also utilized during The Toronto Raptors’ 2020-21 interim season at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, the 2021 Summer League in Las Vegas, and in the Basketball Africa League. In the future, the NBA will use the portable system for marquee events including Global Games.
Erin Schnieders, the senior vice president of venues at the NBA, described the league’s satisfaction with VESS in an October 2021 Sports Business Journal article. “…we’re very pleasantly surprised and happy with the results of last season in terms of the functionality across all arenas and the collaboration with our arena operators and teams to make it happen,” she said.
“Henderson has been a trusted partner of the NBA for a number of years,” said Schnieders in a separate statement. “We know we can turn to them to help us find a solution when one doesn’t seem to exist. They consistently think outside the box and work seamlessly across both companies to deliver end-to-end solutions that make an impact.”
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