The intense world behind the scoreboard at Agganis Arena
John Curry falls backward and kicks out his right leg at the last possible moment, the men’s ice hockey goaltender’s reflexes too quick to follow. The crowd roars. The attack by the New Hampshire line has been thwarted, and the puck is safely under Curry’s glove. How it got there, however, remains a mystery — until the crowd gazes upward to the scoreboard, where a slow-motion replay explains it all: the Wildcat forward’s backhand is destined for the back of the net, but Curry’s skate stops his breakaway bid cold. The fans erupt again, chanting “John-ny Cur-ry!” and Joel Kitay knows he is doing his job well.
Kitay (CAS’94, COM’94) and his company, Kitay Productions, Inc., produce and direct what fans see on the giant video scoreboard at Agganis Arena. He and his crew, which includes several BU alumni and students, work their magic in relative obscurity from a control room deep within the bowels of the building. Like the “man behind the curtain” in The Wizard of Oz, they control the effects that help make a BU hockey game a sensory extravaganza.
Before this home game, for example, the Terrier intro video starts to crank up the adrenalin. “4 NCAA Championships” reads the center-hung scoreboard, as BU highlights from yesteryear are shown. “27 Beanpot Championships” prompts more cheering, which reaches a crescendo when the starting lineup is announced, and a quick video of each player in action appears on the 7-foot-by-13-foot full-color LED video screens on all four sides of the scoreboard. (To view the videos that air at every home game, click here.)
“Our number-one mission is to give BU home-ice advantage,” says Kitay in an interview two hours before the game, the only time he can spare on game nights. Once the puck hits the ice, he directs his crew with the intensity of a traffic cop and the grace of an orchestra conductor. Kitay has loved being part of a sports entertainment production since his undergraduate days as the BU football PA announcer at Nickerson Field. The broadcast journalism major’s television production career began soon after graduation at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J. A year later, he returned to his hometown to work for the Cleveland Browns football team as its first full-time television producer. When the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens in 1996, Kitay went with them, rising to the position of broadcasting manager and earning a Super Bowl ring — along with four Emmy Awards. In 2002, he left the Ravens to open Kitay Productions, and the company began producing scoreboard shows at the University of Maryland’s athletics events.
Shortly thereafter, Kitay heard that BU was building a new arena, and he jumped at the chance to help design the scoreboard technology. Soon he was running the scoreboard facilities with a crew of 14, including technical director Amanda Smerage (COM’02), graphics operator Julie Frattaroli (CAS’88), and students Leslie Hanna (COM’06), Lauren Murphy (CAS’09), Ryan Crimmins (COM’06), and Mitchell Swartz (COM’06).
At game time, the crew huddles in the control room, following the action via three cameras and a wall of monitors, searching each moment of film for the best angles to show live action and replays.
“Five, four, three, two . . .” Kitay is counting down to the moment the next graphic is dropped on the scoreboard. Tape operator Gareth Hughes wants to know who his camera should follow.
“All right,” he says, “who’s been hot lately?”
“6, 16, and 27,” answers Hanna, the numbers of forwards Kenny Roche (MET’07), Pete MacArthur (SED’08), and Bryan Ewing (CAS’08). The players’ highlights are stored on video and then played on the scoreboard’s “Terriers Tonight” feature. And so it goes. The crew tracks the action with the intensity of surgeons in the operating room.
Between the second and third periods, the Agganis Arena crowd is entertained with the scoreboard’s dance promotion, which features fans comically gyrating in front of roving cameras (the winner receives an iPod), along with the “Kiss Cam,” where subjects are goaded into making amorous spectacles of themselves in front of thousands.
“Our aim is to entertain,” says Kitay, and his crew does that well. “It’s great to be back at BU and be a part of BU hockey,” he says. “The Terriers went to three Frozen Four tournaments when I was a student here, and I will always be a fan.”
Then, in a moment, play resumes and the crowd gets serious. When the final buzzer sounds, the mood is surprisingly upbeat in the control room, despite a BU loss that put an abrupt end to an 11-game winning streak. Kitay is OK with that too. The evening has been intense, but it’s been fun — and Kitay know that there are still a few things he can’t control.