TAMPA — On Thursday night, just days before the Bucs' home opener, two pee-wee youth football teams ran out of the tunnel at Raymond James Stadium and played a scrimmage on an NFL field under the lights.
Their pint-sized game was used as a dress rehearsal for the huge new video boards in both end zones of the stadium, which get a grand unveiling Sunday at 4 p.m. as the Bucs host the Los Angeles Rams.
"We wanted to do things that had never been done before in a stadium," said Brian Killingsworth, the team's chief marketing officer. "We took the approach that if we're going to do these upgrades, we wanted to be really innovative in the process. It'll be a unique environment, totally immersive."
Fans got to hear a new sound system and see the size of the boards — more than 30,000 square feet combined, the third-largest in the NFL — in two preseason games, but Sunday's game should bring a new wow factor: seeing the boards work together during an NFL game.
"It's going to be an unbelievable game-day experience, a lot more than what you saw in the preseason," said Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford, who has overseen more than $100 million in stadium renovations, which were jointly paid for by Hillsborough County, the city of Tampa and the Bucs.
Coordinating the video broadcast will take more people than are playing on the field at any point — in excess of 25 people, choosing shots from 18 cameras, up from six views under the previous video system.
"It's a big investment. You have all this equipment, and you have to have the right people up there," said Ford, who added two full-time hires just to coordinate the video production during games.
The Bucs will be able to show replays from three different angles simultaneously in the same end zone, using the central video board and two "tower" video boards in each corner.
The memorable pregame video showing a Bucs pirate ship sinking the opponent's ship in a battle at sea each week? It will now be waged across the stadium, with cannonballs zooming along a six-foot "ribbon" video board that stretches from end zone to end zone on each side of the stadium.
Pro teams are trying to keep fans in the stands and not watching games on HD TVs at home — the Bucs have improved their stadium Wi-Fi and will cater to fantasy football players, with stats on the video boards updated from other games around the league.
If you like social media, another corner will show hash-tagged posts from fans on Twitter and Instagram — if you can't get your phone camera up in time to get a picture of your family photo on the video tower, a new feature in the Bucs' official app will let you get a photo of yourself even after the game is over.
Attendance will hinge most on whether the Bucs can take a step forward from last year's 6-10 record, but Ford said the team has worked hard to upgrade the scoreboard, even as they try to improve the scores on it.
"Winning will make me a much smarter guy," Ford said. "We can't depend on that, so there are a lot of these enhancements, and there's more to come. It's an exciting time on the field and off."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.