ESPN ZONE: Remolded To Greatness
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ESPN ZONE: Remolded To Greatness

Once upon a time, there was a marquee and a blade sign that really wanted to shine and one day in a magic moment its wish came true.

By Louis M. Brill

Within Las Vegas's glittering shimmer of neon and LED lighting and irregular building silhouettes of its different hotel casinos is a somewhat familiar east coast skyline of tall skyscrapers complete with a scaled version of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, no mistaking here - it's the New York, New York hotel casino. In the front of the hotel/casino is a smallish replica of the Brooklyn Bridge, which is the entrance to New York, New York right there on The Strip (aka Las Vegas Blvd.).

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  • In the daytime the ESPN's signage creates a 'glow' against the dark face of NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Photo credit: YESCO, Las Vegas

    Along that exterior frontage at the northern most point of New York, New York is the ESPN ZONE, a sport theme restaurant whose bright light signage is its main magnet for attracting hungry tourists into its dining areas for great food and all the sports entertainment that guests could wish for. In opening the ESPN ZONE, its sign to be was commissioned by the ESPN corporation through YESCO (Las Vegas), a company that designs, fabricates, installs and maintains signs throughout Las Vegas, the United States, Latin America and overseas.

    The exterior signage on ESPN ZONE is a twice-told tale of two restaurants, one that was and the other that came to be. The prior restaurant at that New York, New York spot was Motown Cafe, a music themed restaurant based on Detroit's rhythm and blues of the 1950s and 1960s. The original exterior signage laid out to promote the restaurant included a marquee, a horizontal reader board that was inserted in front of the marquee and a blade sign. As all things eventually come to pass, so did the Motown restaurant pass into history. The facility was resurrected by ESPN ZONE who inherited the restaurant with both its interior dining and its exterior signage areas, which consisted of the previously mentioned sign spaces.

    In planning for the ESPN ZONE's signage, the challenge was to make it spectacular, by making it more noticeable and enticing to passing tourists allowing them to easily see that ESPN was here and ready to party hardy with arriving guests. To achieve this goal, Senior YESCO account executive Brian Covey and sign designer Jeff Compton collaborated to create for ESPN ZONE a masterpiece of neon and incandescent lighting transforming the former Motown sign structure into a flickering, glowing illumination that highlighted ESPN's presence along that part of The Strip.

    Motown, a music themed restaurant based on Detroit's rhythm and blues of the 1950s and 1960s. The original exterior signage laid out to promote the restaurant included a marquee, a horizontal reader board that was inserted in front of the marquee and a blade sign. Photo credit: YESCO, Las Vegas

    Discussing its creation, the first part of designing the ESPN sign said Covey, was to review its new home, the former Motown sign and study its existing presence and visibility along The Strip. To figure out the best way of transforming the ESPN motif onto its new sign structure, Covey documented the sign's location to study it from every possible point of view, "I took many, many digital photos of the old Motown signage from the north and south ends of Las Vegas Boulevard as well as photographing it from across the street near the MGM and even from the median in the middle of the street. Jeff Compton, the YESCO sign designer who created the final sign concept, took all the different viewpoints into account in developing how the final sign would look, as it was presented to ESPN." Compton noted that one big challenge for him was that the building architecture in that part of the hotel venue tended to be very dark with not much 'excitement' going on in that area. "My design was the opposite, to use as much color, light and sign animation as I could to bring attention to that part of New York, New York."

    Considering ESPN's location in what is one of the greatest (Times Square being the other) sign capitals in the world, the challenge was that the ESPN ZONE had to be esthetically competitive against the surrounding signage around it and the sign had to be easily visible on The Strip during the day. Compton solved these challenges by offering many dynamic features within the ESPN sign package, "It was big, it was very brightly illuminated (day and night) and finally, the lighting had a lot of animation with its varied flickering lights. We also used lots of exposed neon, because the human eye perceives it more intensely and it's a lot more exciting to look at. In all, the ESPN ZONE was a very busy sign to easily catch the eye and inspire tourists to step in and check the restaurant out."

    This drawing shows off the front face of the marquee with its reader board and restaurant logo signage. The building marquee was 99 feet in length and projected out 11 feet from the building. The basic marquee structure was a large, horizontal polished brushed aluminum canopy with an incandescent reader board inserted in the center of the structure across its front face. On the marquee's front side, was a series of flickering flames running across its entire length. Photo credit: YESCO, Las Vegas

    Marquee Reborn As Neon Showcase
    The building marquee (sometimes called a canopy) was 99 feet in length and projected out 11 feet from the building. The basic marquee structure was a large, horizontal polished brushed aluminum canopy with an incandescent reader board inserted in the center of the structure across its front face. Covey noted, "that the marquee's basic frame provided a visual foundation and set the pace for the visual look of the rest of the marquee."

    Once the final design was accepted by ESPN, YESCO began the fabrication of its new components and sign cabinets package. The job was made somewhat easy by having the original sign structures still intact. Essentially the ESPN project called for placing new signage to the existing marquee. This consisted of the following; a left and right circular single face, open channel logo sign that was placed on each side of the marquee. On the marquee's front side facing The Strip, a newly designed themed motif was established with a series of flickering flames running across its entire length. The blade sign was also completely refitted and a new set of ESPN circular logo emblems were placed on top of it.

    The forthcoming design incorporated a generous amount of steady burn and animated neon to make it visually stand out against all the other signs and attractions along that part of The Strip. Covey noted the very dense exposed neon coverage, "Neon grids filled up all the channel letters, and it was used to outline all the flickering flame shapes on all the signage. We had neon trim on all the lettering and copious amounts on the vertical blade sign as well. The animations varied as we used a variety of neon-based flickering flames. We also used a lot of scintillating incandescent lights flashing behind the ESPN letters and we also had spelling circuits on various logo elements. As for color we used a lot of "hot tropical" colors like reds, oranges, tangerines and green to add some psychological and visual "heat" to the sign. Altogether, the ESPN sign consumed just about 5000 feet of neon to illuminate it. While it was not necessarily excessive, it definitely was above an average amount for the square footage of this kind of a sign."

    The new circular ESPN ZONE logo emblems placed on the marquee were identical six feet diameter, open-faced channel boxes. The circular channel box cabinets were composed of fabricated sheet metal along with neon lighting in varying colors and were divided into three parts; the bottom was a green field, the center divider was the restaurant's name and the top edge, a flame, all set against a circular black background.

    The new circular ESPN ZONE logo emblem was a six feet diameter, open-faced channel box. The circular channel box cabinet were composed of fabricated sheet metal along with neon lighting in varying colors that was divided into three parts, the bottom was a green field, the center divider contained the restaurant's name and the top edge, a flame, all set against a circular black background. Photo credit: YESCO, Las Vegas

    Again Covey noted that color was very important, "To attract additional attention to the ESPN ZONE's signage, its logo lettering had a color reversal built into it. The ESPN part was white and illuminated with multi-tube white neon with a single red strip running through it. The ZONE word was twice as big and the interior of its channel letters was all clear red exposed neon with a white neon trim around each letter." The style of that word logo effect was applied to the lettering across the top of the marquee as well as across the circular emblems.

    Within the circular emblem, in between the restaurant's name were a green field and a flaming top. To create the remaining illuminating effects for the logo, the bottom green field was hi-lighted with emerald green neon and filled in with panotone green (PMS # 0363 C). Above the ESPN name was the top edge with its flickering flames that were illuminated with yellow returns and the full flame effect was filled in with a combination of several colors including lemon-yellow (# 32), yellow-orange (# 10-N) and orange (#260-N) neon lighting. Each completed circular emblem was placed in the center of the side of the marquee.

    Facing The Strip, the marquee front side had two distinct sign elements, the first part, its top decorative element had two sections, a curvy wave-like bulb pack of scintillating lights, and on top of that, an overlay of tongues of flame spread across the entire length of the marquee (at 88 feet).

    Placed over the center of this decorative motif, the ESPN ZONE name in big bold channel letters. The bottom segment of the marquee contained a single line incandescent wedge-based reader board that was 86 feet long, displaying the restaurant's promotions all day and all night.

    The circular emblem is finished and being lifted to its final placement on the ESPN sign. Photo credit: YESCO, Las Vegas

    Blade Sign Cuts Through Sign Clutter
    Directly above the ESPN ZONE marquee was a blade sign edged out in all its glory off the side of the building. The blade sign was double faced and duplicated in a vertical fashion with the ESPN motif placed on top of the marquee. The blade sign had three major visual components; the circular emblem on top, a background field of flickering neon flames with scintillating incandescent lighting, and the ESPN ZONE lettering over the background flickering neon effect. The sign structure itself was 92.5 feet tall, 7 feet wide and projected from the building at 13.5 feet.

    In the YESCO shop, the blade sign logo emblem during fabrication, channel outlines have been installed and painted, neon soon to follow. Photo credit: YESCO, Las Vegas

    The blade sign from the pre-existing Motown sign structure was stripped down to its basic frame and rebuilt with the ESPN ZONE themed neon effects. What was new on top of the existing blade sign was the addition of the two circular logo cabinets. Each logo cabinet was 12.5 feet in diameter and made of fabricated sheet metal with screw channel letters and additional graphics. The completed circular logo with the restaurant's name and the bottom green field was a visual duplicate of the marquee's side emblem. Covey recalled, "We went as far as possible to analysis the blade sign's structural intensity to make sure it could properly support the weight of the additional logo sign cabinets on its top. To make sure that the blade sign's circular logos were easier to see, they were cantilevered out at a 20 degree angle towards the street for more dramatic viewing by approaching tourists."

    Directly below the circular logo were the flickering neon flame field, the scintillating incandescent lights and a vertical placement of the ESPN ZONE letters. Not only was the blade sign brightly lit, but it was chuck full of animation. The flame silhouette was a combination of 50% flickering and 50% steady burn. The incandescent bulb pack on the background was a constant random scintillation. The ESPN ZONE letters outline were a constant steady burn, the interior fill-neon was set on a spell circuit spelling from top to bottom, ESPN ZONE - flashing three times and repeating.

    Lit in glory, the marquee, the blade sign and the circular logo emblems can clearly be seen after dusk. The ESPN ZONE was a very busy sign to easily catch the eye and inspire tourists to step in and check the restaurant out. Photo credit: YESCO, Las Vegas

    Compton said he was pleased with the final design results as it all came together to work very well with the building and the New York, New York-type atmosphere that the hotel was presenting. When the ESPN ZONE sign went live on The Strip, the company's executives who were there for the ribbon cutting ceremonies were according to Covey, "thrilled at what they saw as it exceeded all their expectations. They were definitely happy with their new look." It was a fitting end to a great 'Cinderella' sign story, which could only happen in Las Vegas.

    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications. He can reached at (415) 664-0694 or lmbrill@earthlink.net

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