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More than just numbers: today's scoreboards and video display systems are a visual and interactive experience.

Scoreboards have become a showpiece as well as a source of pride for high schools across the country. For many schools, scoreboards are as much of the fabric of the respective athletic programs as the fans they inform.


For good reason: Today's scoreboards are mind-boggling machines. The flip-digit displays and archaic light bulb scoreboards of yesteryear are relics. The Flip Dot displays that were available in the '80s and '90s have been replaced by LED (light emitting diode) technology. Mechanical displays have been supplanted by solid-state technology, which require minimal to no maintenance.

In short, scoreboards provide a game within a game.

"Present day scoreboards have evolved into an all-encompassing, eye-catching, dynamic visual showpiece that keeps crowds informed and entertained," said Bethany Reeder, marketing manager for Varsity Scoreboards. "High schools can proudly showcase their school pride on a state-of-the-art, high-tech scoreboard that is customized with their school colors, and team mascot logos. Super-bright 100,000-hour rated LED displays are now the industry standard and make the scores highly visible to everyone at the game.

"Plus, scoreboards now have message center capabilities, which can create a high level of excitement at any sporting event by displaying animations and graphics."

According to Tom Harnetiaux, senior marketing analyst for Nevco Scoreboard Company, there is a trend with high schools and junior colleges incorporating the type of wireless innovations and video and message centers prominent at major league ballparks, NFL stadiums, and NBA arenas.

While some of that can be perceived as scoreboards becoming status symbols on the grassroots level, much of it has to do with schools becoming more sophisticated as funding shifts. A quality scoreboard has, in essence, become a necessity.

"What we see is funding shifting to the geographical area where schools may be receiving less money for their athletic programs," said Harnetiaux. "So they have taken the ambition--either through booster clubs or by solicitations--of going out and getting sponsorships and using that sponsorship money to purchase the kind of scoreboard system that they really want to have."

To that end, scoreboards are a win-win proposition as financially strapped programs can secure much needed revenue via the advertising route.

Over the last decade, schools have become wise to the benefits of selling static signage space on scoreboards. What was once a place to post a school spirit sign, such as "Home Of The Braves," for example, has become prime real estate for sponsorship opportunities. Now they are taking it to a whole new level.

Said Harnetiaux: "The video display/message centers that we sell, that's where we see a lot more of the sponsorships. Not necessarily the rotating ad panels. But say there was a timeout in the game. You could go to a timeout and have something that says, 'This timeout brought to you by the local pizza place.' On the advertising side, we see more of the video display and the message centers being much more popular just because your frequency is so much higher with those."

To fathom just how much scoreboards have evolved, over two decades ago, Varsity Scoreboards' founder, Mike Cowen, created an outdoor portable model that contained a full Apple computer as its brain. The scoreboard body was a converted automobile luggage carrier.

Now, companies like Varsity, Nevco, Fair-Play, Daktronics, All-American, Colorado Time/Display Systems, and Spectrum are raising the bar each and every year with remarkable products that integrate scoring, statistics, animated messages, video content, and sound all in one awesome package.

According to Angela Hatton, a Daktronics spokeswoman, the company is providing a deeper level of game-in-progress statistics as well as team and player stats through software programs like DakStats sport software as well as other integration programs. Using this software, facilities with matrix displays can show drive charts, shot charts, and other visuals that directly reflect the actions on the field or court, according to Daktronics.

Daktronics is seeking a patent for its new ColorSmart[TM] color changing LED digits. Scoreboards with this technology respond instantly to the changing events of the game, the company claims. For instance, when the game clock is running in ColorSmart[TM] mode, the scoreboard displays the movement of the period time in green. The moment officials stop the clock, the time on the scoreboard illuminates in red. When the clock shows less than one minute, the time is displayed in amber.


Another innovation is spread spectrum, a fairly recent technology that permits much more robust radio control of scoreboards.


"From a technical point of view, spread spectrum technology is an important tool to improve the reliability of the communications path between the scoreboard controller and the scoreboard," said Jim Bishop, President/CEO of Spectrum Scoreboards. "The reliability of the communications path is described in terms of the ratio between signal and noise. More signal received at the scoreboard is good; less is bad. Less noise received by the scoreboard is good; more is bad.


"Increasing the transmitter power from the scoreboard controller is one method to increase the amount of signal received at the scoreboard, but there are legal limits placed on the transmitter power because of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) limits. Unless one wishes to buy and maintain a radio broadcast license for each scoreboard."


For coaches and athletic directors that are laypersons, there are a few things you need to know when shopping for a new scoreboard.

"When purchasing a scoreboard, schools should keep in mind that it will be off 99% of the time and on 1% of the time," Bishop said.

"Therefore, schools should look for a scoreboard that looks appealing when turned off. Also, a scoreboard should be dependable, easy to read, and easy to operate."

That being said, some schools will face the dilemma of either retrofitting an existing scoreboard or installing a new one. It all comes down to an economic decision.

"In some cases it's favorable to retrofit the scoreboard depending on the condition and the location of the structure," Bishop added. "We have had a couple of unusual situations where the scoreboards were old, but still in good condition and had historical value to the school. Instead of installing a new one, we made sure the existing scoreboard was in good working order."

Said Jeff Reeser, Fair-Play Scoreboards' national sales manager: "We can retrofit but it isn't recommended for a number of reasons. First, it's more expensive to build a scoreboard in the air than it is in our facility. Second, with all of the new technology and innovations in the scoreboard industry, we suggest a new unit that can take advantage of those."

Another quandary, especially for schools with limited budgets, is choosing between a sport-specific scoreboard or getting away with using a multi-purpose one. The most popular configurations for indoor sports are basketball, volleyball, and wrestling.

"The pros [of a multi-purpose scoreboard] are it fits into a budget and can incorporate many different sports on one scoreboard," Reeser said. "Depending on the type of information they want displayed, a multi-purpose scoreboard can be more than an adequate solution. The downside is that institutions wanting more specific game or event information displayed might not get all they want in a multi-purpose scoreboard and would be better off purchasing a sport-specific scoreboard."

Lastly, regarding LED digit size recommendations for both indoor and outdoor scoreboards, the industry standard is one character inch equals 50 feet of viewing distance. For example, if you buy a scoreboard with 6-inch digits, expect a viewing distance of 300 feet. Nine-inch digits can be seen up to 450 feet away, etc.

Scoreboards are certainly more than just numbers. That will continue unabated.

"The scoreboard industry will continue to evolve to a higher level of performance by staying on the cutting edge of technology," said Varsity's Reeder.
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Title Annotation:FACILITY FOCUS
Author:Newell, Kevin
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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