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Feature Article - March 2004

The Perfect Score

Selecting the right scoreboard and timing systems for your needs

By Kelli Anderson


Go to any pro sporting event, and you're sure to be wowed by the latest scoreboard displays—from full-color-live-action video capturing spectator-pleasing crowd shots and instant replays to impressive animated graphics—all while still getting the essential game-related information.

It's a far cry from the days of manually changed numbers or clicky electro-mechanical relays. Scoreboards still provide the essential elements of the score, clock and period but, with the advent of more sophisticated technology, can now function also as entertainment, a practice tool for educators and coaches, and even a revenue-generator. Knowing your own programming and facility needs and understanding what scoreboard products offer will help in the selection process.

INCANDESCENT AND LED

Today, the two most popular scoreboards are the incandescent and LED (light emitting diode). Although both technologies have been available since the '70s, it has only been since the '90s that the LED scoreboards have come into their own when the brightness and viewing angle of the LEDs were greatly improved. Prior to the improvements, the LED had more limited applications, while the incandescent dominated the scoreboard industry.

Pros and cons within the two varieties are considerable. Incandescents are still highly favored for their low cost and long life, with some scoreboards still ticking after 30 years of use. However, incandescents become costly over time when power sources and maintenance costs are factored into the equation. And when bulbs burn out at the wrong time or are poorly maintained, scoring information can become downright impossible to read.

"It's a lower cost purchase up front," says Dan Bierschback, sports products engineering manager of a scoreboard company. "But if you look at the lifetime costs, the incandescent is more because you have to swing that ladder up, and you have to also bring in a heavier power source to run an incandescent board."

An LED uses 1/10 of the electricity needed for an incandescent bulb, lasts longer, and its solid-state design requires little to no maintenance (read: no lamps to screw in). They are an all-around performer for indoor, outdoor, daytime and nighttime with their ability to adjust brightness from the scoreboard console. Their technology allows a wide variety of viewing displays and adaptable uses from single-line scrolling messages to full-blown matrix products with programmable displays for different sports and applications.

But LEDs have their dark side, too. The upfront cost, although coming down, is still prohibitive for some buyers, and the brightness of an LED board can fade over time—albeit, decades. In addition, not all LEDs are created equal. A good dot pattern will appear seamless, but the dot pattern of some designs can make digits and wording appear, well, dotty.


OPTING FOR CO-OPS

For Scott Hardeman, athletic supervisor for the Community Activity Center in Grapevine, Texas, buying a scoreboard for the community center would ordinarily have involved the time-consuming and costly process of putting out bids to various vendors. But thanks to an online purchasing co-op's bidding service at Buyboards.com, that tedious process was bypassed altogether.

In the last three or four years purchasing co-ops like Buyboards.com have popped up all over the country, following the lead of innovative Web sights in Florida and California. These services research vendors for the best prices, product quality and compliance with statutes and regulations required by government entities like municipalities, schools, counties and government agencies and perform the bidding process according to legal requirements. The vendors, who pay a fee to be a part of the process, also benefit by having their information posted on the site and thereby lessening the necessity of responding to every individual bid.

"Typically, clients have a need, look for a product and look at multiple vendors," says Sharon McAfee, bid administrator with Buyboards.com in Austin, Texas. "We establish annual contracts that they can order off of those contracts. It saves administrative costs because they don't have to bid on the items, and it's convenient—it saves time."

Although these sites were originally intended to service the needs of a particular geographic area, it is now possible to purchase items from another state, in some cases, thanks to the inter-local participation laws passed two years ago. These laws make it possible for two or more government entities to purchase off another government entity's contract.

To find out more about purchasing co-ops, search for Web sites that provide bidding services in your area.


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