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Feature Article - November 2009

Scoreboard Showdowns

The Latest & Greatest Is All Part of the Game

By Dawn Klingensmith


In competitive sports, it's not good enough anymore to have the best team. Especially at the high school level, it's a matter of pride to have the most imposing scoreboard, as well.

A puny board with lit numerals and a painted-on mascot? Pathetic. Fans, coaches, parents and players want audio, video and pertinent messaging. Schools and other sports organizations want sponsorship opportunities besides static panels.

One of the most exciting—and perhaps surprising—developments in scoreboard technology is how within reach high-definition video has become, said Angela Hatton, marketing manager for a Brookings, S.D., scoreboard manufacturer. "It's amazing the number of schools that one might perceive as being too small to have video," yet they have it, she added. What's considered merely "adequate" these days would have been unreachable in the recent past, and expectations of fairly advanced technology is extending even to rural areas, Hatton said.

The decreasing cost of the technology, as well as competitiveness, is driving the trend toward bigger and better. "Talk to any booster club, and they want a scoreboard that's equal or superior to the school just up the road," Hatton said. "There's a 'keeping up with the Joneses' factor, plus there's the realization that it's affordable, once they see that a rival school with comparable financial resources has bought one."

Although professional sports obviously are in an entirely different league, they have evolved the definition of "scoreboard" so that people seldom picture a board serving no other purpose than to keep track of points. The Dallas Cowboys' new football stadium perhaps offers the most extreme example of a scoreboard "on steroids," so to speak. The seven-story video board weighs a staggering 1.2 million pounds, and at a cost of $40 million, it alone cost more than the entire construction of Texas Stadium, the Cowboys' previous home. It takes 10 people to operate the scoreboard. Given a tour of Cowboy Stadium prior to its grand opening, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Vahe Gregorian later wrote, "It was clear there would be a choice to be made between watching events on the field or the monstrous board."

He also noted that T-shirts proclaiming "Ours is Bigger" were available for sale at concession stands.

In calling the scoreboard "monstrous," Gregorian was right in step with a contingent of sports fans who yearn for the return of simpler scoreboards, because the super-sized ones can detract from rather than enhance the game.

Further down the pecking order, a disturbing consequence of scoreboard one-upmanship in the budget-minded high-school sector is shortcutting in the wrong areas—namely installation, which has led to several incidences of potentially deadly structural failures.

So, what else is driving demand for bigger and better scoreboards? And might there eventually be a backlash against scoreboards that divert attention away from the game?