Down to the Wire
The Latest Trends in Scoreboards, Sports Lighting & Sound
When it comes to spectating at sporting events, the quality of a venue's lighting system, scoreboards and sound systems can make a huge difference in enjoyment of the game. And with a continual stream of new innovations in the technologies that support these systems, it's possible to constantly upgrade the gameday experience at your facility for everyone—from players to fans in the stands and at home.
Up in Lights
The explosion of lighting technologies is making a big difference for spectators at sporting events. LED lighting for sports venues, whether indoor or outdoor, provides myriad benefits in addition to the most obvious: energy savings.
"If I'm talking about indoor lighting," said Mike Lorenz, president of a Syracuse, N.Y., stadium and arena lighting solutions and installation company, "the trend is a lot more focused on the fan experience and the quality of the presentation to both fans that are in the venue as well as those that are watching on TV.
"On the outdoor side of the fence," Lorenz said, "Because, typically, outdoor lighting has less run hours, the perception was the technology was too expensive." But now we're seeing quite a bit of adoptions from municipalities, high schools and outdoor applications of lighting, ranging from the recreational fields right up to the professional fields, where operators are looking at LED as a realistic affordable option.
"What we are really doing is creating light with computers vs. mechanical infrastructure," Lorenz said. "And that is such a disruptive idea to lighting, that we've seen mechanical, bold lighting for more than 100 years and now we are seeing digital lighting, and that digital lighting has so many advantages over the bulb lighting. We are just scratching the surface, even though the improvements we've introduced have been substantial."
If you are looking to install a new lighting system, here are the key factors in your decision, Lorenz explained. First, what is the primary driver for considering changing the lighting system? If that is clear then the manufacturer can be very responsive to that driver. It may be maintenance cost, it might be sustainability, it could be player performance or broadcasting, or a variety of factors. But understanding what is driving the decision or the evaluation is helpful.
"Second," he said, "what are you trying to create? And you can be creative in that. So you may want to replace what is typically a one-dimensional lighting system, with a chance to imagine and become more proactive about what is possible."
And finally, Lorenz said, spend time understanding the differences in the technologies. "Use Google search and get some ideas of the venues that have been lit and people involved in the business and if you can make sure the factors you are considering are clear that will help for a better decision."
Eyes on the Score
When the clock is winding down in a game, track event or swim meet, and crowd enthusiasm is building, all fans look to the scoreboard, where the latest trends and newest scoreboard technologies can add to the overall excitement level.
And leading the way are the latest in LED displays, message centers, and high-resolution video systems integrated with audio, said Tom Coughlin, high schools, park and recreation, and sports marketing national sales manager, for a Brookings, S.D., scoreboard manufacturer.
These are all technologies that—although not exactly new—have been trending at not only the professional sports level, but also moving downstream to Division I colleges, community colleges and even some large high school districts, added Mike Daniel, president, of a Murray, Ky.-based scoreboard manufacturer.
Radio control (wireless) is certainly something that is becoming very commonplace, but different systems are trending for different sectors. For instance, what might be appropriate for large school districts or large high schools with big stadiums might be different from what is trending with city or municipal park and recreation departments.
One of the glaring trends is the use of video, Daniel noted. "The pricing on video displays continues to decline. But they are still expensive, and so the traditional scoreboard business is alive and well. There is clearly a move into video for the schools that have the resources to acquire it. The challenge is to have the resources to acquire it, and while there isn't a school that wouldn't like to have a video display hanging on their gym wall or at their football facility, wanting it and affording it are two different things."
At all levels of competition, from the pros like the Dallas Cowboys to a Little League in Kansas, "there is a continued interest and strength in the portable market. Portable units are a function of two things: one is price, but also the desire to have a multi-use unit that can easily move from one facility to another."
All of this is prevalent for both scoreboards and message centers, Coughlin said. Timing is a little more critical for specific sports and for different applications. "For example, in basketball we have timing to a tenth of a second, more so for shot clocks."
At the end of the day, the scoreboard has to be spot on. Even being two-tenths off is not good enough. It has to be correct. Timing to even the hundredth of a second is important in other events, such as aquatics or track. And that requirement can be built into a scoreboard for those types of applications, Coughlin noted. These days, you can even buy what some consider a football scoreboard with extra timing digits to allow for the application for track.
"When you are talking about trends at track and field venues," he said, a full matrix LED display that not only does specific timing but also does instantaneous lane place time for each event is a must.
"One last thing I would mention about the advances in technology," Daniels added, "is about the reliability of wireless communication with the scoreboard. Ten years ago the wireless industry wasn't particularly reliable. But the wireless we use now is incredibly robust and is spot on. It's something we are really proud of. We once preferred hard wiring scoreboards to wireless, but that is no longer the case. Wireless is simple, clear and often less expensive. The product may cost more upfront but over its history it is cost-efficient."
Many facility owners look at this type of an investment or purchase as a cost, but it should be just the opposite, Coughlin insisted. "Scoreboards are tremendous revenue generators because of the passion and because of all of the energy and spirit that sport brings, to attach both a business and its potential customers with a fan base."
Generating revenue can address several different needs. For some facility owners, the goal is to simply generate enough revenue to pay for their system in advance or pay themselves back after they have made the purchase. "But what we are also seeing," Coughlin said, "is many buyers seeing a new scoreboard as a way to generate consistent marketing and sponsorship dollars annually. And they can use this investment to grow those dollar amounts over time."
When the clock is winding down in a game and crowd enthusiasm is building, all fans look to the scoreboard.
Another revenue stream can be had from selling sponsor panels, Daniel said. "Sponsor panels are not a real glitzy thing to talk about, yet their usage is continuing to grow. You see them typically at high school venues above, below, beside the traditional scoreboard. It feels like we are selling significantly more scoreboards with sponsor panels than we were five years ago. It might be the local physician or mechanic that is supporting the school by helping to fund that scoreboard. There can be a real advertising value in this. I just don't know that a lot of smaller businesses recognize what that opportunity is."
There is also a prestige factor. "Particularly with local advertisers, it is really for community goodwill that they sponsor a scoreboard," noted Coughlin. "Their motivation is to be a good community partner. The sponsor might have employees with children playing a sport at that school. They see that as a good service to their employee customer or their employee base. Other businesses simply see it as a good way to advertise. As opposed to other traditional media, it can be a small part of their advertising budget."
Instead of buying a scoreboard outright, why not consider leasing or the financing of displays? Coughlin asked. Schools and cities often can get tremendously favorable leasing rates, and while most people think about leasing when it comes to heavy equipment, more and more facility owners are leasing and financing these types of purchases, he said.
"The unique thing here is they are able to make payments over time and at the same time implement a sports marketing project that generates revenue," Coughlin explained. "What you have is an affordable payment plus an annual sponsorship advertising cash flow and if the sponsorship is greater than the annual payment you are in a cash plus position from day one. At the end of the day, in three to five years when the scoreboard is paid for, you really have a significant amount of revenue coming in and no payment or no debt to service."
Aquatic Scoreboards Are Different
Throw out all your preconceptions when it comes to aquatic scoreboards, said Rick Connell, general manager of a Loveland, Colo., manufacturer that specializes in scoreboards for swimming facilities. "Yes, there is a trend to wireless," he said. "We do wireless shot clocks for water polo, and wireless scoreboards. But if you get around people who want perfect timing, they are almost going back to hard-wired."
Water and wireless are not a good mix, Connell said. When you get to precise timing you still want hard wire.
"It is kind of both ways right now," he said. "Used to be the buzzword was wireless—'Hey, I want a wireless scoreboard'—but what are the downsides? If you have a fire station or emergency vehicles nearby, they override every signal. It's code. It's almost like site specific. There are certain places where I'll go and after testing, say there is no way you need wireless here. And people understand and appreciate that honesty."
Most times Connell recommends wiring aquatic facility scoreboards because you're going down to hundredths of a second. Swim meets are so precise. "You don't want any latency in that wireless," he said. "I'm old school. If I can wire a scoreboard and run a $50 cable instead of adding $800 for the wireless and I know I will have that dedicated connection, I will do it every single time. All our video boards, we run fiber, which is the best in an aquatic environment. And IT guys will tell you that."
If you own or manage a stadium or arena, you might not think it's enough to provide just the latest visual and lighting effects for your sports venue audience. If that's the case, you'll want to include as part of the overall technological package the latest in sound systems. And here, the trend is toward installing air wireless companion speakers, said Emily Golding, vice president, marketing, of a Carlsbad, Calif.-based manufacturer of sound systems.
The most significant advantage of a portable sound system is there is no restriction on how or where it can be used.
"There are those who don't want to connect their main power speaker to a companion speaker with a cable," she said. "People don't want to have to plug in their system. They want wireless, in the cloud, cable free. Consider a battery-powered wireless companion speaker. It picks up everything that is coming out of the main speaker, but wirelessly."
The most significant advantage of a portable sound system is there is no restriction on how or where it can be used. This makes it ideal for community centers, schools, businesses, and event managers to have on hand.
When Golding's company sends out speakers, she noted, the speakers are already synced together so a customer doesn't need to change frequencies once they arrive, unless they want to. You'll also want to see that the main unit can power multiple companion speakers. "If you are in a large field, a football stadium," she used as an example, "and want to have three or four sound systems to cover that whole area, you can."
Frequency interference has to be tested before it goes live in the marketplace because people are using Bluetooth and don't want to have to worry about changing the channel or interference from the local cell tower or other competing systems that are wireless.
Before you buy or lease, Golding said, "It's important to know approximately how many people are going to be at the event so that you know how many they have to provide sound to. If you only have 100 people that's a totally different sound system than if you have 800 people."
You also need to know how long that sound system is needed at an event. You can get 6 to 8 hours or more, depending on the usage from the battery power. An event that runs 8 a.m. to the middle-of-the-night will require back-up battery options. Just be aware of how long you have with your batteries.
You should know whether there is going to be more voice or more music playing out of the system, Golding advised. "A lot of systems are optimized for music, but they are not optimized for voice. They are different systems. The music might sound great, but then someone goes to a microphone, and no one in the audience can hear them because that sound system was not designed for that. You need to know whether the event is primarily music or whether the music is in the background, with voice and speech presentation."
A final factor, she said, is the approximate crowd size, and indoor versus outdoor use. Consider choosing a system with multiple uses, where there is a greater range of possibilities and applications for the sound system.