Feature Article - March 2006
Find a printable version here

Ready for their Close-up

Scoreboards that steal the spotlight

By Dawn Klingensmith

Taking a shine to LED

"Anyone who's planning to buy a new scoreboard is not going to opt for incandescent," says Mark Steinkamp, a marketing and sales support manager for a scoreboard manufacturer. "It simply wouldn't make sense. The LEDs are so much more reliable."

Steinkamp is referring to light-emitting diodes, newer light sources that literally and figuratively outshine the incandescent lamps that have been with us in one form or another since the days of Edison. An LED is a tiny, solid-state lamp with semiconductor chips that turn electric energy into light. Unlike ordinary light bulbs, LEDs don't have filaments that become brittle over time and eventually break. They'll burn for a decade or moreā€”up to 16 times longer than regular bulbs. Plus, LEDs are more durable. When a batter slugs a baseball at an incandescent scoreboard, that shattering noise you hear isn't just the opposing team's pulverized hopes but also the sound of breaking bulbs. LEDs can withstand greater impacts, so aspiring Sammy Sosas aren't as likely to decimate scoreboard digits.

Superior brightness and clarity are other selling points for LED.

"The crispness and contrast is way beyond what you can achieve with incandescent," says Richard Webb, vice president and director of landscape architecture at Kaestle Boos Associates, a New Britain, Conn., firm specializing in sports and recreation facility design.

He adds that LED technology gives athletic-field designers more flexibility in terms of scoreboard placement with respect to the sun.

"You don't want the sun shining directly on your scoreboard," he says, whether it's outfitted with ultra-bright LEDs or not. "But an LED scoreboard can be pushed a little farther into the sun or shadows if need be, and you'll still be able to read it."

Aside from being easier on the eyes, LED scoreboards literally might be less of a pain in the neck, as LEDs offer wider viewing angles.

"With an incandescent scoreboard, a 120-degree viewing angle is what you'd typically try to achieve, but because of LED's superior vibrancy, 140 degrees or better is easily achievable," says Chris Cullen, a sales manager for a scoreboard manufacturer.

But LED's biggest advantage over incandescent is energy-efficiency. In setting their filament ablaze, conventional light bulbs generate warmth, which is completely wasteful unless you want your scoreboard to double as a space heater. In LEDs, a much higher percentage of electrical power goes directly to generating light. Typically, LEDs operate on less than 20 percent of the power required for incandescent lamps, which can cut electricity costs enormously.