Feature Article - July 2008
Find a printable version here

Know the Score

Scoreboard Options Run the Gamut

By Dawn Klingensmith

Ads? Egads!

"Large-screen video displays and virtual scoreboards may indeed gain popularity in the future as software-driven displays create customization possibilities for the end user and as advancements in technology lower costs," Reeder said. "Currently, however, standard LED scoreboards remain the definite trend."

While projection systems and LED full-matrix displays are prohibitively expensive for smaller schools and most parks and recreation departments, there has been a rather rapid migration in the past two to five years of this sophisticated technology from professional and large-college sports to high schools. One of the systems' biggest selling points is the opportunity for revenue generation through sales of ad spots, which generally are handled by a marketing firm associated with the scoreboard manufacturer.

However, schools also are "approaching businesses within their community such as banks and insurance agents, which now gives them the ability to own their own scoreboard without having to enter into long-term lease agreements with third-party vendors," Ehlmann said.

Compared with traditional static banner ads, these systems support fully dynamic, media-rich advertising that better captures audience attention, and attracts and displays a greater number of sponsors. And at the end of the game, the ads disappear from view.

Nonetheless, in the world of youth and high school sports, offsetting the cost of a scoreboard through ad sales is controversial. On the plus side, ad-sponsored scoreboards bring a major-league feel to high school sports. Students and parents can experience the thrill of seeing athletes' photos and stats in lights. Animation can be used to rally the team and spectators. And message centers can be put to practical use, such as announcing upcoming school or community events, or displaying post-game traffic reports.

However, among school districts that consider entering into marketing arrangements with scoreboard manufacturers, the issue is invariably raised as to whether it is appropriate to air ads in academic settings, including school sports facilities.

Two scoreboard manufacturers reported seeing little resistance to the idea, or no more than would be expected, but for several years, the media have been tracking a national backlash against commercialism in schools in general and in sports ranging from pee wee on up to professional leagues. (At the professional level, after an outcry from fans and Congress, Major League Baseball ditched plans to slap Spiderman 2 logos on bases and on-deck circles during the 2004 season.) The Washington, D.C.-based organization called Commercial Alert, which aims to "rid the nation's schools of corporate marketers," according to its Web site, is a major impetus behind the backlash.

Indeed, too much teamwork between advertisers and educators can backfire. Texas Longhorn fans were rightfully proud when the University of Texas at Austin unveiled one of the largest high-definition LED full-matrix scoreboards in the world at the start of the 2006 football season. Almost as wide as the football field over which it towers, the 59-foot-wide, 7,370-square-foot scoreboard is the centerpiece of an $8 million audiovisual upgrade to the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. With affection and awe, fans nicknamed the scoreboard "Godzillatron."

The scoreboard's sheer size and loud volume capabilities made it prime real estate for advertisers, who at times were using more than 50 percent of the screen to promote products and services. Disgruntled spectators renamed the scoreboard "Adzillatron" and, according to newspaper reports, began shouting out their intention to boycott businesses they felt were monopolizing screen space.