Feature Article - November 2009
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Scoreboard Showdowns

The Latest & Greatest Is All Part of the Game

By Dawn Klingensmith

Look! Up in the Sky!

Let's start at the top, where multistory scoreboards are becoming the norm. Fans of professional sports franchises are heavily invested in their teams and pay a steep price for tickets. And though it's seldom spoken, the reasoning goes that if the home team loses, a scoreboard that doubles as an entertainment center will make the spectators' experience still seem worthwhile.

The new scoreboard at the Ford Center basketball arena (photo on previous page), home of the Oklahoma City Thunders, is just such an entertainment center. Indeed, its stated underlying goal is to "upgrade the fan's in-game experience," according to the NBA's Web site.

Quoted on the Thunder's Web site, Brian Byrnes, senior vice president of Ticket Sales and Service, said: "This is so much more than a scoreboard. It's a real video presentation, which I think just really enhances the whole experience of being at the game."

Billed as the NBA's "biggest and best," the $3.9 million scoreboard features a dozen video panels and an LED ring. But though high schools wouldn't even have room for such a scoreboard, let alone the funds, a "video presentation" of some sort is becoming an expected game-time enhancement.

The Thunder's new scoreboard is a multi-tasker, allowing for a live game feed, clock, scores, statistics and sponsor messaging to be broadcast simultaneously.

A "pop-up element" previews what will happen during the next timeout, whether it's a sponsored promotion, an appearance by Rumble the mascot or a performance by the Thunder Girls.

Part of the thinking behind multi-tasking scoreboards is that audiences are accustomed to assimilating input from multiple sources. Music and video are presumed to generate excitement and pump up fans, creating more noise in support of the players. Generally, the scoreboards pay for themselves, at least in part, by including advertisements, although in-your-face ads tend to annoy some fans.

And not all fans appreciate that much stimuli. When the University of Notre Dame replaced its outdated, incandescent football scoreboard in the fall with a modestly upgraded LED board of roughly the same size, but with full color, some outspoken students published a letter in the college newspaper after the scoreboards' September debut, complaining that the graphics displayed during game time were "nothing short of atrocious."

"The old display was simple, and while it wasn't flashy it gave fans all the information they needed. Graphics were simple and certainly did not compare to other over-the-top stadium scoreboards, which was just fine," wrote Stephen Siena and Alexander Buell. "The simple scoreboard ensured that fans focused on the game and evoked a more traditional feel inside the stadium. We want the scoreboard to tell us what we want to know, such as other game scores and game stats. The scoreboard should not display silly graphics that serve no purpose…

"…The 'Get loud' and clapping animations were superfluous, and frankly, insulting. Notre Dame fans are intelligent enough to follow a game and know when to clap and cheer."

Although the students can no longer see the old scoreboard in action, they can visit it anytime: A nearby sports bar bought it at auction.