Feature Article - October 2012
Find a printable version here

Lighting the Way

Innovations & Applications of LED Scoreboards & Sports Field Lighting

By Kelli Anderson

Form and Function

But Gowan is not alone in choosing an LED digital over a video board. For many, video is not necessarily better.

"I think people sometimes go for the home run, a video board, and they lose sight of what really is the function of what they're wanting," Roy said about how Neosho recently upgraded its outdated scoreboards to a four-sided scoreboard for the center of its gym, with scoreboards at either end and two outdoor boards for both football and baseball. "One school I know with a video board had a hard time finding people to run it correctly and were frustrated because they couldn't get it to work right. We have a retired teacher that comes in and does our scoreboards who is pretty technologically challenged."

Hatton knows of what Roy speaks, and cautions that it's easy for clients to get excited and to think only in the moment, but said its more important to ask what the new system really needs to do and to ask who will operate it.

Despite the fact that many systems are designed for ease of use, the fact remains that anything new takes a commitment to learn and may require more people to run it. "You have to choose what's right for a facility, and sometimes that will require more workers," Hatton said, emphasizing that it's important to work with customers and to find what is really right for them.

However, Hatton suggested that for those who struggle to find technologically savvy operators, one possible source of qualified volunteers may be no further than your local school classroom. Students who are used to working in A/V classrooms where there is a lot of integration of displays and where they are used to newer technologies are often happy (and capable) to work with new computerized equipment.

Another way to make that learning curve a little easier is that if buying multiple boards or systems, make sure that they come from the same manufacturer. Training will be similar from board to board and may even use the same controllers.

"My biggest concern was maintenance and ease of use and being able to teach how to use them and control them," Roy said about a major factor in his selection of equipment. "The best thing is that each controller can be used on any scoreboard."

Similarly, if you have been happy with a previous manufacturer, upgrading to their newer systems will mean an easier transition than going with a new company. "The training for us has been seamless," Roy said of his school's experience. "It's extremely easy to use, but the nice part was we utilized the same company as our last one so a lot of the same instruction used in the old scoreboard translated to the new one. So basically it was hook up the electricity and have fun with it. It was all the same concept as before."

Simplification of the needlessly complex seems to be on everyone's mind these days, with manufacturers designing more user-friendly boards and wireless systems. For Cornwall, who has been purchasing scoreboards for decades, wireless controllers have been a welcome change from hardwired systems that would get damaged by everything Mother Nature could throw at them. "Wireless continues to be a key component of purchases," Reeser confirmed. "The interference-free operation of multiple venues and scoreboard configurations is key."

Other important considerations are the lifetime of the display, its warranty and the kind of support that will be offered with the purchase.

As a result of Cornwall's many years of board-purchasing experience, the first thing he looks for is the warranty. "Replacement parts are very expensive, so the longer the warranty, the better it is financially," he said. "And on that same note, technical support is very important."

For Roy, customer service was a critical component, and he cited his appreciation of local support staff he knew he could count on. "We have a local guy who even drove up the night of our game to work on a problem," Roy said. "He's been back several times. One time on a game night, I was freaking out and it turned out that it just wasn't plugged in. He came over, plugged it in, and just laughed. In choosing a board, you have to look at the warranty and service and ask, will they come back and work on it for you? Do they communicate well with you?"