Feature Article - October 2017
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Seeking the Total Package

Trends in Sports Lighting, Scoreboards and Sound Systems

By Chris Gelbach

Scoreboards Mix Old and New

When it comes to scoreboards, manufacturers of the displays are also seeing a shift to LED technology as more facilities to opt to install video screens in addition to or in place of traditional fixed-digit scoreboards. According to Nick Wilson, vice president of sales and marketing for a scoreboard manufacturer based in Whitesboro, N.Y., LED displays still require a significant cost premium over a traditional scoreboard.

"When the prices are dropping is when the high schools are starting to pick these up," Wilson said. "They want to be like their local colleges and universities and pro teams. Right now, the price is at a feasible spot, but it has to be in a capital project. Because they can't just front the cost of it alone just through the athletic department."

Over time, Wilson expects scoreboards to go all-digital. "Within 15 years, you're not going to see just a box with digits in it," he said. "It's going to be a software-controlled video screen that you just display a scoreboard on."

At the Division I and pro levels, Wilson is seeing clients opt for the biggest and best screens possible with the smallest pixel pitch to achieve the highest-quality images. "We're seeing a lot of the colleges trying to mimic professional teams," Wilson said. "They're trying to get these screens in there because they can easily offset the dollars by ad revenue from people watching in-game ads."

In addition to multiple video screens and often no actual scoreboard, these facilities will also often opt for banner boards all around the stadium that create a more arena-like feel. "They're there to make money off these screens," Wilson said. "If there's a place to put a video screen, they're going to do it."

But the switch to LED alone can also make the board more difficult to operate. As a result, many high schools and recreation departments are instead opting for displays that include both an LED screen and a traditional scoreboard.

"On the recreational side, you'll see more of a hybrid because you've got a variety of events coming into the facility," said Alex Gomez, chief revenue officer for a New York City-based provider of scoreboards and lighting solutions. "If you go 100 percent LED, you're limiting the user base that can actually control and operate it. So you turn on your LED for your marquee higher-profile events and then you still use your fixed-digit for your amateur and youth events."

This approach is helpful because traditional scoreboard consoles are so intuitive and easy to use that any mom or dad can pick one up and use it on the weekend for Pop Warner games. Whereas the LED display requires more know-how. It also consumes significantly more energy, making its use most appropriate for special events. "You can literally run the fixed-digit scoreboard on virtually nothing," Wilson said. "It's like 99 percent savings if you're not using the video screen."

Wilson is additionally seeing more clients opt to use a solar kit for scoreboards on fields that don't already have power running to them. "You can call an electrician and they'll charge you $5,000 to bring out power, or you can buy a solar kit to power the scoreboard and have free clean energy," Wilson said.

As with lighting systems, choosing a vendor who can provide post-sale support is critical, particularly when the choice to implement a scoreboard that includes an LED display is made. "The fixed-digit scoreboards literally last for decades," Gomez said. "Once you get into LED, the game changes. It's like buying a computer. The computer that you bought in 1990 is not relevant today. And the parts that are provided are not made by any individual manufacturer, so certain parts become unavailable over time."

For these reasons, Gomez recommends choosing a vendor with a long history in the space that can provide support over the long haul, and that can provide local support when needed. "A number of entities don't have the local service agents that can drive over for a Friday night or Saturday or Sunday to instantly resolve any issues you may have over the years you have these investments on the field," Gomez said. "The post-sale is more important than the pre-sale."

As with lighting, scoreboard manufacturers are offering a growing range of customization options to emphasize school colors, logos and branding, from side and top panels to side banners flanking the scoreboard system that can be swapped out for different events.

Sound Options Abound

When it comes to sound systems, recreation facilities are also opting for higher-end products in many cases. In some instances, they may even have their eyes on systems that are higher-performing than the application demands.

"In the case of arenas for hockey or basketball, a lot of customers are judging the system knowingly or unknowingly more based on a concert-style system," said Olivier Roure, vice president of large venue sales for North America for a global provider of pro audio, video, lighting and control systems. "Instead of having a more utilitarian position, they're trying to get sonically to sound like a concert."

As a result, Roure is seeing more touring-style products making their way into the central scoreboard array in these arenas, because the vision the venue owner has for the facility's sound is more concert-like. "In our opinion, this may be an overreaction, as the concert is basically a live thing, while they are playing prerecorded music, which is automatically lower quality," Roure said.

As a result, it's important to consider how the system will be used, to avoid opting for a system that's more expensive than necessary. "If you're putting a touring system into a facility, and in the end all you're going to do is not even play a CD, but music from an MP3 player, sometimes it just doesn't matter," Roure said.