Feature Article - October 2017
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Seeking the Total Package

Trends in Sports Lighting, Scoreboards and Sound Systems

By Chris Gelbach

At the same time, however, as new facilities place an increasing priority on suites, Roure often sees facilities opt for a basic approach when outfitting those spaces with sound systems. "Usually the first try ends up being pretty utilitarian—making sure that there is sound, there is video, there is control in the suite," Roure said. After a few years of negative feedback from high-paying suite customers, these venues often go back and enhance the suite sound systems. "The facility comes back and will revisit the luxury suites and customize them some more than they have in a previous pass at a project," Roure said.

While the energy-saving potential of LED lights is well-understood, Roure noted that green designs have also produced significant energy savings with new amplification systems. "We have definitely done studies for facilities where maybe their amplification was only six years old and making the case that changing all of it now would make sense because the green initiative would make the new system pay for itself within 12 months," Roure said. These systems can offer savings both in requiring less electricity and by producing less heat, which in turn lessens the amount of air conditioning that needs to be used to cool the system down in the rack room.

More budget-strapped facilities are also finding that they can get big sound at a reasonable price by opting for a portable sound system, a choice that also provides greater flexibility. "We're seeing a lot of schools wanting to replace the old horn-driven speakers that are installed in stadiums and instead of doing something installed they want to stretch their budget," said Emily Golding, vice president of marketing for a provider of portable sound solutions based in Carlsbad, Calif. "So they want to get a system that's versatile that can maybe solve more than one problem."

Portable systems are also by default the only option for fields that lack poles, bleachers or other infrastructure from which to hang an installed system. "If you just have an open field, a portable system is going to be the only option anyway," Roure said. "At that point, it becomes more like rental production — more like an event in the street for a week."

Golding is seeing parks and recreation departments opt for portable systems when they want a solution that can go beyond just an athletic field to also be used in the various park spaces where people may gather for different events. Since they're battery powered, they also eliminate the need for outlets and extension cords.

"Recently, we also switched to lithium ion batteries which are much lighter and last a lot longer," Golding said. "While you used to get only maybe two years out of a battery, now it's four to six years. And they're lighter. The batteries used to weigh 15 pounds and now it's about 5 pounds, so they really reduce the weight of the product."

Golding recommends that recreation and athletic departments budget $2,500 to $4,000 for a portable PA system, whereas she estimates that installed systems start at $10,000 or more. She also recommends looking for a system that is easy to operate and that excels at both playing music and voice amplification. "A lot of sound systems have trouble doing both," Golding said. "They're usually optimized for music and not for voice amplification, so it's important to have both of those needs covered."

Bringing It All Together

While it would be ideal to be able to operate the lights, scoreboard and sound system together easily from one device, the technology's not quite there yet. "The lighting, scoreboard and sound systems at this point are still fairly independent of each other," Roure said. "The more technology you have to pack up into a single device, the more complicated the device has to be."

Boorom expects the integration of controls into one standard to happen in the future, with the solution being driven, as it has in other industries, by a consolidation of businesses. "I think that's probably the next wave in the world of sports facilities and management of products—when there start to be some mergers that bring these technologies together for a turnkey package," Boorom said.

But while this vision doesn't yet happen seamlessly, that's not always obvious to fans who are able to enjoy the immersive experience that a combination of the latest sound, lighting and scoreboard technologies can provide. "If you have just a generic field with turf on it, today most people just feel like that's what you should have," Wilson said. "But when you have a high-fidelity sound system, lighting system and a scoreboard system that all interact with each other, then you've got a stadium."