Feature Article - October 2021
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Game Day

Upgrades Make for Better Scoreboard, Lighting & Sound Capabilities

By Dave Ramont


It was a tough year for sports fans who couldn't attend sporting events due to the pandemic. And when they watched events on TV, part of the allure and excitement was certainly dashed by the canned applause and cardboard cutouts in the stands. But judging from a crowd at a minor league baseball game I recently attended, fans are ecstatic to be back in the seats. And whether you're in a high school gymnasium or a major league stadium, many factors can enhance the fan experience, including scoreboards, lighting and sound. As technologies advance, these amenities are continually being upgraded, making the events better for not just the fans but for the athletes as well.

Score!

Scoreboards have made big strides in recent years, and while standard numeric electronic scoreboards are still often utilized, video displays continue to become more mainstream. These displays can give fans a close-up view of the action no matter where they're seated. Facilities can show full-screen video or create zones for scores, live video and sponsors. Venues can also pair their scoreboard with a video display, keeping things simple but adding flexibility. The score is always visible and they up their game by adding animations, stats and sponsor recognition.

"As the cost of the LED video displays keeps coming down, customers are finding that the difference in price is worth it for the true flexibility that a video display offers", said Thomas Doran, project manager for a Colorado-based company that provides athletic facilities with timing, scoring and display systems. He points out that these displays offer unlimited opportunities to customize not only the overall size but also the content displayed. "Today's LED video displays have more in common with your large-screen TV than they do scoreboards of years ago. Practically any device you have that can output a video signal can drive an LED video display."

Venues of all sizes—including high schools and parks and rec facilities—are seeing that the cost of a video display is "very reasonable," according to Doran. "Smaller facilities are also realizing how much more they can do with a video display in terms of content. Most customers now leave their displays on at all hours of operation, displaying video clips, sponsors/advertising, slide shows and general information throughout the day."

The layout and physical characteristics of a venue can determine what products might work best at a particular site. "The LED video displays are a modular product by nature so that allows us to truly customize a solution for each customer," explained Doran, "whether it is budget constraints, physical constraints (i.e., fitting a display to a certain size opening) and even architectural constraints, such as blending a display into the overall design/shape of the facility."

Indoor and outdoor scoreboards and displays are very different, according to Doran. Outdoor displays have to be much brighter to deal with sunlight, and of course there's rain and snow to consider. "An indoor pool environment is actually a bit more challenging compared to an outdoor display," he said. "Indoor displays have to deal with potential bad air quality that, if not handled correctly, can actually accelerate the demise of electronics."

"For outdoor displays we do need to take into account the weather and also the location and direction a display is facing," Doran continued. "If a display is to face south we need to make certain that it will have sufficient brightness and contrast to still be viewable to the audience in full sun. Also, if a display is going to be close to water (beaches/ocean), we need to build in some extra protection for the electronics in order to deal with corrosive salt air."

Display controllers are increasingly more powerful, with standard features such as PIP location, seamless high-speed switch and fade-in/fade-out effects. Software interfaces should be intuitive to operate, often on standard Windows-style programs, and ability to connect to social media accounts is an added bonus. High-quality LEDs are important, as is having multiple ways to input video and display it on your board. "We're constantly improving our controllers and software, not only to take advantage of new technologies in displays but also to better meet our customers' needs," said Doran, adding that customers are now interested in tighter pixel pitches, "below 10mm."

"Additionally, we're seeing more requests for multiple video displays within facilities," said Doran. Welcome displays with team imagery in entrances and lobbies and displays in concourses are all becoming more common. Integrating content with audio or adding interactive elements can make displays memorable. Real-time advertising data can highlight special offers at concession stands and provide wayfinding information. LED ribbon boards can accommodate curved and 360-degree installations, encircling stadiums or being utilized in outfields, end zones, sidelines and concourses, displaying advertisements, promotions, live scores, statistics, crowd prompts, interactive text messaging and more.

To meet a challenge brought on by the pandemic, Doran's firm also released a virtual solution that facilitates dual meets at two separate aquatic facilities and shares real-time data between the two sites. "The main idea behind this was to give swimmers a chance to compete against one another even though they couldn't be in the same building," Doran said. "We came up with ways to have races run at two facilities that were synchronized in terms of starts of races, progress of the races, and also the compilation of final race data that can be displayed at both facilities simultaneously on their LED video displays." Doran said they also gave their customers a way to stream the meets and the corresponding data to the internet for families and fans to watch in real time.

But with all the advancements in video displays, the numeric LED electronic scoreboards are still a cost-effective way to provide information, involve the audience and showcase athletes. Modules can be used singly or combined in multiple-module electronic scoreboard designs. Panels can be added for sponsor advertising or facility/team name. High-visibility LED digits ensure that scoring data can be seen day or night. These scoreboards provide wireless play-by-play for a multitude of sports: football, hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, track, baseball/softball and multi-sport generic are some of the common offerings. "In terms of the more standard numeric scoreboards, we try to make ours as multi-sport as possible. Sports like basketball, volleyball and even wrestling all have a common set of information that gets displayed so they work well for all of these sports."