A Cut Above

Scoreboard Innovations Becoming More Visual, Motivational

By Deborah L. Vence

S

coreboard technology has come a long way since the invention of the first time clock for high school sports in 1934. That initial creation essentially leveled the playing field in game scoring—ultimately breaking the habit of teams arguing over errors made in games timed by hand.

Since that time, scoreboards have evolved into a luxury, so to speak, for recreational facilities, schools and sports stadiums alike, to not only keep score and measure time, but to advertise products and services, motivate sports fans and show off an athlete's record-breaking win.

Thus, the advances in scoreboard technology continue to develop, with more companies touting their latest inventions that are taking the industry to new heights, all while catering to an ongoing trend where organizations are trying to alleviate budget constraints by raising money so their sports programs can continue to thrive.

"Scoreboards are transitioning away from the simple home/away variety to ones that have much more visual impact. We expect this trend to continue to the point where institutions do away with traditional scoreboards in favor of complete LED boards that will allow for nearly unlimited functionality for games, rallies and other gatherings," said J.M. Allain, president and CEO of a Norwalk, Conn.-based scoreboard company that designs, sells, rents, installs and services real-time, programmable electronic information display systems.

In this issue, we bring you up to date on some of the latest news and advancements in scoreboards, including wireless, LED technology, environmentally-friendly and more, that are not only making scorekeeping more effective, but inspiring athletes and fans alike.

Wireless Scoring

Though it's not considered a new trend, wireless technology continues to be a hot product in scoreboards, having taken the industry by storm in recent years by enabling scorekeepers to change game scores from the palms of their hands, rather than having to hire someone to manually change the scoreboard during games.

"The bigger trend is that it's more reliable wireless without any glitches or problems. Especially in softball, you can have the umpire running the scoreboard. And, you're saving money. Most [recreation] complexes take up a four-field complex, and [the scoreboards] have to be run up top, and those people are usually paid," explained Jeff Reeser, national sales manager for a Des Moines, Iowa-based company that designs and manufactures scoreboards for schools, colleges and municipalities.

In fact, Reeser's firm took its next generation of wireless to the next level with the release of a new handheld remote control. Facilities can use the remote control device for baseball, football and basketball scoreboards. His firm recommends the handheld remote control for many types of facilities, including small recreational venues and large arenas. One control can operate up to eight scoreboards in the same facility.

"It needs to be very intuitive. We've been able to go to a smaller control package that allows us to go into [a handheld remote control] type product," Reeser said.

Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin, sales manager for the high school and parks and recreation market, and sports marketing division, for a Sioux Falls, S.D.-based scoreboard company, agreed that wireless is a prevalent feature that's being picked up on more at parks and recreation facilities.

"Particularly in some outdoor facilities and some indoor as well, it allows for the control and operation of the scoreboards from different vantage points," he said. "Like anything in technology, it's always improving. There always are some new features."

However, experts warned that wireless is not for everybody.

Chris Westerman, strategic product manager for a Sioux Falls, S.D.-based scoreboard company, said that while wireless is continuing to be more and more predominant in the market, he cautioned that there is the potential for interference from other electronic devices when using the technology.

"If you get to the high school level, we do see where they will put in wireless control, but as you get to the NCAA and NBA level—although they like the wireless option—they can't afford from a game-stoppage side of things, they can't afford the hiccups," he said.

Still, Westerman said he is confident that his company's wireless solution can combat some of the issues associated with wireless technology.

"Most of our options when choosing a scoreboard, any scoreboard could be wireless or wired, so we can run our scoreboard either way. When it comes down to choosing scoreboards, it comes down to the facility and what we need to display on the scoreboard," he added.

LED Technology

From a technical aspect, typical scoreboards use LED (light emitting diode) technology, which is considered to be the scoreboard industry standard because of its low-maintenance requirement and energy-saving characteristics.

In fact, some companies are on the verge of manufacturing new software packages that are more user-friendly using LED technology.

"The single biggest advance relates to our ability to integrate LED boards right in the scoreboard," Allain said.

"The decreasing price of actual LED lamps is allowing us to add TV-like screens to boards of nearly any size and complexity. That means that any school or organization now has the ability to add big league type displays to their systems. Also, with the addition of a camera or two, budding show producers can now create a game-day experience for their school or organization," he said.

The second biggest advance relates directly to the first, Allain said.

"Software used to display scores and video is becoming much more user-friendly and feature-rich," he said, adding that his firm and its subsidiary soon will be unveiling a new software package designed to provide a rich visual and audio event without the need for expensive and complicated equipment or training.

"We want our scoreboards to be used to provide an exceptional experience for the players and fans," Allain said.

Westerman added that while large professional venues use large-screen video display LED boards, a similar trend is happening at high schools and parks and recreation facilities.

"In high school and at the small college level, they are taking an LED advertising display and during game time or during the play they are putting clocked scores, scoreboard data onto that advertising display and still during time-outs before or after the game, they are still able to use that display—getting double duty out of it," he said.


Key Approaches to Finding the Right Scoreboard

Choosing the best scoreboard to fit your needs takes some research and good quality manufacturing.

J.M. Allain, president and CEO of a Norwalk, Conn.-based firm that designs, rents, sells, installs and services real-time programmable electronic information display systems, said the quality of manufacturing and the raw materials used to build boards are critical in ensuring that an institution's investment will last for many years.

"There are many companies in the marketplace that sell inexpensive boards that simply do not last or are not attractive," Allain said.

Allain said organizations should consider the following when picking out a scoreboard:

  • Insist on aluminum [because] it lasts longer. It stands up to the weather and is much lighter than other metals. "We, too, could use cheaper materials such as steel, but we know that they will not last," Allain said.
  • Use a proprietary multi-step waterproofing process to protect outdoor digits from the damaging effects of water and humidity. Without this, the digits can prematurely deteriorate.
  • Use the widest digits available to ensure excellent readability during day and night games.
  • Make sure the accent and trim are standard. "We never upcharge for making the front of a scoreboard organized and attractive to the eye," he said.
  • Always read the fine print on limited warranties to see if things like labor and shipping products back and forth to the manufacturer are excluded.

Meanwhile, Bethany Reeder, marketing manager for a Murray, Ky.-based scoreboard manufacturer, advised that schools and recreation facilities ask several key questions before choosing a scoreboard: Is there an existing scoreboard already installed? If the organization needs a newly installed unit, they first need to consider their budget to determine what size they need. Which sports will be played at the facility? Is a multi-sport board necessary? Which features and options are available?

And, Jeff Reeser, national sales manager for a Des Moines, Iowa-based scoreboard manufacturer, recommended a couple of other steps to take when choosing a scoreboard.

First, Reeser said that much of picking out a scoreboard is dependent on the outdoors, depending on the field size; as well as ensuring that you have readable digits and captions.

"You need to be able to make sure that you have the right size scoreboard and have digits that are readable. If you have too small of a scoreboard, it can get tough to read," he said.

"Basically," he added, "a common rule used by everyone, is that for each inch of digit height, you can see it from 50 feet. It comes down to that we will recommend the best option, and then we're going to work with [our customers] on their budget."

Second, Reeser said, pick the right sport.

"That being said, we understand that the fields are used for different things," he said. "A baseball field could be used for football in the fall. You have to consider a multi-purpose scoreboard, a change from this sport to that."


Motivational Records

When high school athletes break their own record or another competitor's record in swimming, track and field, or any other sport for that matter, it's nice to be able to display those feats for others to see.

That's where motivational scoreboards come into play. Motivational scoreboards are becoming more and more popular in high schools and colleges to help inspire young athletes, said Renee Frazho, owner of a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based record board company.

"If an athlete breaks a record, their score stays up there. If they do break records, whether it's a club or school or anything, recruiters are looking at the time," she said.

"What I've been finding is that with motivational record boards, basically, if an athlete breaks a record in weight-lifting or in basketball, their score stays up there. What we have been doing is customizing them. They want to have, for instance, room to grow somewhere along the line," Frazho said.

Over the years, Frazho's firm has developed a number of standard cost-effective board designs that provide room for easy-to-read characters. The designs can be modified to meet the customer's needs, whether it is adding an event row or column, adding a sponsor line or changing the order of events.

Information on motivational scoreboards includes the athlete's name, age and record. Frazho's company offers record boards to colleges, high schools and clubs across the country. The record boards are designed to enhance the appearance of natatoriums, weight rooms, fields and gyms, while the front loading record board system offers the convenience, look and quality needed to record events.

For example, the record board's front-loading framing system is designed to separate each event and record insert, which makes for easy removal of inserts to update individual records. In other words, rather than having to change letters by climbing up a ladder, records can be updated in the comfort of your office.

And while these motivational scoreboards are being used at schools during major competitions, they also are being used in smaller settings, such as in school weight rooms for boys and girls to see how well they're bench pressing, for example, and to keep them inspired.

"That's motivating to the rest of the athletes," Frazho said. "This helps football teams a lot. They have the year, name of the athlete, [how many pounds were bench pressed] and the weight category."

The cost for such record boards can be as high as $1,800 or more, depending on the size. The average is around $1,200 and up. Extra panels are included to change from year to year, are suitable for indoors and outdoors and can withstand moisture.

And, for customers that don't have the money to revamp their scoreboards, Frazho said that, in that case, she always tries to work within her clients' budgets.

"I say, 'tell me what you can do.' And [the customers might say] we can do this. We only have $2,000," she said. "[In that case], I can make the [scoreboards] smaller or narrower [and modify them to fit their budget]."

Environmentally Conscious

As many companies are trying to "go green" these days, the future certainly looks promising in developing greener technologies for scoreboards as well.

"While the types of scoreboards available in the marketplace are already quite varied, we as an industry must be able to provide green products that allow for the same or better features that use alternate power sources," Allain said.

"While we are already delivering solar-powered scoreboards, they are limited in their functionality, reliability and robustness. The future in green technologies is bright, however," he said. "We are using the wind, solar and battery functionality from our TL Energy division as building blocks for scoreboards that are completely off the grid and are much friendlier to the environment."

Meanwhile, Bethany Reeder, marketing manager for a Murray, Ky.-based scoreboard manufacturer, whose list of clients include most of the NFL and many NBA teams as well as major colleges and universities, high schools, park and recreation departments and youth leagues, added that within the last month, her firm has unveiled a major scoreboard invention that it considers a "green" solution to replacing an old scoreboard.

"This new invention … is a revolutionary process whereby a tired, outdated scoreboard can be remarkably transformed into a new scoreboard while eliminating the need to replace the existing unit and structure. Transportation and installation costs are drastically reduced with the [new] process. Installation is a breeze with the lightweight, easily interchangeable components," Reeder said.

"The new system can help organizations save money during this time of budget cuts. Installation and transportation costs are oftentimes drastically reduced with this new method," she said.

Aquatic-Specific and Portable Boards

Finally, two types of scoreboards that continue to thrive in popularity are aquatic-specific and portable.

Coughlin said that he's seeing more recreation facilities upgrading their aquatic scoreboards to include the full matrix.

"We're finding a lot of the installation of these LED matrix boards," he said.

Meanwhile, Paul Vugteveen, who specializes in timing sales for a Sioux Falls, S.D.-based scoreboard company, agreed that there is growing popularity for matrix-style scoreboards in aquatics.

"I would say the biggest shift we have experienced [in aquatic-specific scoreboards] over the last few years has been the increasing popularity of full matrix-style scoreboards," Vugteveen said. "These are scoreboards that, in addition to the traditional lane, place and time information, also provide the viewer with information such as athlete name, team affiliation, event titles and so on. They are also able to display graphics and moving animation when not displaying event results."

In addition, another benefit of full matrix scoreboard technology is that on non-meet days the display can be used for other things such as general announcements and sponsor recognition.

"While more traditional numeric scoreboards are really only providing information on meet day, full matrix scoreboards provide value all year round," Vugteveen said.

And, historically, the price gap between full matrix scoreboards and the more traditional numeric style had been quite significant. Recent advancements in LED technology have allowed that price gap to narrow significantly, allowing more customers to experience the benefits of full matrix technology, he added.

"As with most things, price will vary depending on size and what the customer would like the display to do for them. For example, for a relatively small 25-yard pool, if results and graphics in one color are sufficient, [then] a matrix scoreboard can start in the mid to high $20,000 [range]," he explained. "If the customer requires high-resolution full-color video along with results the price can move well into the six figures. There are products that fit in many slots between the entry level and the more advanced products."

He said that compares with a traditional numeric scoreboard averaging somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000.

"Full matrix displays are controlled by PC-based software. The user simply programs in what he or she wants the board to do and the display takes over," he added.

Lastly, portable scoreboards have remained popular in the scoreboard industry because of their versatility.

"[Portable scoreboards] can be moved around from field to field. They are on wheels and moved to whatever location. They can be controlled from other locations vs. something that is stuck in the ground and on poles," Coughlin said. "It has a great deal of versatility. It's a good feature."

He added, "Most of the portable scoreboards are the multi-sport [kind], for the features and functions can accommodate most any outdoor sport, commonly used for baseball, soccer and more."



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