Center Stage

The Latest in Scoreboards & Sports Lighting

By Deborah L. Vence

Wireless and LED technology continue to take the scoreboard industry by storm as demand is up for these resourceful innovations—by recreation facilities, sports stadiums and schools alike.

"We were extremely busy this summer. It was hard to keep up with the demand. I just sense that for whatever reason, the opportunities are out there. There's some school construction going on … keeping the current facilities up to date," said Jeff Reeser, national sales manager for a Des Moines, Iowa-based company that designs and manufactures scoreboards for schools, colleges and municipalities. "We've seen [business] level off. But, I think we're seeing an uptick now, as of recent, as we head into the winter. There's a bigger uptick than this time last year."

And, when it comes to trends in scoreboards, 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, said that "Ironically, the single biggest trend we're seeing in scoreboard technology advancement is related directly to LED technology. Obviously, our significant core value has been and continues to be that very LED discipline. Therefore, to our great benefit is the marriage between traditional scoreboards and LED technology."

What's more, "This year will be better for us than last year, and that indicates a trend. You know, I think that we are seeing some available dollars that are better this year that weren't available before," Allain said.

"I'm not prepared to declare the war is over yet," he added, "but I do think that what we have done, as an industry, we have worked at right-sizing our pricing and worked on things, wireless technology, ability to have a well working technology to cut the actual bill and price tag for a scoreboard by a significant amount."

In this issue of Recreation Management magazine, we bring you news on the latest trends and advancements in scoreboard technology, including wireless, LED and video; as well as a glance at the latest innovations in sports lighting.

Wireless Technology

Of course, wireless technology continues to be a go-to innovation in scoreboards, enabling game scores to be changed remotely, without having to make adjustments by hand.

One of the latest developments in the area of wireless technology is a new version for scoreboards that guarantees flawless operation.

"We are, with the newest version, guaranteeing 100 percent operation. We have a data signal that works against anything. There are so many wireless devices in the world, but we think our pattern is foolproof. And the nice thing, too, is that it fits people with older scoreboards, even 20-year-old scoreboards. We can retrofit it," Reeser said, adding that talks with developers of the system have been promising. "There were a lot of football scoreboards turned on Friday night. And, [the developer] said, 'I didn't get any phone calls.' We didn't get any phone calls, either. It's just our signal of how we're sending it, and we fine-tuned the rate of how we're sending it. We've improved our way of transmitting the data."

Allain added, "Also, [with regard to] wireless technology, we, and many other vendors, have struggled with finding the right bandwidth and the right area in order to be able to provide the most efficient wireless technology with competing RF interferences during game time—from cell phones all the way up to scoreboards. What we introduced last year is [a guarantee] that our scoreboards will work flawlessly using wireless technology, and we introduced a 100 percent guarantee. There were tremendous difficulties and growing pains with wireless. It was very difficult."

Much time and research was spent figuring out what type of technology schools needed, too.

"As we continue to see a much more typical football environment," Allain said, "we now know with fairly good certainty what technology is being used in Division III schools or Division II high schools. We spent tremendous amounts of time [finding out] what technologies are being used, and what we found is that the technologies are putting off some sort of radio frequency."

Reeser added: "Our wireless world at [our company] is coming up with more devices that are handheld units, wireless, everything from sideline clock controls, to field time controls, to tennis controls. It pretty much covers most sports."

Video Displays & LED Technology

When it comes to video scoreboards, there are some new developments, too.

"We're seeing trends [in] quite a few different things. The one item is that we're really seeing a trend of video scoreboards/displays, and we're seeing that in the past video seemed to be reserved only for larger schools or facilities. It's safe to say now that video is becoming more of the standard; more mainstream. Technology is more affordable than ever before. Schools are able to acquire technology that is above or better than what they were able to do just a few years ago," said Angela Hatton, marketing manager for a Brookings, S.D.-based designer and manufacturer of electronic scoreboards, programmable display systems, and large-screen video displays using LED technology.

As technology becomes more affordable, one of the reasons why schools are opting for this new technology for video displays is the fact that they have the ability to diversify their messages, not to mention have good display quality.

"They can provide sponsor and recognition, statistical information, announcements, advertisements. There is a lot they can show," Hatton said.

Reeser agreed.

He said more smaller facilities are using video displays in their scoreboards.

"It gives people so much more flexibility," he said.

Moreover, schools and recreation facilities are starting to use video displays, as well.

"It gives more functionality," he said, adding that the prices of video displays have dropped considerably in the LED market.

Also, Hatton pointed out that "It used to be that you could get a traditional numeric scoreboard, and then you would have a video display on top.

"There's a trend now where people are purchasing universal matrix scoreboards," she said. "So, it's a video display on the entire screen, but they are able to section off the content. So, part of the content might be a digital scoreboard, but then a part of that content might be advertising/promotion and replays that type of information."

As for the future, Hatton said what's on the immediate horizon is larger, higher quality video.

"I see more choice. When we create, we have an opportunity. We want to see what our product looks like. We have an opportunity to create a rendering," she said. "I see people really want what's best for their facility and community. But, I think, really, facility managers need to be able to pick a display that's right for them; one that has the information they want to provide."

When it comes to LED technology, Hatton said "The biggest thing is that customers want to be empowered," giving them the option to choose what they want, including what color light they want on their LED scoreboards.

At Hatton's scoreboard company, in addition to maybe two other competitors, white LED technology is offered.

"It used to be that you only had red or amber for an outdoor board. With new technology, the quality of LEDs and brightness, you have a choice. I want my clock to be amber and scores to be red. We had individual customers who were asking [to] make the information more clear and easy to differentiate, and color can play a role in that," Hatton said.

Further highlighting the value of LED boards, Allain said, "Our ability to take scoreboards and marry them with LED boards in even small community sporting environments, such as at junior high schools and community centers, allows for a much better, richer content environment for sports at all levels.

"So, while scoreboard technology and scoreboards themselves may not be adding as many features as we would want, what is happening and what we are concentrating on is that marriage of LED which

creates a much richer environment for all leagues, all the way from community-based groups to junior high, high school and even college," he said.

"Our goal is clear. We want to create the richest environment for all types of sports environments. That's what I'm most excited about," Allain added. "We do have some interesting developments as it relates solely to scoreboards; the marriage between LED and scoreboard is what is currently rocking the world of scoreboards, and will continue that at a much faster pace."

"Ironically, the single biggest trend we're seeing in scoreboard technology advancement is related directly to LED technology."

J.M. Allain

Key Steps to Selecting a Scoreboard

Lean on somebody with knowledge.
"The best first step is using exclusive dealers around the country, and normally to go through an exclusive dealer network," Reeser said.

Closely examine your needs.
"This economy has been a challenging economy for everyone, regardless of anyone's role and position," Hatton said.

"But, what we're finding is that those who are responsible for facilities really need to look and closely examine what their needs are. What sports are going to be played in the facility? What are their needs going forward into the future?" Hatton said. "How do they see things changing, and most important, are they making the decision that will enable them to sustain the equipment? A scoreboard is an investment. It's not the thing to be purchased every year or every couple of years. You want to get a quality product that reflects the quality of the facility.

"There are high-quality companies, and there are mid-range companies and lower-quality companies. When you buy a scoreboard, you are creating an anchor for the facility. I believe that second to the game itself, the scoreboard will have more eyes on it than anything else."

"Also, ask yourself, 'What product do you want to reflect your facility?' To me the real questions for a facility and facility directors are 'what do you want, what product do you want to reflect your facility that has invested in it?'" Hatton said.

Do your research. Be informed.
"Most times, people choose quality. But, part of [choosing a scoreboard] is being informed. Research, would be the first thing, talking to your peers and colleagues about what types of experiences they have had," Hatton said. "Are you able to work with someone who can provide local sales support, meaning … is there a salesperson who can come into your facility and share their knowledge and expertise in the industry, or is it going to a Web site and typing in some information?

"To me," she added, "there is power in having a local representative come into your facility and really look and say, 'I see what your needs are.'"

Ask for help from consultants.
"There are a lot of good consultants out there that can really help community organizations hone down not only what vendor to choose, but the type of technology," Allain said. "A lot of times, we've become fortunate as that there has been tremendous consolidation in this industry, and after consolidation, we're standing tall."

Eco-Friendly Technology

Certainly, many companies continue to make strides in being more environmentally conscious. The same can be said for those in the scoreboard business.

"Environmental friendliness is near and dear to our heart," Allain said.

"Six or seven months ago, we created a new company, an LED lighting company that has seen some very significant success. Our sustainability and our energy efforts, again, are working in a very synergistic way with our other divisions," he said. "It's allowing us to look at things like purely solar-driven scoreboards, and things along that line. We have some neat things that we will be introducing in the next year that are based on sustainability."

He added, "There's not a doubt that in the public sector, schools and in communities across the country, the bottom line always returns to the issues of environmentally-friendly products, and we are committed to building out their parks."

"We're seeing trends [in] quite a few different things. The one item is that we're really seeing a trend of video scoreboards/displays, and we're seeing that in the past video seemed to be reserved only for larger schools or facilities. Technology is more affordable than ever before."

Angela Hatton

Sports Lighting

Outdoor and indoor athletic fields must rely on quality sports lighting to illuminate night games, such as for baseball, football and soccer. Proper design and pole location are important criteria that have to be considered when choosing sports lighting.

And, as far as trends go, "The latest sports lighting trend is what other lighting industries have been addressing for a couple of years now—energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has been a crucial issue in the sports lighting market. Until lately, all sports lighting manufacturers depended on their reflector/optical efficiency to produce more light on the fields, allowing for a reduction in the amount of fixtures, therefore reducing energy," said Bill Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for a Hillsdale, Mich.-based sports lighting company that provides lighting for single-field and multi-field sports complexes, parks and recreational areas.

In fact, the sports lighting company recently introduced a new high-wattage electronic ballasted fixture—the newest lighting innovation for parks and outdoor sports venues. The new product offers extended lamp life, higher efficiency and exceeds targeted light levels with fewer fixtures. Moreover, the product offers a dimmable option that features daylight harvesting.

Smith explained that while lower wattage systems have evolved into newer technologies, such as an electronic ballast vs. a core-on-coil standard ballast or LED lighting (which, he said, isn't near available for this high of wattage yet), his company most recently has been the first sports lighting manufacturer to offer an electronic ballasted system at 1,500 watts.

"An electronic ballast boosts the lumens per watt, which generates even more light. That—in combination with the optical efficiencies of the reflector—create even further reduction in fixtures and energy consumption," he said. "The electronic ballasted system further saves customers by reducing maintenance costs more than any other system because it increases the life of the bulb, creating a system that will currently outlast any of the others in the sports lighting industry before maintenance is needed.

"Installation can also be a savings with the latest technology system because of its dimming abilities. Before, if a venue wanted higher light levels for championship events and lower light levels for common events, a contractor would have to run different circuitry to all poles," he said, adding that his company's product series' electronic ballast "is addressable, and instead of running all of the wire for different circuits, it can be dimmed down to the desired level."

Another trend Smith pointed out that's relevant in the sports lighting world is "light trespass."

"Neighbors are always very concerned with unwanted light trespassing into their homes," he said, adding that his company implements design strategies that promise to achieve as little spill light as possible, if not, entirely.

"We ensure that we are meeting or exceeding the industry recommendations on aiming angles to ensure that our fixtures are pointing directly onto the field," Smith said. "We take it a step further though by adding an external visor. The external visor helps further to decrease any light from bleeding to unwanted areas and reduces glare or sky glow."

In terms of business and the economy, Smith said the economy has shrunk many municipality and school budgets, so it has forced the industry to do more competitive pricing.

"If customers do their research and seek competitive quotes they will be shocked to see that a dream project of theirs can become a reality much sooner during these days. Because of the shrunken budgets, most manufacturers are supplying up to 25 years maintenance-free systems so that the schools no longer have to budget for the expenses of upkeeping their system," he said.

And, as for what's on the horizon in sports lighting advancements, Smith said there are many new technologies that are emerging.

"As we deal with higher wattages, only time will tell which will be successful," he added. "After electronic ballasts, I believe that improvements to controls will be the focus of near future systems in the higher wattage realm."

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