Pump It Up

Scoreboards, Sports Lighting & Sound Make the Game

By Rick Dandes

At all levels of organized sports competition and play, from middle to high school to college and pro, spectators, and to some extent participants, are benefiting from more sophisticated sound, lighting and video technologies that are intended to enhance the enjoyment of the time spent at an event.

The in-person experience has become more than just about watching the event, said Kyle Sydow, high school, park and recreation market manager for a Brookings, S.D., manufacturer of video displays, scoreboards and sound systems. "The value of scoreboards is increasing. They are the second most viewed piece in a stadium other than the game itself."

Digital scoreboards, videos and the ability to replay moments of an event are de rigueur, he said; lighting and sound advances add to the sensory experience at games, accentuating the excitement. But event organizers have come to realize there are side benefits to the new technologies. School administrators and athletic directors are tasked with many things besides staging the event or game itself, such as building a positive image of their school district.

"Scoreboards are looked at as ways to entertain fans, ways to promote their sponsors, and also help develop their students," Sydow said. "How can we entertain our fans better is always the starting point, and a scoreboard does that, a video board does that. It provides fans with better information. I have one customer in Oak Creek, Wis., that is installing a scoreboard and said, 'Our game starts at 7, but the show starts at 6.' I think that is what you are seeing for trends in high school sports facilities—before a game you might see highlights of past games or student-created videos."

In the past, high school sports was something that parents came to watch their kids compete in. Now it is becoming more of a community event, with community-based entertainment. It's also where parents can see their children's successes other than just athletics.

At all levels of organized sports competition and play, spectators, and to some extent participants, are benefiting from more sophisticated sound, lighting and video technologies that are intended to enhance the enjoyment of the time spent at an event.

"You have students into video production," Sydow said, "creating videos shown in front of thousands of people on a given sports night. Or you get to see your student who gets to compete in an extracurricular activity that is recognized on a video board, where thousands of people see it. Schools are utilizing scoreboards to brand themselves by showing their successes and to improve their image in their particular market."

Video displays give a great fan experience, said Jay Hammack, sales manager for a Murray, Ky.-based scoreboard manufacturer. "With a variety of templates we provide, the customer is given the ability to display starting lineups, player profiles, player stats, etc., in a professional manner on par with what you see at professional venues."

This kind of fan experience at the junior high, high school and small college level is something that just wasn't available even 10 years ago, Hammack said. "Video operators pairing live cameras with their video displays takes fan interaction to an even higher level."

All this is possible, Sydow explained, because the quality of video is getting better. Systems are getting easier to run, more user-friendly. "There is an increased desire to run scoreboards through a mobile app," he said. "We're seeing systems capable of displaying more content and data than they ever have in the past. Systems are getting more exciting, and that could be a unique flair that a school wants to be displayed that helps set them apart. It really comes down to helping set a feeling for the fans that come to an event. You want to build an environment that people want to be around."

Get the Best Bang for Your Buck

Money is a factor, but realistically more than budget, you need to understand your objective. Manufacturers need to know what you are trying to do.

Tell manufacturers if you are looking to replace an existing scoreboard or if it's a new facility or new construction.

"Especially with outdoor scoreboards," Hammack said, "the cost of installation can increase dramatically when you get into the larger scoreboards that require three or more mounting columns. If a customer is replacing an existing scoreboard, we really try to find a scoreboard that meets their needs but will also work with their existing mounting, which can greatly reduce installation costs.

"Customers frequently come to us wanting to replace their existing scoreboard with a full matrix RGB video display," Hammack added. No doubt virtual scoreboards on video displays look great but what most people don't consider is the cost per square foot of a video display vs. a traditional scoreboard.

A standard 4-by-8 scoreboard, Hammack noted, "is about $2,000, while a similar size video display is at least $10,000. Even if you only use half of that display to show scoring, you're still talking about $5,000 worth of real estate. We encourage people to pair a video display with a traditional scoreboard. Pairings such as these means you can dedicate 100 percent of the video display to fan interaction, player stats or advertising rather than tying up expensive video area showing scores."

Crank Up the Sound

Something that makes just as much of an impact as having all the bells and whistles available with scoreboards are schools looking to increase the quality of their sound. "Systems that can provide crisp, clear audio and a range of base and treble that really helps schools elevate that game day experience," Sydow said. When you partner a brand new sound system with a video display, that's when you really start to feel the impact that high school sports can have on a community. And some of the excitement that can be generated.

Sound systems greatly improve the experience on both ends of the spectrum, said Nick Craig, director of sales for a Carlsbad, Calif., portable sound system manufacturer, "whether you're the athlete or the spectator."

On the athlete side, they are getting music during practice to pump them up, coaches making announcements can be heard all over the field, and it helps in keeping the athletes engaged. Some football teams are using sound systems to simulate crowd noise during practice to help dial in the players focus and ensure they are clearly communicating on the field when it matters most during game time.

A strong sound system helps spectators feel more engaged in the sport they are watching, Craig said. "They get to enjoy music during the breaks and clearly hear the announcements during the game, which keep them in the loop for what's going on down on the field."

What's trending in the business, Craig said, are portable sound systems. "It's about versatility. Facility operators need the ability to set up in one spot, be ready to go in minutes for an event, then break down in a few seconds to set up for an event in a different space," he said. Portable systems give those operators the versatility they need.

"Sports-recreation facilities as well as athletic teams are purchasing versatile all-in-one sound systems," Craig said, "especially sound systems that are wireless, and easy to use. This provides a variety of benefits that ultimately lead to the versatility of the sound system.

"A portable option," he added, "is great when you have a facility that has a variety of athletic spaces such as soccer fields, baseball fields, football fields, basketball courts and more. It is even better when you have a tight budget because you can get a bigger bang for your buck with a single sound system that has a variety of uses in a variety of spaces. And for the travel athletic teams, the unit can be used during practice or at home games then packed up and taken on the road for pregame hype, practice music, and even for communication and announcements."

Being wireless eliminates the hassle, and potential trip hazard, of running cables. For this reason, there has been tremendous growth in battery-powered portable PA systems at sports and recreation facilities. If you are contemplating buying a sound system, Craig has some advice. Consider the following questions:

  • How large of an area are you looking to cover? (Determines how much "loudness" you need—decibels and wattage—as well as the possible acoustic challenges that need to be considered)
  • What is the largest crowd size you expect to have at one time? (Determines how much "loudness" you need)
  • Would you like to use wireless mics with the system? If yes, how many would you use at once? (Determines whether or not wireless receivers need to be included, as well as how many mics are needed)

Based on the answers, Craig said, manufacturers can figure out what system will cover all your needs. There are, however, some additional questions that can be beneficial to consider if you are going the wireless route: For instance, knowing the type of event and where it is held will help determine the best wireless microphone option. Also, knowing the distance of the wireless range you require, and knowing if there are any obstructions, heavy-duty power lines or other factors that may disrupt or affect the wireless performance. Do you have easy access to a power source? And what inputs and outputs do you need?

"Understanding how you intend to use system in terms of devices and connections will determine what inputs and outputs are required. Examples include a mixer, iPod, MP3 player, wired microphones, companion speakers," Craig said.

Turn Up the Lights

The key issues involving lighting systems are the same as they've always been, said Jeff Rogers, vice president of an Oskaloosa, Iowa-based sports lighting system manufacturer. "Customers want to make a good buying decision in terms of initial capital investment and long-term operating costs. They need the best possible lighting in terms of player visibility, they need to keep neighbors happy by avoiding light spill, they need a system they can rely on so they'll always have light when they need it, and they need to keep energy consumption and operating costs down."

True, the emergence of LED as a cost-effective option for sports lighting has created some great possibilities, Rogers said. "But there's a misperception that as long as an LED light source is used, you'll see the same results no matter what equipment is used. And that's not the case. As great as the potential of longer life, quality light and energy efficiency with LED is, it also brings many challenges, particularly for the unique application of lighting for sports fields."

Organizations that have installed lighting equipment using LEDs have sometimes had to replace those newly installed lights because of problems with glare and light spilling into surrounding neighborhoods, he said.

Indeed, the LED sports lighting industry has matured, said Lee Davis, general manager of a Syracuse, N.Y.-based facilities lighting system manufacturer. "It's become obvious," Davis said, "that customers want more than just great quality lighting, energy savings and reduced maintenance. They also want more control and the ability for their system to adapt to their future needs.

A field illuminated with LED sports lighting gives athletes the safest and best conditions to perform, Davis said. "Better lighting protects athletes from losing the ball in the lights and can improve performance by enabling better depth perception. But LED lighting is just as much of a game changer for fans. The versatility, flexibility and expanded capabilities of LED sports lighting allow stadium operators to enhance the game presentation with entertaining light shows and high-quality lighting that can make a Little League game look and feel like game seven of the World Series."

Customers want more than just great quality lighting, energy savings and reduced maintenance. They also want more control and the ability for their system to adapt to their future needs.

Flexibility is a component of any lighting system, said Alison Fiedler, lighting designer for Stantec, an engineering and design firm. "One of our designers recently finished up SafeCo field, home of the Seattle Mariners, with all LED. With more traditional lighting you need a warmup time and a cool-down time. That means you can't turn the lights off and then turn them back on without waiting; with LED stadium lighting, you can have a light show pretty easily."

Using LEDs also provides opportunities for branding, Fiedler said. "For example, having a group of LED panels in one view area. You could dim them all separately and create a very low-resolution type of show. LED essentially becomes a pixel. As far as flexibility goes, you can dim the fixtures with daylight, saving energy, and when we are in full brightness in the daytime, where you might not need all of the lights on, we are able to dim them down."

What should you know before you make your decisions about lighting? Many times, Fiedler said, it comes down to values. "Some may say their value is transparency. Then we are looking for ways to highlight areas that are often behind the scenes so that the public can see those faces. In a sports environment," she said, "we might want to enhance recruitment by making the place sparkle and be an attractive place for future talent to come."

"Every project is different and brings a unique set of needs based on facility type, environmental setting, new installation or retrofit, and many other factors," Rogers said.

Do your homework, Rogers advised. "Sports lighting is about more than just the LED light source. It's about the system. You're making a 25- to 30-year purchase, and there are many electrical components in today's technology that are in the environment 24/7."

Make sure, he emphasized, that the lighting, structural and electrical components are evaluated and applied as a complete system to ensure long-term reliability. "And make sure the manufacturer will stand behind their solution for the life of the system. It's one thing to say you can trust the technology and it will last; it's another to be contractually partnered to guarantee light levels and cover all maintenance costs well into the future."

When all is said and done, remember that LED lighting is part of a system that's been designed to apply light the right way, Rogers said. "LED has fine-tuned our ability to put light where we want it more effectively and efficiently than ever before. We improve the players' ability to see on the field of play, we make watching the game more enjoyable and comfortable for spectators, and we eliminate the impact to the environment by as much as 90 percent."



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