Game Day Connections

Entertain & Communicate With Lighting, Scoreboards & Sound

By Dave Ramont

When the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC) Event Center opened in 2018, it was an instant success, with dramatic increases in attendance. The new building—home to the UMBC Retrievers men's & women's basketball and women's volleyball teams—was designed as one of the premier mid-major NCAA Division l facilities in the country. And while they renovated support areas, seating and multi-functional spaces, they also added some new amenities.

"It's a true arena with video and ribbon boards, lighting and sound," said Thomas Mandato, associate athletic director at UMBC. "The video board alone is fantastic for both fans and players. The team really appreciates all the board can provide, from marketing to general info, statistics, awards, etc. The possibilities for interconnectivity are great."

Scoreboards, video boards, lighting and sound are important considerations for sports facilities. And as technologies quickly evolve, fans desire the latest innovations to augment their overall experience at events. These features are also powerful recruitment tools for organizations looking to attract players to their programs.

"These are critical components of these facilities," said Mike Cornoni, associate vice president in CannonDesign's sports practice, who worked on the UMBC Event Center. "When it comes to design approach, we're trying to help building owners create spaces that deliver incredible athlete and user experiences. How the facility is lit, where the video boards are located, sight lines, sound systems—all of these can positively enhance experiences when designed strategically."

And it's not just professional or premier college facilities; smaller venues are now able to offer "leading-edge tech, design and experience," according to Cornoni. "They're upping their game when it comes to these technologies."

"Schools are looking to accomplish more within their facilities," said Jody Huntimer, strategic marketing manager for K-12 schools, two-year colleges and parks and recreation at a South Dakota-based company that designs and manufactures electronic scoreboards, programmable display systems, large-screen video displays and audio systems. "Increasing fan entertainment, generating revenue and providing development opportunities for more students are top initiatives for high schools, small colleges and even rec facilities. Live video and replays increase the level of their production and provide an enhanced experience for their fans."

Aesthetically speaking, scoreboards now offer up many options at all levels, including different backlighting options and LED technologies suitable for different applications. "Customers purchasing static scoreboards really like the option of white LED digits," said Huntimer. "The white numerals against their school colors on the main body of the scoreboard really stand out and look sharp."

Many scoreboard colors are offered, as well as striping and caption colors and caption styles. You could add a clock, truss or dome, or logo and sponsor panels. Radio-controlled scoreboards eliminate extra wiring, and solar-powered options are available.

Of course, scoreboards need to reflect the different nuances of particular sports: basketball has fouls, shot clocks, quarters and halves, while baseball has innings, runs, errors, balls and strikes. More detailed displays might show pitch count or pitch speed. There are scoreboards geared toward many individual sports, including tennis, track, cricket, curling, squash, wrestling, rodeo and motor sports.

Multisport scoreboards offer versatility, and Huntimer explained that as many facilities try to get the most out of the money they spend on their scoring equipment, the ability to score multiple sports is important. "This can be accomplished with either a traditional scoreboard or a video display. Video displays—or digital scoreboards—have become much easier to operate over the past few years and provide the opportunity to give each sport played in that facility a custom graphic specific to that sport."

Using basic scoreboard models as building blocks, the possibilities are numerous. When looking at an aquatics scoreboard, for example, many variables must be considered. Will the scoreboard be used for swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, workouts/practices or a combination? How much space is available for mounting the scoreboard, and what is the viewing distance? In swimming, how many lines of times do you want to see, and do you want all the lanes to show up at once or "page" the results? Do you desire additional lines of information such as team scores, event/heat or record times? What about additions such as team identifications or ad panels? "We offer a fully integrated system for aquatics facilities by combining our video displays or results scoreboards with our touchpads, horn start, (system) controller and software," said Huntimer.

More schools and rec facilities looking to simplify their scoring consoles have moved to using a scoring app, according to Huntimer.

Jay Hammack, sales manager for a Kentucky-based manufacturer of scoreboards, agrees that apps and portable electronic devices (PEDs) like smartphones, tablets or laptops has grown in popularity but said there are pros and cons. On the plus side, since most everyone has a PED there's no concern about losing a controller or finding that it's still locked up, etc. On the downside, using a PED for scoring ties up that device for the game's duration. "One of the largest drawbacks we've found to using PEDs is the lack of tactile feedback. Pushing virtual buttons on a screen can be difficult to do while trying to keep your eyes on game play."

More facilities of all sizes are installing video boards to increase fan entertainment and provide more game stats, according to Huntimer. "Video boards allow the facility to share more game data than most scoreboards allow, thereby keeping fans' attention on the game and not looking elsewhere for statistics." She explained how consoles and software can capture in-depth stats such as assists, shooting percentages, average rushing yards, etc., and easily push them to the video display.

Hammack agreed that adding video displays is a trend, whether "pairing video display with scoreboards or using video display as a scoreboard utilizing virtual scoreboard technology."

Ribbon displays—whether 360-degree or curved linear models—might encircle a stadium or concourse, or be used in end zones, outfields or on sidelines.

Larger professional stadiums are pushing the envelope with their scoreboards and video systems, leading to new innovations that trickle down to the smaller venues. Huntimer's company has worked on custom projects for many professional teams, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home to the Atlanta Falcons and host of last year's Super bowl. They boast the world's largest video scoreboard—the elliptical-shaped Halo—measuring 58-feet high and 1,075-feet round.

The influx of scoreboard/video board combinations is making it easier than ever for venues of all sizes to generate revenue with their systems. "Schools are beginning to understand the advertising opportunities available to them with video displays," said Hammack. "The initial cost of the display and operating system seems pretty steep on the surface, but as schools realize the earning potential available through the sale of advertising, the cost can easily be recouped within a year or two."

Huntimer agreed that more facilities are seeing the benefit of selling sponsorships to fund new video scoring systems. "Digital and static advertisements often included in these packages offer the facility a way to minimize the clutter of many banners."

Back at UMBC, Mandato said their new scoreboard is wall-mounted, hanging in the open end of their facility's bowl. "Our bowl is a horseshoe, and it faces 95% of the crowd." It's utilized for both basketball and volleyball, controlled from their video game production room, where a technician works with a producer for the game feeds, following a script. "We play with the windows for stats, live feed and promotions. We don't have replay capability on the board, however we do show live video of the stands and in-game promotions."

The new ribbon board displays the shot clock, score, fouls, etc., according to Mandato. "Mostly game stats, but also any promotions for the campus, events, coming attractions, etc." He added that an outside company operates the Event Center, so they're in control of advertising and sponsorships.

There is also new LED lighting at the facility, which Mandato said is a big improvement. "Far superior, with great sight lines. The court really pops on TV."

In fact, lighting is another key area that's evolved significantly in recent years, due in large part to LED technology. Manufacturers work to concentrate light where it's most needed while also reducing glare and spill and lowering energy consumption and operating costs.

Jeff Rogers, vice president at an Iowa-based company specializing in the design and manufacture of sports, transportation and infrastructure lighting solutions, explained how LED technology and output have advanced to the point where it's cost-effective, so park and rec fields and high schools are able to install lighting systems that utilize the same LED technology that they've installed at professional stadiums and arenas.

According to Rogers, more high school stadiums and smaller fields are installing their special effects packages with new systems. "This is economical and reliable technology that delivers professional-level light shows, some of which have light-to-sound synchronization and colored lights using RGBW (an LCD display technology) fixtures. It's easy to control with a simple touch screen interface and they have a series of light shows to choose from for player introductions, celebrating touchdowns, halftime and post-game shows."

Rogers gets into some of the science involved with their patented lighting systems, which are effective at directing the light being emitted while also reducing source glare. Additionally, they've developed a system that "enables players and spectators to see the field and track the entire flight of the ball like never before." This is achieved with light pole positioning and precisely targeted vertical light paired with highly controlled downward light from other LED fixtures, creating greater contrast between the ball and dark sky. "It also results in a fraction of skyglow compared to poorly designed LED sports lighting that spills light at a more horizontal angle."

Utilizing the advanced LED light source is also environmentally responsible, according to Rogers. "We're able to reduce energy consumption by as much as 80% compared to metal halide equipment, and at the same time increase light levels on the field of play."

Another benefit is the ability to turn lights on and off instantly, and they offer useful dimming capabilities. "So when something is happening at a field or stadium where the lights aren't needed at full power, they can run at 25% or 50% as a way to conserve energy and save costs."

More and more facilities of all sizes are undergoing LED retrofits, according to Rogers, but he cautioned that LED isn't a solution unto itself, it's just the latest light source technology, which presents a whole new set of challenges when it comes to effectively reducing glare and spill, mitigating heat and servicing the drivers. Therefore it's important to make sure your supplier and project manager have experience designing systems for a sports setting, and that they offer a long-term warranty covering parts and labor. "These things are every bit as important as what light source technology is being used. Just having LED fixtures isn't a magic bullet."

When it comes to sound systems, manufacturers strive to provide high speech intelligibility and quality music reproduction with even coverage and levels capable of overcoming crowd noise. Systems can also integrate with scoring and video displays. Huntimer points out that display animations have an increased impact when they include audio. "If facilities have sponsorships, they can play commercials during a timeout or period break and further increase the impact of sponsor messages."

She said many of their outdoor audio customers are installing their digital audio system which has freeform LED elements mounted to the face of the speaker. "This new system allows facilities to maximize the surface area with additional sponsors or content that enhances what's being shown on the main video board."

Speaker placement and reflection, coverage patterns, decibel ratings, mid- and high-frequency speakers that can adjust horizontally and vertically, peak limiters for managing distortion and built-in overload protection are all considerations when designing sound systems.

Huntimer describes how their audio staff will visit a site and conduct a detailed survey to determine acoustic characteristics, physical dimensions and desired operation modes of the system. "Our engineering team then builds computer models of the venue and determines the best speaker selection and placement to achieve the desired coverage."

In outdoor settings, distances are greater from speaker to listener, requiring higher-powered speakers and specifically designed horns. Indoor spaces have reflections to deal with, which will reduce intelligibility in certain areas. "We work to put sound energy right where it needs to be (the seats) and that energy off areas it isn't needed (the ceiling). This minimizes reflections and creates high intelligibility, allowing the audience to clearly understand the announcer when they speak," said Huntimer. Speaker control enclosures might be wall-mounted remotely for easier access, and announcer consoles can provide simplified interface to sound systems, which might include microphone inputs and an MP3 player.

Mandato said the new audio system at UMBC—used for music, PA and in-game promotions—is far superior. "It's much livelier; it gets loud in the building. The acoustics are very good—more sound dampers were added than called for to enhance the sound travel and reduce reverberation."

From informing visitors to getting a crowd excited, clear, crisp audio quality is a crucial part of the fan experience, according to Huntimer. "We've all heard audio in facilities that is staticky, garbled and difficult to clearly hear. When a facility has a speaker system that provides intelligible sound combined with seat-shaking bass it creates an immersive audiovisual experience that impresses your audience."

With all the possibilities that now exist with regard to scoreboards and video boards, lighting and sound, another trend that Huntimer mentioned involves student development. Some schools may offer a class or club, or even just have some students interested in media production during games. "The students running the cameras and acting as producers in the booth are gaining real-life experiences that can carry forward into college and even as a career." Huntimer points out that more than 50% of colleges and 75% of professional venues throughout the country use their control systems, which are the same at each level. "So as students gain knowledge at their high schools or small colleges, they can take their skills to the next level and jump right in, minimizing training for the facility and the operator."

At UMBC, Mandato said the new building and its amenities are amazing, and fans are loving it. "No question, it's like we went from the Flintstones to the Jetsons in the blink of an eye." RM



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