Lights, Sound, Action … Score!
Create Top-Quality Events That Don't Break the Bank
By Deborah Vence
Advancements in technology have come a long way over the years and have turned sporting events, large and small, into a more thrilling experience—whether it's a youth baseball game being played under the lights at a popular neighborhood park or a champion NBA team playing in one of the largest indoor sports arenas with a state-of-the-art scoreboard and sound system.
It goes without saying that LED lighting, high-tech scoreboards and cutting-edge sound systems together have brought the world of sports to another level of intensity. And, it's these innovations that continue to make watching sports live even more exciting and enjoyable year after year.
Lighting manufacturers have made it possible for sports parks and facilities, whether at the youth, high school, collegiate or professional level, to offer an enhanced playing experience as well as enable facilities to better manage costs.
"The best word to describe the current state of the sports lighting market is control," said Mike Quijano, director of business development and product marketing for a Syracuse, N.Y.-based sports lighting company.
"Facility operators are looking for LED sports lighting to give them control in several ways: control over skyrocketing maintenance costs; the ability to control where their light shines—for high school and municipal fields that means lighting the playing surface and not the entire community; the ability to control their lights remotely via their cell phone; and simply the ability to control how much light they use and when."
As the LED sports lighting market has grown, low-end generic imports have become available.
"As a result, it is more important than ever to understand what you are buying. If you simply rely upon your contractor, architect, electrician or lighting specifier, you may get a solution that fits your budget, but not your needs," Quijano said.
"Even if you simply want the lights to just turn on and off, a reputable manufacturer can provide high-performance value-driven solutions to fit your needs," he added. "It is true that all LED lights provide light, but how they produce the light can vary greatly, and the result can limit control, performance and reliability."
Shahil Amin, vice president of sales and marketing for a Fort Mill, S.C.-based LED lighting manufacturer, added that many facilities are upgrading their traditional lighting system with an LED lighting system.
"By having an LED lighting system, it allows for more visual acuity, which enhances the experience for players, spectators and fans alike," he said. "For larger facilities, we are seeing a trend in adding more RGB fixtures into their lighting systems. This allows for many dynamic scenes and entertainment effects (home team colors when points are scored, different colors for different awareness causes, etc)."
When selecting lighting, Amin said the quality of illumination that the facility requires needs to be considered, and is one of the most important factors.
"Different facilities have different needs in terms of what levels of illumination they require, and it is important to meet those requirements. It is also very important to consider the quality of the luminaire they are reviewing," Amin said. "Not all LED lighting systems are created equal. There are many different factors that are 'underneath the hood' that sometimes get overlooked (heat dissipation/thermal management, CRI, accessibility, etc). It is important to really take a deep look to [know] exactly what you are getting, and how best that will be suited around your facility's particular needs."
Amin provided a few examples of facilities that needed to enhance the illumination at their athletic fields. The multipurpose athletic field at Macdonald Stadium in Malden, Mass., needed an upgrade to its stadium lighting because the light output had depreciated over the course of many years. Improving visibility and light levels on the field was a main concern, but so was minimizing upfront costs, energy costs and future maintenance costs.
So, to upgrade the stadium lighting in a cost-effective way, a new line of sports luminaires was used, which improved visibility while cutting energy consumption by 68%. As a result, Macdonald Stadium now has a lighting solution that will last years. And, this will allow for time, money and resources to be spent on more productive projects.
In another example, in Stephenville, Texas, Tarleton State University's intramural fields originally had 150 1,500-watt metal halide fixtures across the fields. The traditional fixtures had constant issues, such as lamps burning out and having to replace ballasts, and maintenance costs were steadily mounting. To replace the fixtures, a photometric study was conducted and showed that using only 80 440-watt luminaires could illuminate the two fields and increase the current light levels immensely.
In a final case example, at Slaton Baseball Field in Texas, Amin's company upgraded the baseball field lighting to LED, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the upgrade, the baseball field had 34 1,500-watt metal halide fixtures. Using 60 750-watt luminaires would light up the baseball field and increase the light levels immensely, all while reducing energy. Three different beam spreads were used to achieve uniform illumination levels of the baseball field. What's more, the new luminaires feature a thermal management system that allows for continuous airflow to keep the luminaire cool. And its design provides uniform and constant light levels throughout the life of the luminaire, with minimal lumen depreciation. In addition, with a rated luminaire life of up to 100,000 hours, the luminaires will last more than five times longer than the old metal halide lamps. Ballasts also were eliminated from the circuit, reducing maintenance costs and energy consumption as well.
The way games are scored today is notably different from how they were many years ago. Writing out scores by hand using chalk or manually hanging the numbers on a scoreboard were the ways in which games were tallied. Fast-forward many years later and the advancements in more sophisticated technologies have grown to what we see today in eye-catching digital scoreboards at sports parks and stadiums.
One trend in scoreboards today is "Customers moving to larger format displays," said Tac Doran, video display consultant and project manager for a Loveland, Colo.-based company that designs, manufactures, sells and services aquatic timing systems, scoreboards, LED video displays and related products.
"We are now seeing displays with 9-by-16-inch form factor as the starting point. Another trend we are seeing is customers moving to smaller pixel pitches," he said, adding that 12-millimeter and 10-millimeter pixel pitch used to be the standard. "We now are seeing the move to 8-millimeter and below. [The] latest technology in scoreboards centers [on] leveraging multiple formats of content to be displayed throughout the facility. [The] use of technologies such as Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast to bring additional content to LED video displays as well as flat-panel LCD displays."
When choosing a scoreboard, the biggest factors customers need to consider include "budget, average viewing distance of audience to LED video display (key function in determining the best pixel pitch), structural considerations for mounting, and consider cost/implications of providing adequate electrical service to the display," Doran said.
He added that customers are looking for "the ability to leverage multiple video formats to display content on their LED video display(s). [The] other thing we are seeing is customers looking to distribute video and scoreboard content to multiple locations throughout their facility. These multiple locations are not only LED video displays, but also LCD flat panel displays. The key in this scenario is having the ability to display unique content on each of the displays, independent of what is displayed on the main LED video display."
Jay Hammack, sales manager for a Kentucky-based scoreboard manufacturer, noted video displays as a trend he sees. "Pairing video display with scoreboards or using video display as a scoreboard utilizing virtual scoreboard technology," he said.
Another is advertising opportunities through video displays.
"Schools and parks are just now beginning to understand the advertising opportunities available to them with video displays," Hammack said. "The initial cost of the display and operating system seem pretty steep on the surface, but as organizations realize the earning potential available through the sale of advertising, the cost can easily be recouped within a year or two."
Other trends include software, control systems and other technologies. "Technologies continue to enhance how systems are operated," he said.
A primary focus for the engineering team at Hammack's company has been "ease of use or ease of control." "We pride ourselves on having one of the most robust and easiest-to-use scoreboard control systems on the market," he said.
"Scoreboard control using apps and portable electronic devices has definitely grown in popularity, but is still a long way from becoming the norm," Hammack said.
There are several pros and cons to scoring with this type of controller, too. "On the plus side, almost everyone has a PED, so there's no concern about losing a controller, finding that it's still locked up, etc. On the downside," he said, "using a PED for scoring ties up that device for the duration of the game—something that people don't always take into consideration."
He noted that "One of the largest drawbacks we've found to using PEDs for controlling scoreboards 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."
Thus, sports facility operators should keep a few factors in mind when choosing a scoreboard, Hammack said, such as: Is there an existing scoreboard already installed, or is it new construction? [Is it an] indoor vs. outdoor facility? Which sport will be played at the facility? Is a multi-sport scoreboard necessary?
What's more, you need to consider the budget, field or facility size, viewing distance and features on the display, he said, adding that clients look for affordability, ease of use and sport-specific features in scoreboards. For example, pitch count displays is a growing trend in sports-specific features in baseball and softball.
A Sound Approach
In addition to having well-lit stadiums and visually appealing scoreboards, the quality of sound systems is equally important. A crisp, clear sound emanating throughout a stadium helps to keep athletes and fans more connected to the game.
"Microphones are key," said Glenn Busse, director of sales for a Carlsbad, Calif.-based company that manufactures battery-powered portable sound systems, portable public address systems, speaker monitors, wired and wireless intercom systems and lecterns.
At his company, Busse has seen a surge in adapting microphones to various environments and situations. "Wearing masks and face shields, for example, have created a surge for collared mics," he said.
"We also see each user wanting to have their own mic and not share gear. The wireless belt packs are shared … as they are easy to sanitize," he said. "We have developed our proprietary technology for going outdoors, at a high frequency of 1.9 GHz we deliver clear, interference- free audio signal, the best range over 300 feet and handy volume/mute control. Running around outdoors, things need to be quick, easy work, the first time and every time."
When selecting a sound system, Busse suggested keeping a few factors in mind. They include, for example, coverage area. "New social distancing has changed the dynamics in coverage area and system design at 4 square yards (6-feet distancing front, back and sides)," he said.
"This has initiated a fundamental change in PA system design consideration, whereas in the past one would typically first consider crowd size," he said. "We have been developing simpler tools to design PA system coverage."
In terms of what clients look for in sound systems, Busse said they want something that is "simple, easy to use."
In addition, "battery power that lasts and is reliable," he said. And, an "Emphasis on voice quality. Most PA suppliers focus on music frequencies while we … address both. We always want customers' voices to be clear and as loud as needed." RM
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