Sport Scoreboards: Making Larger-Than-Life Sports Even More Gigantic
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Sport Scoreboards: Making Larger-Than-Life Sports Even More Gigantic

In its original incarnation, the stadium scoreboard served a single function of keeping track of game activity and the running score.

By Louis M. Brill

A modern scoreboard is sometimes the fan's best friend (only equal in popularity to concessions!). It keeps the fans totally connected to the game by showing off a huge video of both the game in real-time with tight action camera work and all those yummy replays in case you blinked your eyes. And that's just the video component, along with that is the game statistics reader board which tallies team scores and whose up next. For stadium owners, there's also potential advertising to consider on a scoreboard via banners, backlit or front-lit signs, tri-face or permanent, and iconic signage for naming-rights sponsors.

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  • In its original incarnation, the stadium scoreboard served a single function of keeping track of game activity and the running score. Prior to the electric scoreboard, the main component of implementing a score change was the scorekeeper who, depending on a scoreboard's overall design would sit in the scoreboard and periodically leaned out of little portholes to change out numbers and player designations. In the case of Boston's Fenway Park, the scoreboard was placed at ground level, against a huge retaining wall and nicknamed "The Green Monster." In its earliest days, the major tool of the Monster for updating it was a wooden stepladder where the score keeper could climb up and adjust the board of the just played inning.

    When electric scoreboards came into play, stadium game summaries became easier to manage and to view and the stepladder was traded in for a keyboard and monitor. While the conventional scoreboard is rectangular in shape, some stadiums have taken exception to the rule with specialized scoreboard configurations. Anaheim Stadium in 1966 mounted their scoreboard on the inside of a big A-frame with a single advertisement for Chevron placed over the board. The Royals Stadium in Kansas City took pride in installing their board inside of a 12-story frame in the shape of a giant crown. The board was illuminated with over 16,000 computer controlled wedged-based light bulbs to spell out who did what and when, out on the field.

    Sport stadiums come in two forms, either open field or indoor with an enclosed roof. The configuration of scoreboard and advertising signage is usually defined by stadium sightlines. The scoreboard, which evolved from a manual changing display with numbers and letters, was eventually replaced with an all-electric scoreboard of flashing incandescent lights. From there, the scoreboard went electronic with the advent of video viewing screens. Here Mitsubishi Electronic was the first company to introduce large-format video displays with their installation at the Los Angeles Dodger Stadium for the 1980 Major League Baseball All Star game. To gain insight into the strategy of creating a modern scoreboard, several sport stadium scoreboard designers, manufacturers and installers discussed their specialized activities in keeping players totally up-to-date on whos up and whos out.

    WJHW of Dallas, Texas is a consulting and design firm with a specialty in sport facilities, particularly with the related audio-visual system (public address sound systems, television monitors, video security, etc.) and that also includes the scoreboards as described by principle Jack Wrightson. "As for scoreboards, we often custom design them for our stadium clients and do so by helping them define what kind of scoreboard needs they have. That is put into specifications that define the entire scoreboard face and all the associated signage that will be attached to it. We even spec the control software of the sign. The documents are put out to bid to independent contractors, and then selected vendors begin to fabricate and build the scoreboard as desired by the stadium."

    JWHW prepares a design elevation for the Indianapolis Indians scoreboard. The scoreboard combines a viewing display system, and a game play stat board with advertising placement opportunities. photo credit: JWHW

    JWHW's design concept for a center hung scoreboard for the San Antonio Spurs. photo credit: JWHW

    "Stadium scoreboards with their large format, full color video screens have become a very high profile, emotional and an attention grabbing issue for audiences," says Wrightson. "They have become a real focal point of most stadiums and have sometimes come to represent an architectural sculptural identity of a stadium presence. Often stadium owners in their travels to different stadiums and arenas will study other stadium scoreboards to decide what they want for their own next generation scoreboard."

    In designing a sports scoreboard there are several dynamic guidelines to consider including its infrastructure design, its advertising potential and its entertainment value, according to Wrightson. "In regard to the infrastructure of a scoreboard system, that includes placement to provide the best accessible viewing sightlines, and the design of the proper structural capacity to hold it and to have enough electrical capacity to support it. These dynamics are usually driven both by owner needs and what sport the scoreboard is being designed for."

    Scoreboards also have a revenue side vis--vis advertising. Depending on the owner interest and the stadium's marketing department requirements, the rest of the scoreboard can be leased out for different advertising placements, which can be anything from front or back lit signs to even additional LED video displays for electronic advertising. "The percentage of dedicated advertising," says Wrightson, "could range anywhere from covering 30 % - 40 % of a scoreboard to as much as 70% of a board."

    As for the scoreboard's pure "entertainment" aspect, (as opposed to game/statistical information) aside from game value, it depends according to Wrightson, "on how much you want it to act as a cheerleader to your audience. This could include related graphics, animations or even independent signage or dimensional sculptures added on the scoreboard."

    Clarke Systems- Slatz Capture was designed to meet the challenge of change.

    The House That Ruth Built
    As a sign goes from design to fabrication; its final stop is the playing field. Getting a video display up in the audience's face is a big job. One company who excels at that is Broadway National Sign and Lighting of Ronkokoma, NY. The company, founded in 1986 was originally a National Sign Company and specialized in maintenance contracts for existing sign installations. That evolved into corporate identity and re-branding sign programs around the New York City metropolitan area. One of their more recent and exciting projects was the installation of all the LED signage on the Reuters Building (see http://www.signindustry.com/led/articles/2003-02-28-LB-LED-Zippers.php3) in Times Square.

    Yankee Stadium with it's new Diamond Vision viewing screen (25 feet by 33 feet) installed courtesy of Broadway National Sign and Lighting. photo credit: Broadway National Sign and Lighting)

    In the early spring of 2002, Broadway National had the extraordinary opportunity to oversee the renewal of the display screen on the scoreboard from "The House That Ruth Built" - Yankee Stadium. The stadium was first dedicated in 1923, during the club's 21st season. By 1983, over 91 World Series games had been played on its hallowed grounds. Over the decades the likes of Lou Gehrig, Don Larsen, Joe DiMaggio and the Babe himself had nailed many a home run on its field. Likewise in 1983, Yankee Stadium had acquired a Diamond Vision video screen as a major display screen for its scoreboard. The stadium held onto it for almost two decades, before upgrading to a new generation Diamond Vision display, which is a division of Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics.

    "TAKE ME OUT TO A BALLGAME" - A SHORT HISTORY
    In baseball history as records go, the Fashion Raceway in Jamaica, Queens has been noted as the first official baseball park in American history. It's not the first baseball field, as baseball seems to have been played "forever" in the United States. It is, however the first baseball park where the audience paid a ticket to see a game. This, taking place in 1858, when the All-Star Challenge was held in that park.

    In those early days as fans continued to follow the game there were no scoreboards, instead fans kept score on their own with a purchased scorecard. It wasn't until the early 1900s when hand-operated scoreboards began to appear. The manual scoreboards were a tremendous addition to ballparks, allowing both fans and players to keep better track of how the game progressed. Over time the actual content on the scoreboard has expanded as the game has been improved in how its played. Perhaps the most famous manual scoreboard in baseball is 'The Green Monster' at Boston's Fenway Park. That board not only tells you everything about the current game, but also displays info on every other baseball game taking place that day with up-to-date score and pitcher information.

    George A. Baird invented the first electric scoreboard in 1908, however it was not until the 1930s when these electric scoreboards were used in professional baseball parks. Electric, eventually gave way to electronic and the incandescent bulbs were transformed into cathode ray tubes, in effect turning the scoreboard into a gigantic television set. Mitsubishi introduced this idea whose time had come when they intruded Diamond Vision to Major League baseball at Dodger Stadium at the 1980 All-Star game. CRT tubes begot LED screens and the rest of the scoreboard's video evolution is history.

    In 2002, Broadway National implemented the replacement of Yankee Stadium's previous scoreboard display, which was an older viewing technology of individual CRT tubes as screen pixel elements. After almost two decades on the field, it was time for it to be retired and replaced with its modern counterpart. In supervising that replacement, Broadway regional sales manager, Dennis Hickey commented on the details of that swap out, "In the 18 years that the previous Diamond Vision screen operated, it was trouble free and was primarily being replaced with a new level of display technology, a full color, LED large scale video display screen at 25 feet by 33 feet." To do this, Broadway National had three big tasks, a) removal of the old CRT-based screen; b) modify the existing scoreboard structure to accept the new and improved display screen, and finally c) the installation of the new LED Diamond Vision screen.

    Broadway National's procedure in removing the old Yankee Stadium display screen was that it required the use of a 35-ton crane with a 144-foot boom. The big challenge for Broadway was how to bring the crane onto the playing field without destroying or tearing up Yankee Stadium's recently renovated and brand new baseball field. The solution according to Hickey was simple. "Once we got the crane on the field, we set up a protective covering of masonite and plywood across the areas the truck would drive as to not disturb or ruin that part of the field. Once that was up, we drove the crane directly to the scoreboard, positioned it in place and proceeded from there."

    "First we pulled the old Diamond Vision screen off and brought it to ground level and took it away. An interesting anecdotal note was that as we removed the old display screen, we found several boxes of the screen's spare parts and they were all unopened and just sitting there because they weren't needed during the entire operation of the old Diamond vision screen." The next step that Broadway National faced was to structurally upgrade the scoreboard to accept the weight of the new display screen that would be placed on it. Once that was finished, our next task was to lift the new Diamond Vision display into place.

    When we installed the new screen, we did so by placing the new LED Diamond Vision screen onto the scoreboard as an empty frame. For safety reasons and ease of installation (less original lifting weight). Once the frame was in place, we used a swing scaffold to bring up the LED modules and began tiling them, row by row until we completely reassemble the video screen on the scoreboard. Once the LED modules were in place, they were all wired to each other for data inputs and power, tested and turned on as an operational viewing screen. Altogether, it took Broadway National two weeks to replace the old CRT scoreboard with a new LED screen and have it operational in time for the season's opening which by then was less than two weeks away.

    Multimedia and the Orlando Magic
    For indoor arena-based sports, scoreboards are usually circular hung from the center of the ceiling with viewing screens facing outwards to every side of the seating areas. Such was the case with the TD Waterhouse Centre (Orlando, Florida), home of the Orlando Magic. The arena's ceiling scoreboard contained four older JumboTron screens, which the owners were looking to replace. The center-hung scoreboard was a three level display, with its upper and lower levels each displaying a ring of advertisement surrounding the scoreboard. In between those levels was a large center scoreboard face that contained a video display screen and surrounding the left and right side and bottom of each display screen an alpha-numeric board which has game statistics and scoring information. The project was awarded to MULTIMEDIA who, in a marketing partnership with DornaUSA (NY, NY) prepared its LED, full color eVidia I series as the Orlando Magic replacement video display.

    Orlando Magic's center hung arena scoreboard with its new Multimedia eVidia I (8 foot high by 11 foot wide) video screens. photo credit: Mulimedia

    The LED screens were manufactured in MULTIMEDIA's Rancho Cordova facility in Northern California and designed as 10mm high-resolution displays with a matrix of 240 by 320 pixels. The high-resolution screens support live video, graphics and animations all as part of a game presentation. Each screen measured eight feet high by eleven feet wide and once completed all four were shipped to the client in Florida for installation. Jason Barak, operations manger for MULTIMEDIA's East Coast, New York branch remembered the project with its precise replacement schedule. "To install the new screens, the center hung scoreboard was lowered from the ceiling to within five or six feet of the arena floor. More interesting is the fact that TD Waterhouse sports arena is also host to their hockey team, the Solar Bears, and when MULTIMEDIA arrived to replace and install the viewing screens, the game court had an ice floor for an upcoming hockey game."

    Barak recalled setting up for the video screen swap out, "To remove and place the viewing screens, we had a boom truck, fork lifts, and a man lift surrounding the lowered scoreboard. We could drive and walk on the ice, but it was pretty cold in the arena area around the scoreboard. We also had to be careful about not dropping tools or bolts and putting dings and dents into the ice. Since this job took place during season, we had a minimal amount of time to completion. Altogether it took about 16 hours to replace all four screens and return the scoreboard to its proper height."

    "One of the changes to the video screen was its increased viewing angle of 160 degrees from side to side" noted Barak. "This was a definite improvements from the old screen which had a viewing angle of about ninety degrees." Barak was in the audience for the game that debuted the screens recalled how he had turned to a fan behind him and asked what he had thought of the screens. The fan replied, "The first thing I noticed was the HDTV replacement screens. The color and images are amazing, and the video screens can be seen from anywhere in the arena!"

    Lighthouse Technologies and the Seattle Seahawks
    In the great modernization of scoreboards with new and replacement video displays, Lighthouse Technologies of Cary, North Carolina has made its own contribution to sports entertainment according to President Troy Dodson, having installed LED video screens in sports venues throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, Asia and Europe.

    The large format, high visual quality screens offer either high definition or analog presentations depending on each particular stadium's broadcast requirements. All Lighthouse screens incorporate the most advanced LED video processing available which can accept any video or PC input to create life-like video. Each Lighthouse screen includes its patented M4 Uniformity Control process that creates a uniform brightness with pixel equality from pixel to pixel evenly distributed across the entire screen.

    Seattle Seahawks new stadium scoreboard sports a Lighthouse double wide viewing area by mounting two boards side by side and winding up with an LED video display in an ultra-landscape format (32 x 9 ratio), measuring a vast 83.25 ft wide by 23.75 ft high. photo credit: Lighthouse Technologies

    In one Lighthouse installation at the Seattle Seahawks football and soccer stadium, although two screens were installed, one for each side of the field, the outstanding feature of the south side installation was its ultra-landscape (cinerama-like) format with a unique twist of tiling two LED video screens side-by-side to create an aspect ratio of 32 x 9 ratio, which measured a vast 83.25 ft wide by 23.75 ft high, with a resolution of 1600 x 456 pixels.

    The Seahawks screen is unique in that instead of traditional scoreboards, the giant LED displays incorporate all scoring and statistical information on a virtual scoreboard as part of the input signal. "The ultra-landscape board is big enough that it not only shows game play, but scoreboard operators," says Dodson, "can split the screen with game play and current scores or run, at an appropriate time, stadium sponsored advertising all on the same board."

    Ultimately, sport stadium entertainment says Dodson, "is all about the audience and giving them the best entertainment value at that stadium, both in the teams providing the best sport experience to stadium guests and from the stadium offering the best video playback presentation they can put on a scoreboard. One measure of how important that has become says Dodson, "is that even college sport stadiums and minor league teams are getting video displays for their scoreboards."

    Conclusion
    There's no question in the digital age for sport stadiums that full color, high definition scoreboards are an integral part of a stadium presentation. As more and more sport stadiums catch up to modernizing their scoreboard video screens, more so are the opportunities for LED video screen manufacturers and sign installers to participate in this ongoing video screen replacement program. In sports, this is a win-win for everybody, the owners get a better stadium and the fans are ecstatic. It's the first thing they see when they enter the seating area and its those screens that helps them remember the memorable moments of their favorite sporting events - Gotta love that!

    ----------------------------------------------------------
    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications. He is also writing a book on the history and future of film entertainment. He can reached at (415) 664-0694 or lmbrill@earthlink.net
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