- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gone are the days when the word “behemoth” referred mostly to hulking offensive linemen or slugging designated hitters. Nowadays, that term also is being used to describe video displays and scoreboards in stadiums across the country.

College and pro stadiums have become the sites of an arms race of sorts, with teams and universities shattering records in an effort to install the largest and most advanced video displays.

“Everybody’s trying to create that ‘wow’ factor,” said Jay Parker, a national sales manager with Daktronics Inc., the South Dakota-based manufacturer of two record-breaking screens this year. “What we’re seeing is that bigger creates that.”

Daktronics helped the University of Texas land in the record book last summer by installing a high-definition screen measuring 134 feet wide by 55 feet tall to overlook an entire end zone at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin. Dubbed the “Godzillatron” by many fans, it is the largest HD screen in the Western Hemisphere, second in the world only to a 218-foot long screen at a horse racing track in Tokyo.

The “Godzillatron,” which cost $8 million, eclipsed in both size and cost previous big screens at Big 12 rival schools including Texas A&M; and Nebraska.

The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, installed a 137-foot by 50-foot high-definition Daktronics screen at Dolphin Stadium, the largest display in professional sports.

Daktronics reported $123.5 million in sales during its last financial quarter, up from $75.8 million during the comparable quarter in 2005.

The company is now eyeing its next potential big project, a massive, four-sided screen to hang from the roof of the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium. The team last week unveiled plans for a $1 billion stadium with designs for a four-sided video cube comprising two screens measuring 180 feet wide and 50 feet tall and another two measuring 48 feet wide by 27 feet tall. The screens would hang about 110 feet above the field and would be angled for optimal viewing by fans in the upper deck.

“This definitely enhances the value of that [upper deck] ticket,” Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels said. “This is a way to recreate that view from your living room couch and your big-screen TV.”

Manufacturers said the new interest in large in-stadium screens stems from an intense desire to improve fan experience as competition among sports leagues has increased. But they also point to two other factors: timing and price.

Stadium operators have found that the older displays they installed in the mid-1990s — around the peak time of stadium construction — are starting to deteriorate. Meanwhile, the price per square foot of higher-quality light-emitting diode (LED) displays has dropped by nearly a third since they were introduced about a decade ago. The introduction of high-definition technology is also giving stadium operators an excuse to upgrade.

“These people are looking at the end of a life of a screen, so they’re looking at the options,” said Mark Foster, general manager of the DiamondVision Systems, a division of Mitsubishi Electric Power Products that has installed displays at several stadiums, including Turner Field in Atlanta. “They’re not looking for a cheaper product. They want more for their money.”

Some stadium operators have turned to larger displays as a way of consolidating all of a game’s information onto one board rather than have separate screens for different content.

“Traditionally, you used to see video replays on a separate board from scores and statistics,” Foster said. “Now it’s all integrated into a single system.”

While teams are spending millions of dollars on these displays, they expect to earn that money back in increased advertising opportunities. The new displays are usually constructed to allow for advertising signs on the perimeter — fans at Texas have derided the “Godzillatron” for its excessive signage — and the higher quality of the video can allow teams to sell full-fledged commercials.

“It’s big because now you can get creative and deliver a more important message,” said Dan Kosth, CEO of Sports Media, a Silvis, Ill., company that helps plan stadium advertising, including campaigns for large video displays. “Entertainment is more important to advertisers because they don’t want it to be where advertising is in your face. The days of static signage are fading away.”

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is in charge of building a new stadium for the Washington Nationals, is soliciting bids for a video screen and scoreboard at the ballpark, which is scheduled to open in 2008. The LED video screen would measure 29 feet in height and 51 feet in width, making it one of the larger screens in baseball but still dwarfed by the 71-foot-tall by 79-foot-wide screen at Turner Field. The stadium architectural team, led by HOK Sport of Kansas City, Mo., has designed the ballpark to accommodate a larger screen if the club requests it in the future.

The Baltimore Orioles, meanwhile, succeeded earlier this month in blocking the Maryland Stadium Authority’s purchase of a new scoreboard for Camden Yards and have asked the authority to install something larger and more technologically advanced. The two sides are preparing to enter binding arbitration to end the dispute.

Manufacturers and architects said baseball stadiums may not be able to accommodate screens much larger than those currently being produced, especially since some new parks, such as the Oakland Athletics’ proposed stadium, are designed to seat less than 40,000.

“There is a practical limit to how large they can get, and I think we’ve pretty much reached that,” said Clark Mleynek of HOK Sport.

But football stadiums, which are growing larger in size, will likely be home to bigger and brighter displays.

“You just never know how big things are going to be,” Daktronics’ Parker said. “The stadium operators are going to do anything that would improve fan experience, and I really think they’re going to try and raise that bar.”

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