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More Than Just Keeping Score

September 1, 2006

Luxury suites. Lavish locker rooms. Indoor practice centers. They are ammunition in the so-called athletics arms race, where major college sports programs, in an effort to woo recruits and please boosters, go to great lengths to have the latest, greatest facility.

Over the past few years, a new area of competition has emerged: the mega video scoreboard. No longer, it seems, is it enough to show grainy images that don't appear clearly in the sunlight; screens capable of showing high-definition video replays are becoming the norm for Division I programs.

This fall, the University of Texas at Austin is unveiling its new sound system and 134-foot-long video screen nicknamed "Godzillatron." The project reportedly cost $8 million and is part of a major renovation of the football stadium there.

The Longhorns’ Big 12 Conference rival, Texas A&M University, is ready to show off its new stadium addition, a 74-foot-long video board, at its home football opener on Saturday. The screen, which is capable of taking high-definition signals, is seven times the size of the previous one. A new scoreboard and sound system are also being installed at the Cotton Bowl, in Dallas, where Texas annually plays another of its main rivals, University of Oklahoma.

”Keeping up with the Joneses in this market has been important for a long time," said Mark Steinkamp, a spokesman with Daktronics Inc., the company that built Texas' scoreboard. What has changed recently, he said, is light emitting diodes (LED) screen technology that allows for a clearer picture in outdoor venues.

Daktronics has installed systems for about 20 college sports venues this year, including ones at California State University at Fresno, Rice University, North Carolina State University, Clemson University, Auburn University, University of Alabama and Stanford University.

Steinkamp said the Texas screen has the highest definition of any video display board the company has ever installed. 

David Belding, regional sales manager for Mitsubishi Electric, which manufactured a 117-foot-long screen -- one of the largest in college football -- at the University of Nebraska, said that project cost about $5 million, which is typical for major Division I upgrades.

Belding said many colleges added video display screens about 10 years ago and are now upgrading with larger screens because of lower costs of the LED products.

The Texas A&M project includes 1,000 feet of ribbon boards -- thin screens that surround a stadium and provide additional statistics and messages. Alan Cannon, associate athletics director for media relations, said the university is in the midst of a multi-media upgrade that includes a new video board in the basketball arena and baseball stadium, and a portable video screen that will travel to matches for "non-revenue" sports such as tennis and soccer.

Corporate sponsors are paying all of the costs of the Texas A&M project, Cannon said. “We had to have a sponsorship deal before the project began,” he said. "Athletics has the same energy bills as everyone else, so you need other means of funding. We weren't going to go to the fans for money."

Many of the new scoreboards have ample advertising space, which has some college sports purists concerned with the increased commercialization of National Collegiate Athletic Association events.

Ticket sales and private donations paid for the costs of a 107-foot-wide scoreboard installed at the University of Arkansas in 2000, said Jerry Pufall, associate athletics director.

Bob Carpenter, vice president of sales and marketing at Nevco Scoreboard Company, said his clients, mostly high schools and smaller colleges, are also clamoring to update their video capabilities.

“It’s a big status symbol, and there’s pressure at colleges to enhance facilities to attract recruits, to have the feeling that it’s a big-time event," Carpenter said.

Added Pufall: "High schools are trying to emulate colleges, colleges are emulating pros.  You try to be on the cutting edge."

Cannon said the video screens are mostly meant to enhance the fan's experience, and not necessarily to be used as a recruiting tool. "I've yet to hear that the reason a player went to A&M was because we had a better video board than the next school," he said.

 

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