Hosting athletic events after dark can boost your field’s revenue stream, and proper lighting is key to player safety and fan enjoyment. See page 14 for more on selecting lighting and scoreboards.

Patrick Maguire, LEED AP, president at Activitas, a landscape architecture and athletic planning firm located in the Greater Boston area, has seen major advancements while incorporating lighting and scoreboards in multiple sports facility projects over the last 20 years. He says, “Technology that is state of the art now, developed to fit the unique needs of a specific facility, over time will become a common component of that manufacturer’s system, with the concept often adapted in different forms throughout the industry. That’s how innovation occurs.”

This hybrid scoreboard from Nevco for Holland Hall, a private school in Tulsa, Okla., combines the features of a traditional static display with the flexibility of a full matrix LED display.


The high-tech trend continues for university and professional sports scoreboards, with innovation leading the way. For many, bigger is better. At Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, home of Aggie football, the 12th Man TV structure stands 110 feet high and houses nearly 4,000 square feet of video board. At DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, home of the University of Texas Longhorns’ football team, Daktronics’ “Godzillatron” is the showcase.

Much media attention has focused on Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the center-hung, four-sided display features four Mitsubishi Diamond Vision high-definition video screens. Within the stadium, that display is “so highly addictive it’s almost intoxicating.” For Super Bowl XLV, many shots of those screens were flashed to TV viewers worldwide and to additional paying fans viewing the portable screen in the Dallas Cowboys Plaza outside the stadium.

Portable units with self-enclosed production studios and huge video panels are now available for rental from several suppliers, giving facilities without permanent high-tech scoreboards the ability to draw crowds for off-season movie nights or to view video coverage of nontelevised games. Texas A&M has invested in a similar setup, with both components mounted on wheels for easy access to multiple on-campus sports events.

This Yankee Stadium scoreboard from All American Scoreboards was installed in 1950. It was the first major league baseball electronic unit.

The 2010 rebranding of Disney’s Orlando multisport facility as the ESPN Wide World of Sports took the capabilities of high-definition video to another level. HD images not only hit massive scoreboard-style screens within the Welcome Center and Champion Stadium, but also appear on 40 high-definition video screens spread throughout the complex. On-field action of the sports participants – both pros and amateurs – is picked up by HD robotic and hand-held video cameras. With an on-site digital editing center, anything captured by those cameras can be featured as highlight segments. In addition, games can be replayed on a designated TV channel available in the hotel rooms of Disney resort properties.

Chris Stark, sales manager for All American Scoreboards, Pardeeville, Wis., points to the universal aspect of what a scoreboard has become as the technology from several product lines has been meshed. He says, “All American Scoreboards (www.allamericanscoreboards.com) is a division of a much larger sign company that also makes the pricing signs you see at gas stations that operate 24/7, 365 days of the year. We make those changeable billboards that look like a big TV screen, too. The same components and technology are at work in our scoreboards. Instead of the incandescent lightbulbs and electromechanical systems, we now have LED flexibility, reliability and durability.”

Paul Zwaska, general manager of Beacon Athletics, a supplier of multiple products for the sports field industry, says, “The LED electronic scoreboards are more easily read, even in sunlight, and are huge energy savers. Our [Little League] complex converted to LED over three years ago and has seen a significant drop in electrical costs. Scoreboards combining the LED factor with polycarbonate facing can resist a 100 mph hit with a baseball. Those with incandescent bulbs needed to be screened to keep the bulbs from shattering.”

The setup of this scoreboard gives spectators lots of information in an easy-to-read LED format.

Along with technological advancements and the fans’ hunger for information, Zwaska notes, in some cases, rule changes prompt innovation. He says, “The Little League now has the pitch rule governing the number of pitches thrown by age groupings.” All American Scoreboards has incorporated the pitch counts for both teams into some of their scoreboard designs, making it easier to track, according to Stark. He says, “We also make pitch count boards that can be added to existing scoreboards.”

Daniel Fukuhara, marketing manager for Varsity Scoreboards, based in Murray, Ky., reports that their new ScoreRestore provides those using outdated incandescent lightbulb-based scoreboards the ability to update both appearance and functionality. He says, “Various heights and widths are available to fit over the existing unit. It is shipped in panel sections that fit together so one person could handle the installation of even a large board with minimal equipment. The 100,000-plus-hour superbright LED displays are available in red or amber, with cable-operated or wireless control systems. We’ve also added the Build-A-Board option to our website (www.varsityscoreboards.com), providing customers the opportunity of customizing their board in real time.”

Wireless radio control systems can now work with all microprocessor-controlled scoreboards, eliminating the need to run cabling under the field, and freeing the operator from being tethered to one location. Ranges vary, as do the types of batteries used. Zwaska says, “When a complex has multiple fields in play, the controller can have each field on a different channel, so there’s no confusion in posting information on the scoreboards.”

Stark notes nearly 99 percent of new scoreboard systems are going wireless. He says, “Perhaps the biggest improvement in scoreboards is in the piece the customer touches, the scoreboard control console. If the customer has one of our consoles and LED scoreboards and they need to make a change, say to work with multiple sports or reflect a rule change, we can e-mail the appropriate software to them, and they can simply upload it. The update is immediate.”

Jeff Reeser, national sales manager for Fair-Play Scoreboards, (www.fair-play.com) based in Des Moines, Iowa, says, “We recently introduced a 100 percent guarantee on our wireless scoreboard control systems. If the wireless does not function properly, for any reason, we will supply all the required parts for a hard-wired system at no cost to the client. The client would be responsible for the installation.”

There’s increased use of message boards at complexes for all levels of play. They’ve become a great self-promotion tool for a complex to advertise concession specials and upcoming special events or tournaments, to display player stats, and announce birthdays or recognize visiting groups. Fukuhara says, “Varsity Scoreboards introduced Smartronics Digital Line Advertising and Messaging Solutions. It attaches directly to the sponsor panel, and comes in many lengths and sizes. With the wireless keyboard controller and full ASCII character set plus symbols, the user can deliver a wide range of messages, even adjusting the message duration and blink rates.”

Musco Lighting provided the lighting system for the York County Sports Complex in Yorktown, Va. Proprietary innovations to the reflectors, lamps and control system supply targeted lighting where and when it is needed.

Obviously, cost is a factor when making scoreboard system decisions. Paul Peterson, marketing manager for Nevco (www.nevco.com), headquartered in Greenville, Ill., says, “We’ve introduced a hybrid scoreboard that unites the features of a traditional static scoreboard with the features of the other end of the spectrum, the full matrix LED or video. The design varies, based on client wants and needs. We use part of the scoreboard for static display of information that always remains the same – say, the name of the complex or field, the picture of its mascot, main sponsor or whatever. The remaining sections of the scoreboard can contain a series of small LED blocks to display scores and data for any sport, along with a larger LED block that can display the same kind of animations as a full matrix scoreboard. A ribbon message board can be added, too, if they wish. The hybrid gives them all the flexibility, yet cuts about 75 percent of the LED area, and the associated costs.”

Later this year, Nevco will introduce the intelligent caption option for outdoor scoreboards. Peterson says, “We already offer it for indoor scoreboards. Basically, instead of physical caption plates, small LED blocks will automatically display captions that are changed via wireless control, depending on the sport. The same scoreboard could serve multiple sports – football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and track – with the appropriate captions displayed, along with the data as entered into the wireless console. Whatever the facility decides it wants to caption and track, the board will light up automatically. It’s an intermediate step between the traditional scoreboard and the hybrid.”

New technology brings video screen displays to stadium corridors, concession areas, or any spot spectators might gather as a vehicle to more effectively deliver information and help in self-promotion to generate income. Be bold in where you seek funding for these, suggests Zwaska. “Most businesses like to support the youth-based organizations. Even the local outlet of a large corporation or local branch of a state or national association could become a major contributor if asked.”

Maguire notes potential additions to a scoreboard should be part of the structural planning process. Consider field use for multiple sports; possible rule changes requiring data tracking; and the opportunity to incorporate upper, lower or side advertising panels. He says, “As well as planning spacing to accommodate additions, the design must incorporate footing size and support capabilities to bear the weight load and wind resistance for probable weather-related occurrences.”

Some of the complex electronic scoreboards are available as portable units incorporating impact resistance, LED data and wireless remote control.


When planning the lighting system design, Maguire notes the prime factor is considering all the potential uses of the field, and determining the most efficient and cost-effective means to put the right amount of light on the field to facilitate it.

The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) has issued recommendations for sports lighting and recreational lighting for what is deemed adequate illumination for safe play for both indoor and outdoor sports facilities. For outdoor field sports, those recommendations are listed per sport and the level of play for that sport taking into consideration, in part, the number of on-site spectators.

Maguire says, “Along with the level of play, consider the relative speed at which play occurs. The higher the level, the faster the speed, and the greater the illumination required. When multiple sports will be played on one field, the lighting levels should be matched to the highest foot-candle recommendations.”

If any of the on-field activities will be broadcast, those lighting needs must also be considered. Maguire says, “The lighting requirements also escalate depending on the level of broadcasting, from local to regional to national. High-definition broadcasts raise the bar even further.”

During the early stages of planning, the various options are generally evaluated using computer analysis of lighting calculations, incorporating the supplier’s data on the delivery of illumination of their system components in accordance with the criterion complying with IESNA recommendations. Maguire says, “All aspects of the system, including, but not limited to, the individual components and their position and angle within the light assembly, to the number, location and height of the poles, can be manipulated for comparison. While the standard measure is foot-candles delivered on the horizontal plane of the field surface, evaluation is also needed for the overall level of light above the field, where ball movement could potentially take place that would require sighting by the players or recording by video equipment. The issues are not only adequate light at the field surface, but the uniformity of light throughout the space, so there are no light or dark spots where play occurs.”

The configuration of pole placement needs to fit with the patterns of play for the athletes of all the sports that will use a field, as well as allow for post-construction access for periodic maintenance and relamping throughout the life of the system.

Another critical factor from the design standpoint is saving energy. That incorporates overall light output; targeted delivery of the light to the playing area; and control of the light pollution of spill, glare or sky glow. Major sports lighting suppliers – Musco Lighting, Universal Sports Lighting, Inc., Qualite Sports Lighting and Hubbell Lighting’s SportsLiter Solutions – are addressing these issues with proprietary innovations either to the reflectors, lamps, control systems or all of these. While the methods do vary, the ultimate goal is the same, more effective channeling of the light to better target the output. The results are enhanced sports play and viewing, reduced light pollution and lower operational costs.

Another significant innovation the major suppliers offer is the ability to control on-field lighting from a central system accessible via computer or smartphone, as well as on-site. Maguire says, “That trims labor costs, tightly controls the lighting intervals, and assists facilities in tracking actual usage, all contributing to cost savings.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.