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September 9, 2013

Bigger - And Better

By: Jimmy Robertson

Large, new high-definition video scoreboards in both Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum should enhance fans’ experiences while generating more revenue from advertising

The new high-definition video scoreboard at Lane Stadium is larger than video scoreboards at Ohio State and Oklahoma and was installed primarily to enhance the game-day experience for fans.

Virginia Tech played Western Carolina on Sept. 7 at Lane Stadium, and the picture was much clearer than before.

The latter part of that statement doesn’t serve as a prediction of any on-field success for the Hokies this season. Rather it takes on a more literal meaning.

Virginia Tech unveiled its massive new video scoreboard against the Catamounts, one that ranks not only as one of the largest in the nation, but also one that features the most up to date in high definition video technology.

Tech’s new video scoreboard, built and installed by Panasonic, stands more than 45 feet high and nearly 96 feet wide. It dwarfs the previous video scoreboard, which was built and installed in 2005. That one stood 22 feet high and 38 feet wide.

According to Wikipedia, the new video scoreboard ranks as the 11th-largest in college football at 5,215 square feet and the second-largest in the ACC behind Miami’s (6,717 square feet). Miami plays its games at Sun Life Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and thus gets the benefit of using the Dolphins’ resources.

But to put things in perspective, Tech’s new video scoreboard is larger than the ones at Ohio Stadium, home of Ohio State, and at Memorial Stadium, home of the Oklahoma Sooners, and it only adds to the enclosed environment at Lane Stadium.

“I’ve always been a fan of stadiums that are completely closed in, and now with the end zone addition down here [pointing toward the south end zone] and the scoreboard up there, it’s [Lane Stadium] almost completely closed in,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “I really like that. We’ve got a vertical stadium, where the noise stays in there. So I think it’s a great addition to our stadium.”

More importantly than the sheer size of the video scoreboard, though, is the quality of the video and graphics. The scoreboard features high-definition LED displays, so in essence, the picture resembles that of flatscreen televisions in living rooms throughout the country.

More and more schools and pro sports teams continue to go down this path, doing everything possible to enhance fans’ experiences, while also creating a potential revenue stream from advertising. Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Colorado State, and the NFL’s Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars are just a few examples of entities that will feature new video scoreboards this season.

“The main reason behind this for us was we wanted high definition,” said Kevin Hicks, Tech’s director of visual broadcasting and communication. “We wanted to get to a sharper image that was larger, and the only way to do that was to replace the video scoreboard we had. The quality should be as good, if not better, than what you see in your living room. You should get the same type of quality that you have at home.

“You look around and half, if not more, of ACC schools are going to high definition and putting up these giant video scoreboards, and it was important for us not to get behind. Jim Weaver [Virginia Tech’s athletics director] was on board with doing this. He was very instrumental.”

The new video scoreboard was part of a multi-phase project this summer that also included the building and installation of a sound system at Lane Stadium, two new video scoreboards at Cassell Coliseum and the construction of a new control room in the Merryman Center to operate the new scoreboards. The department purchased five new high-definition cameras and upgraded all software. All together, the project cost $6.75 million.

The Tech athletics department worked with IMG College, the department’s multi-media rights holder since 1995, to get this project accomplished. IMG College sells advertising for the athletics department – everything from game program ads to schedule cards to signage within both Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum to all the ads on the radio network and the coaches’ television show and much, much more.

The athletics department and IMG College agreed on a contract extension that runs through 2024. As part of that extension, IMG College pays the majority of the price tag for the video scoreboards project. In return, IMG College gets to continue using the video scoreboards to sell advertising during football and basketball games. With new high-definition scoreboards in those venues, IMG College can sell more spots and sell them at a premium, which in turn, benefits both IMG College and Virginia Tech.

“We improved our existing inventory, which means you can increase rates, and we’ve added inventory, which provides the opportunity to get incremental dollars,” said Brandon Forbis, the general manager of IMG College’s Virginia Tech account. “But all in all, the most important thing is we have a better product to sell on those boards. Our main product that we sell is Virginia Tech athletics, but the actual inventory, the quality of it and the flexibility of it because everything is digital, is dramatically improved.”

Two new high-definition video scoreboards have been installed at either end of Cassell Coliseum and are twice as big as the previous video scoreboards.

The new video scoreboards allow sponsors to get creative with their messaging. Graphics can be customized and more appealing, and the message can be more centrally targeted. This appeals to many advertisers, who see more value in this than doing, for example, a stand-alone panel in a certain location with just their name.

“Sponsors want more flexibility in their messaging because they want to integrate things like their Twitter handles and other social media interactive opportunities,” Forbis said. “It all boils down that sports marketing has developed, and as the economy has been suspect, marketers are trying more and more ways to measure return on investment and it’s more than just the eyeballs that are on the signs. It’s about engaging fans and tracking how they can turn them into customers.

“Every advertiser is trying to find a way to engage people besides the traditional TV commercial or billboard or radio spot. I think it will evolve as those secondary interactions with consumers evolve. People [advertisers] want less branding and all social media, and at some point, you have to get your name out there, so that’s the balance we try to find with people.”

Obviously, football brings in most of the revenue for the athletics department, but Tech AD Jim Weaver and Forbis like the potential of Cassell Coliseum – both for the enhanced game-day experience and the revenue possibilities.

The two new basketball scoreboards at Cassell Coliseum are 18 feet high and 29 feet wide. They also include two auxiliary boards that will be used for player data – things like points, fouls, etc. for each player. The previous scoreboards were 9 feet high and 12 feet wide.

For Hicks and his staff, the new control room was a must to be able to do everything the athletics department and IMG College want to do with the scoreboards. The new control room features four pieces of equipment used strictly for the game and then five editing stations. In the past, the staff only had three editing stations. They use editing stations nearly every day, whether it be for editing highlight videos or packages for the website or short pieces for kiosks in the Merryman Center and Lane Stadium.

The new control room also enables Hicks and his staff to run two productions at once. Events often overlap, particularly in the spring when, for example, baseball and softball games are being played at the same time. Now, the video staff can live stream both games on or ESPN3 – in high definition.

“We have two full control rooms in the Merryman Center now, and they’re connected to all our venues,” Hicks said. “They’re mirror images of each other, and we can run a full show with replays, graphics, packages, commercials, live video – we can do those in either room.

“We set that up so that, for example, we can live stream baseball and softball if they’re going on at the same time, and we’ll do it in high definition. We can do the video board feed, with IMG sponsors at a women’s basketball game while we’re doing an ESPN3 broadcast of the same game. We’ll have the ESPN3 graphics in one room and the sponsor graphics in the other.

“So we can do several things at the same time now. We needed two separate rooms to do all this stuff, and now we have that. The new room gives us a lot more flexibility.”

So a lot of people benefitted from the investment. The football and basketball coaching staffs like to be able to sell big, flashy video scoreboards to recruits. IMG College gets the advertising possibilities – advertisers can still purchase spots for this season. Hicks gets a much-needed control room and equipment and software upgrades.

But most importantly, the fans benefit, or at least that’s what the Tech athletics department hopes. Officials within the department made this investment mostly with the fans in mind.

“We wanted to enhance the fan experience,” Hicks admitted. “Everyone talks about it, but it gets more and more difficult when they can go home and see something as good or better. So you have to give them something different.”

At Tech, those differences are video scoreboards that are much bigger – and certainly better.