The Super Bowl of Signs

Next generation scoreboards are offering new opportunities for sign makers who can design and install monstrous LED signs. 

Find out what it takes to design, build and erect stadium signage and decide if you have what it takes to cash in on the opportunity for high-tech LEDs.

LED technology ushered in a new era of signage and no where is this evolution more apparent than in the new NFL stadiums unveiled in the past few years. Professional football teams are embracing next-generation video scoreboards as they strive to enhance the total fan experience with more dynamic, interactive displays.

NFL organizations are buying into LED technology, say experts, because it offers brighter displays, better clarity and more vivid colors along with less power usage, lower costs and longer-lasting signs. LED displays can run up to 100,000 hours ­ up to 15 years of football games.

“If the owner decided to replace the displays in the future, then it probably wouldn’t be because they wore out,” says Dave Belding, market business manager for Barco Media, a division of Kennesaw, Ga.-based Barco Projection Systems. “It would be because there is a newer, different technology available.”

The trend toward monstrous, high-tech video displays can be traced back to 1998 when Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium kicked off “BucVision,” two massive scoreboards at each end zone that simultaneously display up to six different images. But Ford Field in Detroit, Reliant Stadium in Houston, Seahawks Stadium in Seattle and Gillette Field in Foxboro, Mass. tasked LED manufacturers to take innovation to new heights in some of the NFL’s newest stadiums.

Soaring in Seattle 
Seattle’s Seahawks Stadium features a vertical video board above the north end that is 48’ tall and 42’ wide, an unrivaled aspect ratio among NFL stadiums. In addition to the massive video screen, Seahawks Stadium features four large display screens, 80 flat-screen plasma televisions, and 3,756 miles of cable wiring.

“The sheer size of the display and its proximity to the field offers fans an incredible experience,” says Jack Bailey, project manager for TubeArt, the Seattle-based sign company that developed the display.

Design and installation began in October 2001 and was completed in May 2002. Bailey says the most difficult aspect of the design phase was getting all parties involved in the decision-making process to settle on sign components and sizes, making a relationship with the architects and the team executives vital to the success of the project. Like most large signs, installation was the larger hurdle.

“The challenges came in staging the video units, especially in the north end, because we had to physically get them up to the installation area,” says Bailey. “That slowed us down, but we overcame that obstacle through rigging.”

Monstrous in Massachusetts 
Gillette Field in Foxboro, Mass. sports giant state-of-the-art giant screens ­ 48’ x 27’ ­ above both end zones. There are also more than 1,000 monitors distributed throughout the stadium.

But it’s the video displays that run down the sidelines ­ from 20 yard line to 20 yard line ­ that make game time unique in New England, according to Dan Chase, senior project manager for Daktronics, a visual communications company based in Brookings, S.D. “The ribbon boards display one virtual advertisement and some game information,” says Chase. “That’s exciting because instead of fixed signs you now have dynamic movement that attracts attention.”

The design process took two months. Like in Seattle, installation was the larger hurdle. The Daktronics team used a 350-ton crane to bring the equipment into the stadium. “The blind pick at the south end zone was the biggest obstacle,” says Chase. “We had to take 12’ by 30’ sections almost 250-feet into the air and over the side of the stadium using radios and hand signals on cold and windy January days.”

From beginning to end, it was a yearlong project. Chase says he depended heavily on a symbiotic relationship with the architecture firm, HOK Inc., to help deliver the best possible product for the Patriots’ new home.

Ultra-Wide in Houston
In Houston it was a list of firsts. The Texans made its NFL debut in 2002 and the stadium signage was the first sports installation for Barco Media.

The signage is unique because it is ultra-wide. Barco installed two 27’ high by 96’ wide DLite 14 LED displays at the north and south end zones. The displays are configured in a very wide 32:9 ratio and will display two full-resolution, high-definition 16:9 aspect ratio images side-by-side and an ultra-wide 32:9 aspect ratio image.

Clarity was a major concern at Reliant, according to Barco’s Belding. “A lot of the products Reliant looked at had one common problem: When you took a standard video image and spread it out on that large display it was very pixilated,” says Belding. “They wanted to make sure the images were crystal clear when they showed a large image on the display.”

The high-resolution, multi-images were accomplished using Barco’s proprietary D320 image processing system. Belding says this resulted in the “wow factor” for which Texans’ management was looking. The project began in October 2001 and was wrapped up in March 2002.

Daunting Detroit
The Detroit Lions wanted its new lair to feature one of the largest video displays in the league at both end zones, according to Darren Benike, senior project manager for Daktronics. Ford Field has a display package that runs 27’ high and 150’ wide with a 96-foot video screen that can display two 16X9 images. The display can be split into four virtual screens, which allows fans to check in on four different out of town games at the same time.

Benike says it took nearly two months to design the displays for the domed facility, but the real challenge was the installation, which took about two months. “Each end zone consisted of 12 separate sections just for the video display,” says Benike. “Those sections have to fit together perfectly flush vertically, horizontally and on the same plane so that you have no seams because you have to wind up with one final perfect image.”

Since Daktronics did not build the frame, Benike’s team had to adjust its mounting methods to account for variances in the steel. Benike tackled the east end zone first. Putting the displays into place and setting them was a hurdle they overcame with shimming. Benike’s team was prepared for the west end with engineers on hand to take measurements of the steel. “We moved out mounting brackets in-house on each of the cabinets and then sent them back to the field,” says Benicke, noting that this successfully eliminated shimming on the West end.

All four project managers say working with NFL teams is a thrilling, yet challenging experience. “Each team puts a greater importance on different things or want something unique,” says Chase. “That’s both the challenge and the fun part.”

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