How LED Scoreboards Changed Sports

With the 2024 Paris Olympics just around the corner, LED displays will again take center stage in the world’s biggest sporting event. With its magnitude, the Olympics attract millions of spectators from all over the world. And it’s up to the hosts and organizers to take the action closer to every single audience in the venues.

One of the centerpiece events, basketball, will be held at the newly-opened 9,000-seater Adidas Arena. The sports hall has been fitted with an 82-square-meter center-hung LED cube that will serve as an electronic scoreboard and broadcast advertisements during and in between games. Giant indoor and outdoor LED screens were also installed in the venue to give spectators unobstructed views of the on-court action. Other sports events, as well as the much-anticipated opening ceremonies, are expected to incorporate LED screens to elevate the viewing experience. However, such is not the case in the early days of sports.

Early Scoreboards in Different Sports Disciplines

The early scoreboards can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome where it was manually operated–most likely drawn with chalk–and used to keep track of the score. In the 1890s, the first “serious take” on a scoreboard was done by Harvard University to display scores during a football match between the University of Pennsylvania and the Crimson.

Men would climb on ladders and manually update the scores to let everyone in the stadium know which team is winning or losing. These scoreboards weren’t built for aesthetics or with the stadium design in mind. They were typically located where they could be easily accessed by the fans–as they were the ones updating them.

The first electronic scoreboard was introduced in the 1900s, specifically for baseball. George A. Baird designed it to track balls, strikes, and outs, but it garnered little interest from the teams as they feared it would decrease sales of handheld scoreboards. While manual scoreboards remained popular, electronic ones slowly took over in the late 1930s, especially with added features such as timekeeping and showing statistics. However, these were fitted with incandescent bulbs that required incredible amounts of electricity, consuming thousands of watts in one game.

Introduction of LED Scoreboards

It was in the 1970s when LEDs were introduced to scoreboards, which meant brighter and more colorful displays. The Major League Baseball was one of the pioneers in utilizing scoreboards beyond showing scores and time. The league started used the screens for entertainment, and eventually as advertising spaces.

One of the most notable LED scoreboards from this period was the Chicago Fox’s exploding scoreboard installed at Comisky Park. It had multi-colored pinwheels and launched fireworks every time the home team scored a home run. Five years later, a 474-foot-wide scoreboard fitted with 50,000 LEDs became the centerpiece of the Houston Astrodome.

In the late 80s, the Dodger Stadium opened with an 875-square-foot Mitsubishi Diamond Vision board, which allowed operators to show replays via VCR–a first of its kind. However, it was in 2009 when the Dallas Cowboys changed how LED scoreboards are viewed, installing what was then the biggest LED scoreboard in the world center, hung 90 feet above the field.

Types of LED Scoreboards

LED scoreboards can be classified into single-color, double-color, and full-color in terms of characteristics. Additionally, they can be classified according to their installation location: perimeter, center-hung, indoor, and outdoor.

Single-Color/Double-Color Digital Scoreboard

Single-color LED scoreboards are the most basic and common type of digital scoreboard. They typically come in colors red, green, blue, or white and can only display text and numbers. Double-color LED scoreboards are essentially the same, except they can display two different colors at the same time.

Full-Color LED Scoreboard

Full-color LED scoreboards are like giant TV screens that can display player profiles, photos, and videos. They have also become prime advertising spots, especially in internationally-televised leagues. However, one of their most important purposes is to bring the action closer to spectators, especially in big stadiums where seating can affect the visibility of the center court.

Other Types

Center Hung LED Display

Center Hung LED displays are four-sided LED displays hung at the center of the stadium to give spectators a 360-degree view of the action. An LED basketball scoreboard is the most common example of this type of display. These allow people from all sides of the venue to see the scores, replays, and advertisements flashed on all four sides of the scoreboard. In some sporting events like the NBA, these jumbotrons are used to interact with audiences, flashing their close-ups for a “kiss cam” or a “celebrity look-alike” snap.

Perimeter LED Board

Perimeter LED boards are typically installed along the court sidelines, indoors or outdoors. They commonly display advertisements or promote game schedules throughout the games. Perimeter LED boards are made of soft modules and have an anti-collision feature to prevent injuries when players fall.

Outdoor Column LED Board

Outdoor column LED boards are commonly installed in open-air venues such as football stadiums. They can display different content simultaneously, with the central modules showing game footage and the outer modules serving as valuable advertising spots. They can also flash replays, highlight plays, statistics, and animations. Outdoor column LED boards have weatherproof features and high brightness levels.

Features & Benefits of A Scoreboard LED Display

A scoreboard LED display has an array of features and benefits that make it stand out from other types of scoreboards.

Features

  • Bright Screen: LED boards have incredible brightness levels that allow them to be visible even with direct sunlight. They can also be adjusted to fit the ambient lighting conditions in indoor settings.
  • Weather Resistant: Outdoor LED scoreboards are enclosed in weatherproof cabinets that protect the modules and their internal components from the elements.
  • Adjustable Time: The time displayed on LED scoreboards can be easily adjusted via the software. This is perfect for sports that require time, like basketball and football. Additionally, time limits can also be set for certain sports.
  • Shooting Distance: This refers to the distance between the board’s front and back. LED scoreboards usually have a shooting distance of 100 meters and above.

Benefits

  • Time Saver: LED scoreboards are semi- or fully automatic, which means little manpower is involved during operation. The software is pre-programmed to update scores, times, and graphics in just a few clicks.
  • Improved Viewing Experience: LED displays are important in big stadiums where spectators seated at the top don’t have the best court views. They serve as giant televisions where fans can see the action up close.
  • Improved Atmosphere: LED screens are used to interact with audiences inside the venue. They can flash random fans, serve as kiss cams, or be used to hype up the crowd.
  • Efficient Advertising: LED scoreboards allow multiple ads to be displayed, creating more revenue for the owners.

How to Utilize LED Scoreboards

Sell Advertising Space

When used right, LED scoreboards can bring in revenue to offset their installation and maintenance costs. Advertising on digital scoreboards can generate great impression numbers, especially in big venues. These ads can be as short as 6 seconds but play multiple times throughout the game. For instance, an average gate attendance of 1,000 for a 14-game season with a single ad playing 60 times per game will generate 840,000 impressions.

Spread Videos

As the venue size increases, the viewing quality diminishes the further away the spectators are seated from the center court. This is why stadiums use LED scoreboards to magnify the action and allow fans from the topmost seats to still see how their favorite teams are performing.

Instant Replays

High-speed sports such as tennis and volleyball where call challenges are allowed use LED scoreboards to flash instant replays. This helps referees watch slow-mos of specific plays and review points. It also makes spectators feel that they’re part of the game.

Leaderboard

While TV broadcasts have commentators who share game statistics, audiences in the venue don’t have the same luxury. Instead, LED scoreboards flash the stats and leaderboards for everyone in the stadium to see.

Player Profiles & Game Statistics

Sports coverages often develop a storyline to add drama to the game. It can be a head-to-head player match-up or team statistics flashed pre-game or during warm-ups to let fans know how their favorite player or team stacks up against the opponents.

Choosing the Best LED Scoreboard

  1. Display Purpose: Know what kind of content the scoreboard will display. For instance, center-hung scoreboards that show ads and live broadcasts would need LED displays with a high resolution and refresh rate to prevent blurring during high-action plays. Additionally, pixel pitch is crucial in ensuring the display is visible relative to the audience’s distance from the screen.
  2. Weatherproofing: LED displays, especially scoreboards installed in outdoor venues, require excellent heat-dissipating capabilities to maintain ideal operating temperatures even under extreme weather conditions. Look for displays with an IP65 rating and built-in cooling fans. Additionally, consider the weather in the location when selecting your display. For instance, locations near coastal areas are prone to rain.
  3. Brightness: The brightness level of the display greatly affects the viewing experience. Outdoor installations need higher brightness levels than indoor applications. A high brightness level ensures the display is visible even under direct sunlight.
  4. Installation: LED scoreboards can be installed in many ways depending on the location, including hoisting and stacking. Consider whether the display will be floor-mounted, center-hung, or wall-mounted. This is crucial as it will dictate the installation and maintenance method to be used.
  5. Viewing Distance: Large venues with big crowds need displays that can be viewed even from afar. P6 and P8 LED screens are popular for outdoor stadiums where spectators can be seated hundreds of meters away from the screen. Indoor installations can use P5 and P4 LED screens for smaller crowds.
  6. Viewing Angles: Take into consideration that audiences have varying viewing angles of the screen, depending on where in the venue they’re seated. Ensure that your display has great viewing angles to allow more people to see its content.
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