Beyond the playing surface itself, sports fans' eyes are drawn most often to one must-have venue amenity: the scoreboard. For high school administrators committed to modernizing their facilities without the funding to do so, scoreboards are increasingly seen as a great place to start. "Budgets are tighter than they've ever been," says Mike Daniel, CEO for Murray, Ky.-based Sportable Scoreboards. "Athletics has such a broad footprint, as it draws in so many folks to the school, that athletic administrators have to come across as putting their best foot forward, and a scoreboard is a big part of that."
Scoreboards have always been a critical component to a stadium or arena remodel or upgrade, but high schools across the country are focusing exclusively on new scoreboards to help inspire their fan bases, making the gameday experience more stimulating and enjoyable. Video scoreboards have become more mainstream on the high school level within the past five years after spreading across the professional and collegiate levels like wildfire over the past decade. Brookings, S.D.-based scoreboard manufacturer Daktronics recently installed its 100th high school video display board — in Texas alone.
"Today, we are selling to high schools the same technology that we sell to marquee colleges and universities, as well as to professional sports teams," says Tom Coughlin, national sales manager for Daktronics. "The only difference is size."
Not only has the scoreboard in general evolved, but so have the ways in which schools can pay for them.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
"Video board sponsorships and advertising is different than just a sign on a wall or a banner hanging from a rafter," Coughlin says. "It's interactive, exciting, digital content, which gives the sponsors a lot of advantages and allows schools to generate revenue." Driving the increased installation numbers on the high school level has been a decrease in price.
"Video displays are now more affordable than they've ever been," adds Daniel. "Technology continues to improve, which is pushing those prices down."
Typically, video scoreboards are either incorporated into a bigger athletics facility upgrade or are purchased through single or multiple sponsor commitments lined up in advance of purchase and installation. But what about the financially strapped schools that just want to invest in a video board? A recent trend is opting to lease rather than buy, compelling companies such as Daktronics to employ full-time financing specialists.
"Leasing has become a much bigger part of our business in making these partnerships happen, being able to make those payments over time rather than all up front," Coughlin says. "It's growing fast." The contract can range from five to 10 years, which helps those schools that receive advertising and sponsorship revenue on an annual basis. Says Daniel, "We have a leasing arrangement through a third party, and some schools prefer to go that route."
On top of picture quality, a key enhancement being made to today's scoreboards is weatherproofing. Outdoor scoreboards have to endure the harshest of environments — wind, dust, rain and snow. It was wind that played a role in the scoreboard being flattened at Howard Wood Field.
A storm rolled through Sioux Falls, S.D., five years ago, flattening the scoreboard right around the time high school football season was set to conclude. "We get high winds and our winters are rough," says Mark Meile, coordinator of athletics for the Sioux Falls School District, which used a temporary board from Daktronics to get through the season. The temporary board, it turns out, worked all too well.
"Daktronics spoiled us because this board had a video and message board on it, and we said we had to have something like this," Meile says. The district couldn't afford it, but Meile was able to secure a single sponsorship to support the purchase. Shortly after purchasing the new board, Howard Wood Field went through a total remodel inspired by its new scoreboard that included the bleachers, track, concessions and bathrooms.
Meile limits sponsorship messages on his new scoreboard to the President's Bowl, a special football game between Sioux Falls schools, with the game's proceeds going to a special committee that does fundraising for the booster clubs at three high schools.
Many schools do not have the same luxury as Meile. Given the price tag on scoreboards, especially today's high-tech options, most schools rely not only on other methods to secure funding, but they count on the scoreboard as a key revenue-generating tool.
"You can commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovating your stadium, and that's good because those renovations may be needed, but they don't typically create a cash flow like a video scoreboard can," says Daniel.
So what's left to do for high schools that cannot get sponsorship support up front for the purchase or approval to lease? Simple: they just don't pay.
NO MONEY, NO PROBLEM
Parker Windhorst is the athletic director at Massac County High School in Metropolis, Ill. The school has 630 students out of a population of approximately 7,000. Built in the early '80s, Massac County High was still using many of its original scoreboards when Windhorst took over three years ago. "Our boards were at least 20 or 25 years old and there was really no way to get new ones," he says. "We were still changing bulbs on our scoreboards, and our basketball scoreboard did not show tenths of a second."
Small community high schools with even smaller budgets can't afford an expensive amenity like a state-of-the-art scoreboard, but manufacturers today are offering creative financing and funding opportunities to help these school administrators get the scoreboards they need without spending a penny up front. Windhorst, for one, took advantage of the Score Rewards program from Sportable Scoreboards. The program, which has been aggressively marketed over the past two years, allows schools to receive a scoreboard free of charge in exchange for a share of the advertising revenue generated by the scoreboard.
Massac County was able to secure six scoreboards — two for its gymnasium, and one each for its baseball, softball, football and soccer fields. The agreement calls for Windhorst to give all advertising revenue generated from the boards during the first two years to Sportable Scoreboards. For the remaining three years, it is a 50/50 split.
"People are happy to see us keeping up with the times, and we had a great response from the business community," says Windhorst, noting that the school has sold 24 sponsorships ranging from $1,195 for a bronze package to $1,795 for the gold package.
Daktronics, meanwhile, has a sports marketing division that puts together a program to help raise sponsorship funds to support a scoreboard purchase. "As the sizes of these displays grow and the scope of the projects grow, more often than not, you need to generate revenue to make them happen," says Coughlin.
More than ever, the modern scoreboard has become the must-have amenity for high schools of all sizes as they look to create revenue-generating opportunities and meet fans' gameday expectations. Says Coughlin, "Having amenities and facilities that are attractive and provide benefit to the student-athlete is seen as a thing to strive for, and it's a model many are searching for ways to achieve."
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Score Bored"