Daktronics Sounds as Good as It Looks

Brookings, SD-based video-scoreboard manufacturer Daktronics may be headquartered in the middle of seemingly nowhere, but its giant media monoliths are everywhere sports wants to be. The huge screens have become icons of NFL stadiums from Cleveland to Jacksonville, where two massive displays — the largest HD LED video displays in the world — have just been installed at each end zone of EverBank Field for the start of this NFL season. Each display is long enough to reach slightly more than the distance from the goal post in one end zone to the goal post in the other, and each provides more than 21,700 sq. ft. of active display area, which combined would nearly cover the entire field of play.

Although best known for gargantuan video displays, scoreboards, and other visual media, Daktronics has also been building a significant portfolio on the audio side of venue AV.

The 46-year-old company had partnered with Topeka, KS-based Dodge Electronics, which specialized in sports venues, as its subcontractor for audio systems since the mid 1990s and acquired it in 2005. Nearly a decade later, the number of sports-venue projects for which the company does both video and audio systems continues to increase.

“Bringing the audio in-house and mating it with our LED and structural-engineering capability has enabled us to deliver a completely integrated product,” observes John Olsen, who manages regional sales for Daktronics’ audio division that works on large sports venues. “We have the ability to integrate the systems acoustically and in terms of overall control of all the systems.”

This supports Daktronics’ preference to be the design/build contractor for sports-venue projects. It does the system designs for both sound and video and then executes those designs in a synchronized manner, producing more seamless overall system operation and performance. The company also executes designs from other companies, including WJHW and AJP Design.

At the level of the NFL and other major leagues — Daktronics installed an LED video screen and 226 speakers at the MLB San Diego Padres’ Petco Park — each system design is usually custom-crafted, but Daktronics has also developed a series of packaged solutions for sports venues that grow progressively larger in terms of their coverage patterns and SPL.

Each product is a complete system, including amplification, processing, front-of-house mixing, and speakers, whose transducers are manufactured by the same vendors that other leading sound-system providers use, says Olsen. “We make our own speakers and design our own amplifiers. But what sets us apart is being able to work with our own staff of system, electrical, structural, manufacturing, and mechanical engineers to integrate all the elements of a design — audio, video, scoring — into a single system normally assembled at Daktronics before shipment, which is what we call a Super-System.”

He cites the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium, where Daktronics integrated JBL VLA speakers with its 101- by 41-ft. scoreboard, as an example.

“The challenge there was to keep the sound inside the stadium on the fans and away from the other buildings that surround the field,” he explains. “Our acoustical designer and structural engineers went back and forth on that project, trying to integrate the line arrays into the scoreboard structure in a way that kept the energy on the fans and still looked esthetically pleasing. It’s a very large scoreboard, and it has huge cabinets on either side that hold several line arrays precisely focused on specific parts of the seating areas. The only way to achieve that is to be able to approach it synergistically.”

Another recent project, Arkansas State University’s Centennial Bank Stadium, reflects the fully integrated approach. Daktronics designed and installed an additional 1,600 sq. ft. of LED video displays integrated with a new custom sound system and a new HD control room to manage the AV systems as well as the scoreboard and timing system.

Olsen says that’s important because the venue sound systems are getting larger to keep pace with ever larger scoreboards, which teams and leagues are looking to as ways to more deeply engage fans in the stands and increase ticket and other revenues.

“You want to give the fans a better experience at the stadium, with things like more low end for music,” he says. “But you also want to deliver good messaging to advertisers and make sure you have intelligible communications for emergencies.”

In fact, volume levels in stadiums continue to spiral upwards, with the sound systems needing to be able to overcome crowd noise, which in college stadiums seating more than 100,000 can be a challenge.

“We have to be able to provide audio that will be at least twice as loud as the crowd,” says Olsen, noting that Camp Randall Stadium’s crowd noise routinely reaches between 100 and 105 dB, requiring the sound system there, which is powered by 80,000 W, to be able to hit at least 110 dB on the algorithmic decibel scale. “And we have to make sure that the sound is clearly intelligible even at those kinds of volumes. That’s the real trick: loud and clear.”

Can the cat-and-mouse game of crowd versus PA go on forever? No, says Olsen. “There just isn’t enough real estate to put enough speakers into. There’s a practical limit. The comfort level for hearing is finite.”

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