SVG Sit-Down: Daktronics’ Brent Stevens on Trends in MLB Video-Display Design

Attracting fans to the ballpark and surrounding areas is increasingly important

As the 2017 MLB season gets under way, fans across the country are seeing a noticeable change in their in-game video experience, thanks to LED-display upgrades from companies like Daktronics. In fact, over the offseason, Daktronics installed nearly 32,000 sq. ft. of LED displays at eight major-league ballparks, five spring-training facilities, and 10 minor-league stadiums. The installations range from freeform lettering to ribbon boards to large video displays.

However, the LED upgrades aren’t limited to the in-venue experience. In Chicago, the Cubs have focused on upgrading the area around Wrigley Field, installing four vertical displays in the plaza area and a large marquee display on an office building. The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals are following a similar path, building up areas around their stadiums that will be known as The Battery and Ballpark Village, respectively. And many teams, including the Oakland A’s, continue to look for ways to enhance their patio, club, suite, and lounge areas with the latest LED technology.

SVG sat down with Daktronics Professional Sports Sales Manager Brent Stevens to discuss this push toward positioning LED displays outside traditional in-bowl locations, the video-display resolutions that teams are asking for, the realities of “scoreboard envy” in baseball stadiums, and why the evolution in video-display technology is so important to the fan experience.

Daktronics has certainly kept busy over the offseason, installing new LED displays for eight MLB teams (Astros, Athletics, Brewers, Cubs, Phillies, Rays, Tigers, and Yankees) as well as a slew of spring-training and minor-league venues. Are you finding that certain areas of the ballpark are getting more attention? What trends are you seeing in the positioning of LED displays?
Traditionally, it’s always been what can we do to enhance the in-game experience? That’s always where the video displays have been used. Baseball, specifically, is very stats-driven; baseball [fans] really like to have all of these stats that we can provide through our control system. So, traditionally, [venues have installed] larger and larger displays to get more information out there. That’s still the case.

[However,] we’re really seeing the growth, not only in baseball, in these sports and entertainment districts that are outside of the playing field. The Braves is a prime example of that [with] The Battery that they’re building. All of these [are instances of] what can the teams do to get you into their zone earlier in the day and stay later? That’s where we’re seeing more and more use of our products; [they’re] trying to drive their business and drive their brand outside of the stadium and get the fans to get there and spend money. They’ve got to entertain them. If they’re not going to entertain fans, they’re not going to come.

Lecom Park, the spring-training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, FL, received an LED upgrade from Daktronics.

We’re seeing a lot more displays being put [in areas like] the Ballpark Village in St. Louis, where they’re building specific areas for fans to come hang out and enjoy the atmosphere. They may go to dinner, watch the game there, and leave. We’re finding a lot more of that taking place.

Is there a specific resolution that baseball venues are asking for?
As far as what we would call pixel pitch — 10 mm, 13 mm, 15 mm — a lot of that is going to be driven by the size of the display. These days, you want to get as close to native HD as you possibly can. The Tampa Bay Rays just upgraded an old outfield display from a 23-mm to our 15HD product. [We met] with them during the installation, [and] they’re now worried that auxiliary display is going to look better than their main display that they upgraded three or four years ago. It’s driving as many pixels as you can into a specific space [while also considering], one, what you’re going to use it for and, two, what will the budget allow. I wouldn’t say there’s [one] product that we’re installing, because, again, we’re installing 10 mm, we’re installing our 13HD, we’re installing our 15HD, all driven by size and budget.

Are you seeing any trends in the actual design of the video displays? Are teams looking at more unusual designs, like Dodger Stadium’s hexagonal boards, or is it still desirable to have the biggest board in your division or league?
I don’t think you see it as much in baseball as you do in some of the other sports. The trend is always, and I think will continue to be, this one-upmanship, or who’s got the biggest, I want to be a little bit bigger. For those of us in the business, scoreboard envy is not a bad thing. [However,] baseball is so stats-driven, and the information that you want out there [you have to] get into some of these unique designs. I don’t think it’s anything that the architects have looked at and said, we need to do something different and we want somebody to come in and say I saw that scoreboard [in] this ballpark. I think we see that on the arena side indoors more than we do outdoors. It [is] a matter of, can it be too overwhelming? I think so, but I don’t think, in baseball, it’s gotten to the point of too big yet.

What we always look for, and we challenge our guys on, is where we can find unique applications for the product. We don’t make 50 different products to put into a stadium; we make one. With our costs coming down year after year, pixel pitch getting tighter and tighter, and the ability to use it in more locations that, to me, is a trend that I think we’ll continue to see more and more [and] we’re just touching the surface on right now. Displays can’t get too much bigger because, in baseball, I think it then becomes a distraction to the player. So I would say the biggest trend that we would highlight is this tighter pixel pitch inside the clubs. How do you enhance that premium space because, as we know, that’s the revenue generator for the [clubs], and giving them the ability to help drive that revenue and drive the patron to those areas, I think, we’ll see more and more.

It’s no surprise that video plays a key role in the fan experience at a game, but, from what you’ve seen, how do these evolutions in video-display technology enhance the overall fan experience?
When I was a kid and I used to go to Dodger games with my Grandpa, he used to sit in the stands with his scorebook, and he would score every pitch. I sat there thinking, this is not something that I ever want to do. I just like going to the game. As [I] get older, I remember back to that. My son now, he doesn’t watch the game; he watches the displays. …

It goes back to the old saying of what can I get in the stadium that I can’t get sitting on my couch? And, for somebody like me, I get the afternoon or evening with my 11-year-old son in a situation that he’s going to remember forever, because we don’t live by the stadium. It’s not something that we get to go to all the time. He loves to play baseball, but for him to sit and watch it on TV isn’t very exciting. With everything that’s going on in the stadium and the ability to feed fans all the information they want to see, it really gives you that experience that you can’t get sitting on your couch. It’s the outside, the crack of the bat, and all of those things that really make a baseball game fun to be at, while giving you the information that [you would get on] TV.

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