Details of Daktronics Partnership with Maryland: SBJ Podcast Revisited

A discussion between the University of Maryland and Daktronics on the SBJ podcast regarding recent LED and audio improvements on campus.

This past November, Sports Business Journal held a podcast with University of Maryland Athletic Director, Damon Evans, and our very own Charley Bocklet, Regional Sales Manager. Going back through and listening to this, I thought it would be good to revisit the discussion as there were a lot of good points addressed during the episode that other athletic directors could benefit from today.

Brian (host):
Charley, let’s start with you. I’d like to get the history between Daktronics and the University of Maryland.

The history of Maryland and Daktronics goes way back, back even before I came along about nine years ago. Back to a lot of fixed-digit scoreboards around the campus, baseball, softball and soccer, many clocks, and the original football scoreboard at the stadium.

So, since then, really probably back in 2007, we started updating some of those boards, and really the big project, when I came on board, was in 2014. We updated the fascia at Maryland Stadium, a couple of fascia ribbons and Xfinity Center. Then enlarged the six-millimeter center-hung that we installed back in 2014, along with their new updated control room at the time.

Brian (Host):
Damon, can you talk about the relationship including how and when it started?

Absolutely. I’ve worked with Daktronics for several years, back in my days at the University of Georgia and serving as AD. Prior to that, when I was the Senior Associate A.D. there, I had an opportunity to work with Daktronics and install boards there. One that I remember, in particular, was the video board that we put up in Sanford Stadium back then. So, I have a longstanding relationship of working with Kyle Adams and working with Charley, so I knew a lot about what Daktronics brought to the table, the level of expertise and professionalism that they’ve always displayed.

So, as we were looking for a partner here at the University of Maryland and weighing all our options, it was nice to be able to partner with Daktronics because of that relationship.

Brian (Host):
Would the two of you mind reviewing other projects that have been done on campus over the years?

Obviously, the centerhung that we did in Xfinity center, which was a really, really nice board that was much needed at the time. I had just come on when that board was put up. Really, really good for us and the experience that it creates within the Xfinity Center for our basketball fans in both men’s and women’s.
And then some of the LED displays that we did within Maryland Stadium, which was so significant to us along with several other boards, all of our boards here at the University of Maryland have been done by Daktronics. So again, that just shows the trust and confidence that we have in them.

To add to that, as we move forward into the new project and Maryland Stadium with the board that I think we’ve looked at probably for five years in various scenarios, options and ideas, and to finally see it come to fruition, it’s just been, for me, a wonderful experience. But I can only imagine for the fans who waited for so long for that beautiful update, in the video but also the audio system. We put a brand-new audio system on top, our acoustic engineering team did a great job and worked really hard to make sure they could get the most out of it and perform for the fans for years to come.

Brian (Host):
Damon, maybe talk through the objectives, what they were for these recent renovations and what you were looking for in a technology partner.

Well, you know, it’s interesting that these boards in our stadium were long overdue. Maryland stadium needed an upgrade from a video perspective and a sound system, let alone bringing in new control rooms. To operate all of this, we wanted to make sure that we enhance the fan experience, and when you’re looking out across the country, you’re trying to find an industry leader who understands what it takes, has a good knack for knowing what fans expect and what our stadium could hold. The size of the board, how the sound should be set up – all of that was crucial because I wanted to make sure that since this was so long overdue that our fans really got the best quality board, the best quality sound system and a control room that would allow us to put forth the best programming. Daktronics provided all of that for us.

Our fans are extremely excited. The interesting thing, this was 20 years in the making. If you really want to look at it, I shouldn’t say 20 years in the making, but the current boards that we had in place both on the east end and west end were somewhere between 17 to 20 years old.

Typically, in this business, you want to replace boards around eight to ten years, I think. And so it was long overdue and we really put something together that’s quite nice. I’m going to brag a little bit, Brian and Charley. From what I understand, we are the largest board within the Big Ten. I think we had the highest quality board within the Big Ten, maybe one of the highest quality boards in the country. But, when I look across the country from a collegiate perspective, we’re the ninth largest board, so I wanted to brag a little bit.

Brian (Host):
Hey, that’s okay. Bragging is okay here. We touched on this before, but I want to circle back to it now. Let’s talk about the Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium Project. This is pretty special.

And from my vantage point, it is extremely special when you start taking a look at this and you get into some of the details of it. When you’ve gone from a display that was 49 feet by 30 feet to a display that is 120 feet by 54 feet, you’re talking about a significant upgrade. It is a wow factor when you walk in there. The clarity kind of blows you away when you’re sitting there looking at it.

I’m having trouble right now, instead of actually watching the game on the field, I’m always looking up at the video board and I’ve heard so much from our fans about it. So this board, when you’re talking about collegiate sports, the game-day atmosphere and experience, there are so many different pieces that go into making this environment exciting, not only what happens on the field, but what happens off the field. And we’ve been able to enhance that.

You know, Damon, speaking of off the field, what’s the impact of these big boards on sponsorships, advertising revenue and your bottom line?

Absolutely it has an impact on the bottom line. One of the largest sources of revenue for any intercollegiate athletics department is through their multimedia rights holder or the entity that handles their sponsorships. And with our sponsorship and our multimedia rights holders, what this does is allows us to provide better in-game content around their sponsorship. It allows us to make sure that what we put on the display for them is well seen and highly visible. But it’s also allowed us to become more digital instead of just standard signs that are placed in the venue. We can roll things out more frequently and drive more revenue through our multimedia rights holders. But I also know this in talking to some of our sponsors about how pleased they are with their displays now in comparison to what they dealt with in the past.

I would also say this, when you’re dealing with your fans, they’re looking at the overall experience. And when they’re having a good experience, they’re more apt to buy tickets to the game. So, that in and of itself impacts the bottom line. So, this board has really helped us to instill Maryland pride. It’s helped with the business case from a standpoint that our sponsors know that we’re willing to invest in things that are going to help them grow their business.

That’s what our boards do and what our control system does, it makes it easy for his staff to take advantage of those opportunities versus static. These are dynamic signs now, they’re changed with these sponsors that really make a pop. We have a creative services group – all they do is content: stills, animations, video intros. And we did a lot of that for Maryland for this project, and we’ll continue to do so. And this has allowed Maryland to take advantage of that for years to come.

Brian (Host):
And Charley, behind the scenes, too, I want you to share the three new broadcast production studios at the Xfinity Center, featuring Daktronics show control system. Because you got the big boards but you got to have something to run them.

That’s right. You can have a big board, but without the content, you don’t have a lot. And that content makes a difference. These boards, both are HDR-capable and the studios are HDR-capable, and all that gear and expenses to upgrade the three studios – David is talking about bragging, he’s one of the few that has HDR capability in Division I college football today. What HDR means is a high-dynamic range increase. It’s essentially better contrast, better colors, and overall better saturation and prettier image. So, a big upgrade in the control room kind of behind the scenes, as you say.

Brian (Host):
Charley, the installation of these big boards is something else. You’re talking about modern technology going into stadiums that are often 50-plus years old. So, maybe talk about the challenges you have to overcome when you put these big boards in a stadium.

So, you know, you always have something as many years and as good as our engineering team is, the designers and the work we do on the front end and the university, those on the front end, there’s always going to be something, and here it was a special something made a couple of special somethings.

One was a gas line we found on one of the new verticals we had to install for the new board. These vertical columns, giant vertical columns, are needed. Low and behold, the last one dead center underneath us is a gas line that was found. It was put in years ago. So, we had to stop everything and go back and redesign it. We couldn’t move it. That was going to take too long for the gas company. And so we had to go back and redesign that foundation. That was a biggie because once that happens, you’ve got to go back with designs with engineers to certify that it’s okay. And, so, we did it.

And then the second biggest challenge, because of that delay, when we started to dig out in case of those caps, these big eight by eight-foot caps, we had a couple of unfortunate weather incidents where we had a lot of rain come in a short period of time and the water would drain right down to that point. And it filled in our big cap holes a couple times, which had to be taken back apart, dugout, restarted. So, those are the two biggest challenges. And I know Damon was after us to see some progress. What he didn’t say or what the university couldn’t see was all the work of the engineering behind the scenes, trying to work around and overcome these two major obstacles.

But, at the end, working with Josh on Damon’s team and the rest of the university staff and our engineers and our vendors and contractors and our great project manager came together and pushed through it. And it really was a drive all the way to the end to get up for the Iowa game. So, very proud of the team effort.

I want to commend Daktronics, Charley and the entire team because there were some challenges that we faced as a team. There were days in which, obviously, I wasn’t happy and I wanted to see the board get put up as fast as possible.

But you know what? They were solution-driven. They figured out how to get it done. And at the end of the day, they gave us a good quality product. So I am grateful for that. We at the University of Maryland are grateful for that.

Brian (Host):
Hey, Damon, can you share the reaction your fans and your staff had the first time these displays were turned on?

The reaction by our fans, they’re still talking about it now. Every time they come into the stadium, they just can’t believe the sheer size of the board. They can’t believe the quality of the board. And I think for so many of them, they just didn’t know when this would happen, because we’ve been talking about it for so long and for us to finally figure out a way to do it, and to get this done, I think it showed them the commitment that we have to their overall experience, but also the commitment that we have to our football program. Football is significant in the world of intercollegiate athletics. We want to make sure that if you want to be big-time, you have to look and act big-time, and we’re going to continue to do the things to continue to help our program grow and to provide an experience for our fans that is second to none.

Brian (Host):
Damon, you’re one of the most respected athletic directors in the country. I know you’re talking to ADs around the conference, around the nation. What’s your advice to them when it comes to renovating a football stadium?

You know, it’s interesting. I think when a lot of the ADs have come in as the visiting team and our Big Ten, my colleagues, they have looked at the board and they’re like, “Wow, this is really, really nice.” And that gives me the opportunity to share with them who our partner was and currently still is. And I think that I would say to ADs across the country – let’s just be very, very candid here – Daktronics is a leader in this industry. They’ve been around for a long, long time. It is not just about the board in the sound system that they helped install here. It’s about the level of professionalism. Moreover, it’s about the service that they provide, the continued service, should problems arise, should we need help with things of that nature.
Customer service is so important and Daktronics goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to customer service. So I’m very pleased and would highly recommend them to anyone around the country.

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