MANKATO — The new $640,000 scoreboard at the Verizon Wireless Civic Center had plenty of opportunity to strut its high-tech stuff during its debut Friday night as the MSU men's hockey team scored a flurry of first period goals. For longtime Mavericks fans, the center-hung scoreboard with its quartet of large video screens was as welcome as the home-team scoring surge.
"Oh, it's great," said season-ticket holder John Comer. "It makes it like a real program ... . It makes it so much more like a D1 school."
The heart of the new scoreboard is the four bright, razor-sharp video screens facing the four sides of the arena. Each is approximately 8 feet high and nearly 16 feet wide, according to Justin Ochsner, a spokesman for scoreboard manufacturer Daktronics. Above the screens is a ring display 2 feet high and 87 feet in circumference displaying scores, the game clock and statistics.
Comer was most looking forward to replays of goal and penalties. And as scoreboard operators worked to get the hang of running the new equipment, the replays weren't exactly instant. It wasn't until the Mavericks third goal that fans got a quick look at Jon Jutzi putting the puck in the net.
But the board also consistently displayed live game action, which Maverick fan Joel Heitner enjoyed.
"It's awesome," Heitner said. "Because if you couldn't see the play in the corner before, now you can."
And he liked the way the board's graphics and animation were being used to boost fan enthusiasm: "It kind of makes the experience more exciting."
Displaying the video images, information and flashy graphics are nearly 660,000 light emitting diode packages. Each of the 660,000 LED packages contains a trio of LED lights (one red, one green and one blue) that combine to produce the full spectrum of colors required.
The $590,000 scoreboard also forced an additional $50,000 in spending to cover the power and weight demands of the massive batch of electronics — which weigh roughly six tons, according to city officials. A new electrical transformer was required, along with fiber optics between the boards and the controls used by scoreboard operators.
Many Americans, who have gone through the challenge of hanging a new big-screen LED TV on their living room wall — and then figuring out how to hook it up and turn it on — might think they can sort of relate to the process involved. The big difference, though, is civic center staff couldn't just click to HBO, ESPN or KEYC once the scoreboard was operational — they had to figure out how to produce the images that are seen on the screens leading up to and during hockey games and other events.
A one-week cram session
Installed a little over a week ago, the scoreboard has been working just as designed so far. But there's been plenty of tutoring reqired by Daktronics staff and plenty of studying by local folks who were facing their first big test Friday night.
Greg Vandermause, Bethany Lutheran College's production studio manager and an adjunct faculty member, has been heavily involved, as have the Media Arts students who produce the Maverick hockey broadcasts shown live on local cable television and Steve Conover, the civic center's manager of operations.
On Wednesday, Bethany's Ben Weber was learning how to create graphics and how to organize the countless items that needed to show up on the board pre-game, during the game and during game breaks.
"I'll let you drive," Angie Wilson said to Weber, offering her seat at the scoreboard controls to Weber.
Wilson, supervisor of Daktronics group of scoreboard trainers, and field customer trainer Jody Hoiten were on hand all week to make sure the Daktronics electronics would shine when they debuted.
"It can be overwhelming," Wilson said of delivering a scoreboard to a facility that's never had one capable of doing so much.
Brookings, S.D.-based Daktronics has a Creative Services Department that provided several high-quality, Maverick-focused graphics to supplement locally produced content — including a flashy animated accompaniment to the "Ole" song that fans sing after MSU goals.
"It helps give these guys a nice foundation so it doesn't feel like it's starting from scratch," Wilson said.
Creating those graphics in the future will be an on-going project for Bethany's Media Arts majors.
"We're getting started," Vandermause said. "One thing we're rolling out is student-created sponsored animated pieces."
One of the first is for the Volk Transfer "Chuck-a-Puck" contest between periods. The contest involves people tossing hundreds of numbered pucks from the stands on to the ice with gift certificates going to the tossers who get closest to face-off circles. The chucking goes on for a while, so what can go on the scoreboard ... ?
Bethany senior Kadyn Wishcop produced the answer, a four-minute animation that shows hockey pucks raining down on to a Volk Transfer logo, with a deluge of pucks ultimately covering the logo. Wishcop wasn't as interested in the hockey television broadcasting that some of his fellow students are obsessed with, but the animation project was in his wheelhouse — enough so that he was planning to attend a game to see his work on the big screens.
"He's coming down Saturday night with his mom and hasn't really been to a hockey game before," Vandermause said.
There are an increasing number of full-time jobs producing video and graphics for professional and college sports teams to use on their scoreboards. So experience producing content on a Daktronics scoreboard, the industry standard, is a great opportunity for Bethany students, he said.
As the hockey season progresses, more and more content will be added to the scoreboard. And, yes, there will eventually be a Kiss Cam where a pair of spectators are shown on the board, typically inside a heart shape, and encouraged to smooch.
"We're working on it," Vandermause said. "They want that for sure."
"They" is MSU's athletics department, which gives Bethany a script for all aspects of the scoreboard's role in making hockey games a fan-friendly event.
"MSU puts together scripts," Vandermause said. "It's our job to execute that."
A new asset
Civic Center Executive Director Burt Lyman is thrilled about the new scoreboard, which will also be used for some non-hockey events and will be a source of new revenue for the facility and for MSU. The advertisements that will produce that revenue, though, weren't seen much Friday night.
"We are working on an agreement with the university right now to jointly sell the advertising and share the revenue," Lyman said.
He's perfectly comfortable whetting the appetite of potential advertisers by letting them see the board in operation.
"It's remarkably awesome," Lyman said. "And it's a great asset to the fan experience ... . I'm wowed, and I hope they will be as well."
Heitner, a three-year season-ticket holder from Mankato, definitely was: "It's like going from an Atari to the latest and greatest Xbox."