The cookie-cutter approach to scoreboard production changed in jaw-dropping fashion in 2009 when the Dallas Cowboys opened their HKS-designed stadium in Arlington, TX. Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium), featured a massive Mitsubishi screen that at the time was the largest LED videoboard in the world.
But that board wasn’t big just for the sake of being big. It’s center-hung positioning 90 feet above the field and stretching between the 20-yard lines, was as much an intentional design element of the stadium as the extra-wide concourses, the single span roof and the retractable end zone doors.
Historically, football scoreboards were located in the end zones or the sidelines. But with its prime location in the Cowboys stadium, the high-definition picture provided fans at the stadium with an unprecedented digital experience. Now they could actually be at the game but watch it just like their counterparts sitting at home.
So instead of being in the dark about whether a ball was actually fumbled or whether a receiver had kept his foot in bounds, fans at the stadium could now see all the same replays as those sitting in their living rooms with the same high-definition clarity and on a much larger screen.
In fact, providing the stadium crowd with that “at home” feeling was very much a part of the thinking by Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, and HKS project designers in creating the videoboard. This was after all, a time when cell phones did not widely possess the 4K video capabilities that many do nowadays. So being able to come to an iconic stadium to watch iconic team play in person while instantly being able to get the same look at those at home, made the Cowboys Stadium videoboard a true game changer.
That sentiment of using videoboards not only to provide fans with basic information but also keep them closely connected to the game atmosphere continued at the next NFL Stadium designed by HKS, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The new home of the Minnesota Vikings opened in 2016 and included two high-quality LED boards inside the stadium, plus another 2,000 square foot curved LED videoboard outside the stadium on the Legacy Ship, a sculptural landmark, that allows fans without tickets to still see and be a part of the action inside the stadium.
Unlike the Cowboys, the Vikings decided against placing a videoboard over the center of the field. Instead, they placed one in the east and west end zones but placed them as low as possible within natural sight lines so that fans can view the videoboards without having to look away from whatever is happening on the field.
Indeed, the boards sit so low that they are actually in the stands, almost as if they are another spectator of sorts. One board is 8,100 square feet while the other is 4,400 square feet. So while they are not the largest boards in the NFL, their intimate locations make them seem enormous.
In addition, the larger jumbotron can show a single image, or be broken down to show a combination of live action, replays, animation or statistics. And the big boards are actually part of a team of 13 digital boards throughout the stadium complex, including two ribbon displays that go around the club and upper concourse levels of the stadiums. These ribbon displays are used for ads and to show the scores of out-of-town games so combined, all the boards give fans a constant digital connection to the action within U.S. Bank Stadium as well as around the NFL.
And while the videoboards are the most visible aspect of the digital fan experience at the stadium, they are far from the only part of it. U.S. Bank Stadium is fully loaded with technology advancements that will likely become standard in 21st century arenas.
For example, the stadium has a robust Wi-Fi system that uses 1,300 Wi-Fi access points throughout the building that make Wi-Fi accessible to all 66,000 fans at any time, or even at the same time, if they wanted to.
That Wi-Fi goes hand-in-hand with the team’s app that can provide fans with everything from directions of how to get to the stadium whether driving yourself or via public transportation, to using it to obtain a scannable code that is your ticket for entry, to guiding fans directly to their seats with the use of Bluetooth, to even providing instant information about which restrooms are the least crowded and which ones need to be cleaned.
The advancements in videoboards at AT&T Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium, though, set the stage for the HKS designers to go to another level when they ventured to Los Angeles to design SoFi Stadium, the new home of the National Football League’s Rams and Chargers.
Inside, what many consider the crown jewel of stadium videoboards will make its debut in September when the NFL season kicks off. The new board takes the meaning of high-tech to a new level to provide the ultimate digital fan experience.
The dual-sided, center-hung, circular video board is the largest ever made and is impressive by sheer numbers alone:
- It weighs 2.2. million pounds
- It has 70,000 square feet of 4K LED lighting and features 80 million pixels
- It is 120 yards long — 1.2 times longer and 1.5 times wider than the playing field
- It sits 122 feet above the field and 70 feet below the roof canopy, which the board actually helps support and stabilize
Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, wanted his new stadium’s videoboard to provide fans with an unprecedented digital smorgasbord. This board does that. It is the only 4K end-to-end video production in sports and will feature the largest LED content playback system in history. The board will be able to provide fans with unique programming including live content, statistics or animated content.
And while AT&T Stadium’s initial goal was providing fans with an experience like the one home television viewers received, Kroenke asked HKS designers to exceed those limits.
“For us, it was how would we go about thinking about reconnecting fans with media in a different way,” said Lance Evans, a principal at HKS and one of the primary SoFi architects. “If I was going to watch a game at home, I’d have my iPad, I’d have my phone. How could we do that at an NFL game, at the same size, across the entire field?”
Evans said that the discussions, which started out with throwing ideas up on a whiteboard, eventually came around to the behemoth found inside SoFi.
“The two-sided, elliptical board became interesting to us because of how close we could get it to the fans,” he said. “It’s going to be able to convey the same messages, fantasy stats, show alternate events, one section with live replays, or anything else you could get if you were streaming at home.”
“For us, it was how would we go about thinking about reconnecting fans with media in a different way,” said Lance Evans.
And because of the size, shape and technological wizardry of the boards, fans attending an event at SoFi will be able to clearly see all of the video content on the first 4K HDR installed in a stadium no matter where they sit or stand, aided by 56 5G antennas, 260 speakers that are the equivalent of 1,500 home theater systems, seven miles of video cable and nearly 100 content producers to manage everything.
“Their control room is the largest control room I’ve ever seen,” Evans said, adding that the main videoboard was designed to tie in with the ribbon boards around the stadium giving fans even more connectivity. In addition, designers integrated “LED pucks” in the stadium roof that allow live video and content to be streamed.
“We put the LEDs on the roof to catch all of the eyes of the people flying in to LAX,” Evans said, noting that the stadium is in the airport’s flight path.
And while SoFi Stadium is a virtual newborn, Evans said that hasn’t stopped designers from thinking about the next iteration of videoboards, one that might allow a fan to experience a 50 yard-line view at any stadium in the world while sitting, well, anywhere in the world.
“What if with our technology these boards could become windows that allow fans to visit our venues for events that they previously wouldn’t have been able to physically attend?” Evans said.
He added that the idea of allowing a greater percentage of a team’s fan base to have, and influence, the in-stadium experience is a topic that HKS designers have been pursuing for more than 10 years but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated those discussions.
“The possibilities of where we can go next are both exciting and endless,” Evans said.