SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Facilities

Track's video board will be biggest

Panasonic supplying Charlotte with an 80-by-200-foot monster

Charlotte Motor Speedway plans to install the largest LED video board in U.S. sports this spring — a colossal, 80-foot-tall by 200-foot-wide Panasonic LED board.

The single-screen board will face the track on the backstretch and is a first of its kind at a speedway. Its screen size is larger than the biggest screen on the four-sided, center-hung video board at Cowboys Stadium, which measures 72 feet high and 160 feet wide.

The Panasonic screen will be installed at a time when sports facilities nationwide have begun to view the couch and HDTV as their primary competition for ticket buyers. The installation represents the latest example of a facility trying to overcome that by improving the quality of content it provides spectators attending sporting events.

“Our company is known for breaking ground and the barriers for what happens at a speedway,” said Speedway Motorsports Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Marcus Smith. “This will revolutionize the track experience for fans.”

SMI, which owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Panasonic are expected to unveil details of the board at a press event this week. The parties negotiated the deal over the last 10 months.

Neither side would disclose the cost of the board, but it is expected to be in the eight figures. The Cowboys paid $40 million for their video board.

Under terms of the agreement, Panasonic will become the official technology partner of Charlotte Motor Speedway. The partners will hire a third-party agency to help sell founding partnerships for the video board and advertising on the screen during events. Sales will be managed by Panasonic’s motorsports agency, Wunderman, a division of Young & Rubicam, and will be split 60-40 between Panasonic and SMI.

“It’s a revolutionary deal for Panasonic,” said Lesley Poch, group director of marketing at Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, a division of the company that specializes in LED boards, security systems and other facility technology. “If it’s as successful as we think it will be, I can see us moving forward [on future deals] that way.”

The board will be used to enhance not only the race-day experience, but Charlotte Motor Speedway officials also have discussed using it for movie premieres or as a backdrop for concerts and other events.

“If it brings the suite experience to the larger grandstand audience, it’s a good thing,” said Just Marketing International’s Zak Brown. “The only potential downside would be if they can’t monetize it.”

In addition to the speedway partnership, Panasonic has a multiyear alliance with SMI that makes it the motorsports company’s supplier for technology enhancements at SMI’s eight speedways. It already worked on solar panels at SMI’s Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and there are plans to develop a new scoring tower at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The deals are part of an aggressive push by Panasonic into sports and entertainment venues. Its Panasonic Enterprise Solutions division developed LED displays at Red Bull Arena and the Beijing Olympics. It also introduced its first center-hung scoreboard at a big league arena last weekend at the Staples Center.

Panasonic officials hope the speedway screen leads to additional motorsports business, Poch said. She added, “We’d love to see everyone jump on the bandwagon and do something cool like this with us.”

The board is the third Panasonic screen to be installed at a NASCAR track. Last spring, Richmond International Raceway, which is owned by International Speedway Corp., installed a 153-foot-tall tower with four LED video screens measuring 38 feet wide by 24 feet high. A similar tower was installed at ISC-owned Homestead-Miami Speedway this year.

Staff writer Don Muret contributed to this report.
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