SBJ/Feb. 17-23, 2014/In Depth

ISC and SMI take different approaches to improving video boards at their tracks

The two groups operating most NASCAR tracks differ in their philosophy for video boards.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. has drawn attention over the past four years for installing two of the “world’s largest televisions,” starting in 2011 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In March, an even bigger board will debut at Texas Motor Speedway.

They are both immense, stretching a minimum of 200 feet wide. When it’s completed, Texas Motor Speedway’s board, called “Big Hoss” and made by Panasonic, will stand 12 stories tall and weigh 108 tons.

“Big Hoss” will tower over the backstretch at Texas Motor Speedway.
Photo by: Texas Motor Speedway
“We’re here in the original big-screen market with what Jerry Jones did at the Cowboys’ stadium,” said Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway. “They really put the focus on big screens. I found local high schools had bigger screens than we had at their football stadiums.”

The price tag for Big Hoss runs in the “tens of millions of dollars,” Gossage said, which includes the control room situated above the start/finish line.

It’s a big expense for holding bragging rights in sports, and there’s a drawback that comes with it: Because of their location in the center of the backstretch, the monster boards in Charlotte and Fort Worth can’t be seen from thousands of seats built along the back side at those tracks. As a result, those 53,000 seats, 40,000 of them in Charlotte, have practically been rendered obsolete.

International Speedway Corp., owner of operator of 13 NASCAR facilities, recognized the issue and took what officials feel is a more practical approach.

Starting at Talladega Superspeedway this spring and spreading to other ISC tracks later this year and in 2015, ISC is testing the use of portable screens that can move from track to track. The program calls for bringing bigger and better boards to ISC venues and strategically placing them around the track so that all fans have a view.

ISC tracks are looking to build permanent frames and to rent higher-quality screens that can be hoisted into those structures, Talladega Chairman Grant Lynch said. It would be an upgrade over the old system, in which video screens are attached to tractor-trailers, Lynch said.

ISC will solicit fan feedback about the newer boards on their optimal size, location and content before installing permanent boards, said Lenny Santiago, spokesman for Daytona International Speedway and ISC. The cost to put in multiple boards of a smaller size over all ISC tracks over the next few years would be about the same as installing one monster board, Santiago said.

ISC wants a model that allows it to adapt to the rapid changes in video board technology, compared with sticking a permanent board in the ground that becomes outdated after 10 years, said John Saunders, the company’s president.

“The idea is mobility and best in class and being able to retrofit and update as the technology improves going down the road,” Saunders said.

Regardless of the business model and video boards in play, this season NASCAR fans can expect to see upgraded content on the screens branded as SprintVision, said Jill Gregory, NASCAR’s vice president of industry services. It’s another step to keep fans more engaged in the sport.

“In the past, it might have been static content with maybe some replay highlights and not a lot of voice-over,” Gregory said. “There will be more packaged entertainment focused on standings and interactive games that fans can text to. It’s more akin to what you see on the broadcast.”

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