Friday, December 23, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Jumbotron

Ever since instant replays became commonplace on TV coverage of the NFL in the 1960's (it's true, you can look it up), the brains of sports fans have been trained to look for them. Exciting plays, scores, near misses, controversial calls - we want to see them again, the sooner the better. With the proliferation of Jumbotrons and other video scoreboards in hockey arenas all over the country, fans and players alike gaze upwards to see what just happened. But not at the Whittemore Center, home of the UNH Wildcats.

Travelling to away games this season, I've noticed how integral the video scoreboard has become to the college hockey experience at many schools. The type of scoreboard and the way the video display is used often reflects the character of the school. The Agganis Arena at Boston University, opened in 2005, has all the bells, whistles, and glitz you'd expect at a venue in the entertainment hub of New England. The robust, 4-sided Jumbotron suspended over center ice is shaped like the one at the old Boston Garden. When the game is in progress, the video displays on each side are used like an IMAX theater. The fans can either follow the actual players on the ice or watch the live video of the play around the puck. To maximize its entertainment value, the video scoreboard at Agganis is also used for other purposes such as player interviews and the between-periods dance contest.

In contrast, Harvard University utilizes its video scoreboard in a much more understated way. The Bright Hockey Center, originally built in 1956 and renovated/expanded in 1978, also has a four-sided video scoreboard suspended over center ice but it is smaller and tucked up into the rafters. In between periods, fans are shown a minidocumentary on the history of Harvard Hockey.

When the Whittemore Center in Durham, NH was opened in 1995, it was a state-of-the-art hockey facility. For the fans it offers great site lines, a spacious promenade where you can still see the ice, clean and ample restrooms, many seats with arms and backs, and good quality concession stands. Upgrades have included seamless glass on the boards. Players are attracted by the spacious locker rooms and amenities, the olympic-sized rink, and the fan enthusiasm.

The only element missing from the hockey experience at the Whittemore Center is a video scoreboard. Much of the infrastructure is in place. The wiring was reportedly installed years ago and TV cameras are provided through UNHWildcats.TV. Their coverage now includes instant replays.

Of course, budgets at New Hampshire's flagship university are tight and getting tighter every year. New Hampshire taxpayers are known for their thriftiness (some would say stinginess). However, a new video scoreboard does not need to be an extravagant Jumbotron. It would be more fitting to purchase a single-sided scoreboard to replace the one at the north end of the arena. Would you rather watch the two, beloved stick-figure fans in stilted "animation" or full-color, instant replays of the hockey action?

Perhaps the best solution would be a video scoreboard similar to the one some fans saw at St. Cloud State University earlier this season. Take advantage of New Hampshire's entrepreneurial spirit, round up several prominent businesses based in New Hampshire, and surround the video screen with their logos. Doesn't matter much whether the logo square footage far exceeds the size of the video display as long as fans can see the replays. Or maybe some former UNH players who have lucrative careers in the sport could guarantee contributions to a fund drive specifically for a video scoreboard for The Whitt.

It's best not to underestimate the value a video scoreboard has in recruiting talented players to UNH. Watch any NHL or NCAA hockey game and notice what the players on the bench automatically do following an important play in a game. Whether they want to see themselves in action, review a controversial call, or see a pretty goal-scoring play, the players are looking up at the video screen. It's as much a part of the modern hockey game as composite hockey sticks.


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