Vicki Londer is a fixture in the Westside High School gym. Until recently, the full-time school counselor and part-time scorekeeper tracked the official account of sporting action using a traditional scoreboard. Not anymore.
Forget the old-fashioned light bulbs showing just the score and the time remaining in the game. Omaha-based startup ScoreVision wants to bring high-definition screens and interactive features tied to the smartphone in your pocket.
“They love seeing their pictures and stats up there,” Londer said of the four 72-inch displays that show individual players’ highlights at either end of the gym.
Also a possibility coming to a newfangled scoreboard screen near you: advertising.
Scoreboards are big business. A large competitor just up the road, South Dakota-based Daktronics, had $615 million in sales last year.
ScoreVision is starting more modestly than that, expecting to draw up to $10 million in venture capital this year. Chief Executive Gordon Whitten says the company could triple in size by this time next year. The company already employs 23 at an office at 93rd Street and West Dodge Road. Founders and initial investors have invested $3 million. Whitten wouldn’t identify the investors.
Whitten said the scoreboard market is ripe for modernization.
“There are about 20,000 high schools and small colleges in the country and the vast majority have out-of-date scoreboards,” he said. “If we could get half of those schools, we’d have a billion-dollar business.”
Of course, it’s a long road to get there. One positive: Scoreboards have a life cycle and need to be replaced every so often. But challenges also loom: Schools oftentimes are under tight budgets and perhaps won’t always be flush with cash for the fanciest of tote boards.
Daktronics Chief Executive Reece Kurtenbach said in the company’s annual report from last year that he expected “modest” growth. Sales in the first quarter of this year for the company’s line of business that includes high school boards were “relatively flat.” But it also has new super high-definition products it’s bringing to market.
With ScoreVision, the technology allows for customized messaging during games and other activities. In other words: advertisements — a possible revenue source for schools “from people that love the school,” CEO Whitten said.
Schools can expect to pay anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000 for a new ScoreVision system, depending on the options they choose. The company doesn’t produce any of the equipment — it uses its own software to control off-the-shelf displays. After the initial purchase, the company makes money on the $1,500 in software licensing fees its customers pay every year for each system.
It’s a challenge to incumbent players like Illinois-based Nevco, which has been in the scoreboard business since the 1930s, and Daktronics, the market-share leader that has been around since the late 1960s. Those companies build their own hardware and software systems.
Indoor video boards from established companies easily top $50,000 but are starting to show up in more high schools, said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
Morris Ajzenman, a stock analyst with New York-based Griffin Securities who keeps track of publicly traded Daktronics, said he couldn’t see a small school paying more than $100,000 for any scoreboard system.
“But in my opinion,” he said, “even the small schools want to have the ‘wow’ factor.”
That could leave the door open for a company like ScoreVision, which still offers video with its lower-priced systems.
The executives at ScoreVision have experience breaking new ground in other local tech ventures.
Whitten first worked with ScoreVision partners David Sutter and Chad Bokowski in the early 2000s, when the pair went to work for a division of tax-planning software giant Intuit.
That was after Intuit, the parent to the ubiquitous TurboTax platform, bought Whitten’s Omaha-based Income Dynamics Inc. for $10.3 million in 2003. That company had developed software that helped taxpayers keep track of deductions available through their charitable donations.
The three later worked together at Sojern, a company Whitten founded in Omaha in 2007 that provides targeted marketing to travelers for companies, including airlines and travel industry organizations. Under Whitten, the company raised more than $40 million in outside capital.
Today, Sojern is headquartered in San Francisco. It has about 175 employees in offices in Omaha, New York, London, Singapore and Dubai.
As for ScoreVision, back in the Omaha Westside High gym, the displays cycled through points leaders for each team. Individual Westside player stats included a corresponding player photo. The board operator keeps tabulations on an iPad.
Updates in the works will integrate Twitter feeds, and fans in coming weeks will have a corresponding mobile app that will let them check their favorite players’ stats in real time.
Last summer, early iterations of the technology went live at the Mark bowling center in the Elkhorn area and at the Omaha Sports Academy recreation center near 120th Street and West Maple Road.
Brownell-Talbot is the only other school so far in the U.S. to have adopted ScoreVision’s scoreboard system. The reception has been positive, a school spokeswoman said.
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