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May 11, 2004

High Tech Scoreboards Are Now In The Wow Business

FROM, OF ALL PLACES, BROOKINGS, SOUTH DAKOTA comes a status report of one of the most enduring success stories in modern athletics history. A farm boy wrestling champ? A figure skater? A tractor-pull dynasty maybe?

Nope. None of the above. The Brookings founded and based Daktronics Company has improbably risen from the Dakota wheat fields in just over three decades to become the preeminent manufacturer of glitzy, LED video screen scoreboards.

Or, as Daktronics refers to them: “dynamic visual communication systems.”

Daktronics’ giant scoreboards have multiple video screens using millions of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to create the “wow” factor for fans. The $6 million Daktronics system at Houston’s Toyota Center features 13 video screens, some displaying more than 4.3 trillion shades of color.

Brookings, a town of 18,504 residents, is also home to South Dakota State University. In 1968 electrical engineering professors Aelred Kurtenbach and Duane Sanders solicited local investors to start up a company to create part-time jobs for their students.

It wasn’t until three years later that Daktronics fell into the scoreboard business; with their three-sided wrestling Matside line. Matsides were used in the 1976 Olympics.

Daktronics has basically never looked back. The company has produced 65,000 boards and screens, which also include highways and mall signs, stock tickers, casino video displays and hospitality signs.

Daktronics displays are in 24 of 30 MLB parks, 22 0f 31 NFL stadiums, 19 of 28 NBA arenas and 19 of 30 NHL arenas; as well as hundreds of college venues. Their boards and screens will be in their eighth Olympic Games this summer in Athens.

The most expensive Daktronics projects to date include: (pro) Cleveland Browns $13 million; (college) Wisconsin $5 million; (high school) Mesquite TX $1.5 million.

Sales are expected to reach $200 million this year, having more than tripled in seven years. Daktronics has grown to a full-time staff of more than 900, including at least 230 engineers and another 400-500 SDSU students as part-timers.

While Daktronics competes globally with Japan's Mitsubishi and Belgium-based Barco, they are a dominant #1 in the US.

Daktronics has certainly grown to become a big fish in a small pond.

But why such success? The entire company has a passion and commitment to improving their already outstanding products. Daktronics Marketing Director Mark Steinkamp credits some of the company's success to "what we call 'scoreboard-itis.' Wherever any of us go around the country, we always stop and get out and look at scoreboards—to see if we made it. Our spouses hate it."

Also, the company benefits greatly from a “keep up with the Joneses” attitude that is pervasive throughout all levels of pro, college and high school athletics programs.

What’s next for Daktronics? Classroom visuals? Home entertainment systems? Retail screens? 21st century drive-in movies? Virtual screens?

More later ....

(this 467 word excerpt was distilled from a 1515 word article in USA TODAY.com of 5-3-04 and a 730 word article in Sports Illustrated of 5-10-04)