Tech’s video board to be replaced due to peculiar flaw

Georgia Tech fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium this fall may not notice much of a difference in the video board above the south end zone. But they might find that their cellphones get better coverage.

To address an unusual bug in the scoreboard that messed with wireless coverage around the stadium, the athletic department will replace the video board at a cost of $1.5 million. The project will also provide a slightly better picture and update equipment that was sometimes faulty.

“It’ll actually work, and work well,” said Marvin Lewis, associate athletic director for finance and administration.

Tech learned in February that the video board, assembled in 2009 above the south end zone, was emitting a frequency that was causing problems for cell-phone users. The scoreboard, which was manufactured to the specifications of the time, was evidently not effectively shielding the electromagnetic signals that it was creating.

“That leaking out into the air, so to speak, just happened to be in the same frequency space as the system that helps the customers inside the stadium and surrounding the stadium to receive data on their cell phones,” said Andy Blanton, Tech’s director of video production.

The problem gained the attention of authorities.

“The FCC told us we had to fix it,” athletic director Mike Bobinski said Thursday at the Georgia Tech Athletic Association board of trustees meeting.

Bobinski and Lewis considered their options. The scoreboard, which typically has a lifespan of eight to 10 years, was showing its age. Replacement parts were becoming increasingly difficult to find. Rather than solely address the signaling problem, they decided to update the whole board. The scoreboard was built in 2009 at a cost of $4.5 million.

Panasonic, a partner of Tech’s, is giving the department a deal worthy of a big-box retailer. Tech can pay off the cost of the board over five years with no interest charged. It’ll make a $300,000 payment this year. The unexpected cost is part of the reason why the department expects to run a $2.4 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.

The pixel pitch of the new board – the distance between the pixels in the board, a measure of resolution – will improve to 16 millimeters from 20 millimeters. The dimensions of the board – 40 feet tall and 60 feet wide – will remain the same.

“Very unique,” Blanton said of the problem. “I had never heard of it in the field prior to it being brought to our attention.”

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