The home of the Kentucky Derby is set to race to get a $12 million, high-definition LED video board set up and ready to go in time for next year's Derby in May.
Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., has teamed with Panasonic in a digital signage project to install a 15,224-square-foot, HD LED video board in time for the 2014 Kentucky Oaks (held the Friday before Derby) and Kentucky Derby (held the first Saturday in May).
"It's going to present coverage of the race unlike anything we've ever been able to do before," Churchill Downs General Manager Ryan Jordan told the Associated Press, according to WHAS-11 TV. "It's a common phrase you used to hear, especially for fans who were participating in the Oaks or the Derby in the infield, a phrase like, 'You might come out to the Oaks and Derby and have a great time, but you might not ever see a horse.' ... And that has to do with the sheer size of our venue."
The giant digital signage video board will be installed about midway along the track's backstretch and outside the dirt course of the historic track. This position maximizes the 170-degree viewing angle for fans in the more than 55,000 clubhouse and grandstand seats and the tens of thousands of fans in the track's famous 26-acre infield.
The new display will replace two smaller video boards facing the clubhouse and grandstand, and will eliminate the need for Churchill Downs to continue bringing in a half-dozen or so temporary video boards for Oaks and Derby days, according to Jordan.
The bottom edge of the 171-foot wide video board will be 80 feet above the ground and will top out at 170 feet in height, making it the largest high-definition video board currently constructed anywhere in the world, according to Churchill Downs. The video board and supporting steel structure will weigh more than 1 million pounds and must be capable of withstanding winds of up to 85 miles per hour.
(According to USA Today, while the Churchill Downs announcement called its new "Big Board" the world's largest HD screen, the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway has a 16,000-square-foot Panasonic display along its backstretch, and next year the Texas Motor Speedway will add its 20,000-square-foot "Big Hoss" video board.)
Churchill Downs said its new "Big Board" is bigger than:
- three NBA basketball courts
- five average-size U.S. homes
- 2,200 46-inch flatscreen TVs
- 320,000 Apple iPhone 5 screens.
A Churchill Downs spokesman even tweeted out in response to a question about the size of the thing that the new "Big Board" was so big it would require FAA approval. (The racetrack sits in the flight path for the nearby Louisville International Airport.)
The software and equipment that will control the Big Board will allow for multiple split-screen presentations of video, images, data, and live and recorded programming. Churchill Downs also will add full-1080i fixed and mobile HD cameras and a new audio system to deliver picture and sound quality.
"Since 2005 we have invested over $160 million in improving our fans' experience," Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said in the announcement. "Along with our current $15 million Grandstand Terrace project, we are investing over $27 million this year to make Churchill Downs not only the best venue for thoroughbred racing's biggest events, the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, but one of the premier sports and entertainment venues anywhere in the world."
Preliminary design and engineering work are already underway. Installation work will begin in December and should be completed during the Janurary-to-mid-March period when the track is closed to training and no horses are stabled on the track's grounds. Current plans are to unveil the Big Board to the public at "Opening Night" of Derby Week on Saturday, April 26, 2014, for a nighttime display of the Big Board's technological capabilities.
"We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Churchill Downs to bring true 21st-Century video technology to the 140th Kentucky Derby, the longest continuously conducted sporting event in the country," said Richard Ballard, vice president of sales and marketing for Panasonic Eco Solutions North America.
Watch a video put out by Churchill Downs that includes renderings of how the Big Board should appear:
Learn more about LED digital signage.