Bethel College’s LED Technology: A Conversation with Tony Hoops

Tony Hoops shares how a video board transformed Bethel College’s events, sponsorships and more.

Justin Ochsner on 9/4/2020

Categories: Pro Sports and Colleges

To learn more about Bethel College and how they are using their LED video display technology, Matt and I sat down with their Athletic Director, Tony Hoops, for an episode of The Daktronics Experience podcast. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation.

Justin: Can you tell us about your role at Bethel College?

Tony: In 2017, I was presented with the opportunity to serve as Athletic Director for Bethel and I took on the challenge. Not sure I really knew what I was getting myself into at the time, but it’s been a great experience and I’m finishing up my third year of being full-time in that role. And what I do varies from day to day which is what I really enjoy most about my job. I oversee 17 sports here at Bethel so that would be 12 head coaches and a staff of approximately about 35 people overall between athletic training, assistant coaches and head coaches. Some of the key elements of my job include budget management, fundraising, game-day management, recruiting, overseeing of some of our coaches programs and our capital facility projects, which is where we work with Daktronics most.

Matt: Can you tell us more about that and the Daktronics products you have?

Tony: Sure. We’ve enjoyed our display and it has been a great experience for us. When I took over as Athletic Director, about day two on the job, they came to me and said we needed to redo the turf on our football and soccer fields. We had put in a new facility in 2005 and it was now the summer of 2017. We started looking into turf but also knew we needed to replace our scoreboard that got hit by lightening in the spring of that year. It was an older board that needed to be replaced anyway, so it was probably a blessing that it got hit by lightening and sped up that process.

Then, we were scheduled to start the turf installation the second week in June and my development director came to me and said we were struggling a little bit didn’t have all the funds raised. Well, we have a campus policy here where we have to have all the funds raised up front, so we reached out to some corporate sponsors to finish the project out for us. In order for us to do that, I felt like it was necessary for us to have something in it for our corporate sponsors. They aren’t just going to give to a turf project just to give, so I pitched the idea of getting creative with our marketing approach and allow them some creative technology with a video board.

So, I started looking into it and figuring out some pricing. When we pitched it to our corporate donors, they were much more inclined to want to give. And we felt like we were giving something back to them and not just trying to get something from them but trying to create that working relationship. You know, in small college athletics you’re asking small towns so much to try to give, give, give. I felt that if we are going to do this, lets at least do it right. They were really excited about that and I think that allowed us to really close. As a result, that led us to have conversations about how we built those relationships and with Daktronics, there are a lot of details of that I could go into there as well.

Justin: Were you able to combine the turf and video board projects?

Tony: So, we actually did them both at the same time and probably in reverse order of what I wanted to do. We started turf about the first of July and throughout that summer because we had to work on some of those corporate deals. We had some agreements that we were trying finalize while working through a fiscal year at the same time, so it was probably about mid late July when we finally got that piece together. That’s when we really started working with Ryan Kuzman there at Daktronics and got him to help us make this video board a reality.

We actually put in the new turf but we weren’t going to get the video board up until maybe our third football game of the year which was our second home game. So, we had a debut of our turf on our first home game, which was the first game of the year. And when we were away the second week, we came in and put up the video board before week three. On top of that, it’s typically pretty windy in Kansas and it was one of the windiest days I can remember in my entire life and we were watching that video board go up swinging around on the crane. I was cringing like non other. But now it’s in place and we have had no issues with it since.

Matt: What was the process like for you with the video project?

Tony: I had met with Daktronics at the NAIA national convention in late March or early April. At this point in time, we were kind of surface level talking about this. What really got me intrigued, honestly, was the pricing. Yeah, it costs us more, but we were going to put up a new scoreboard anyway. So, if we’re going to put up a scoreboard anyway, we looked at the video board with it. We felt like so many times we build stadiums and all they are sucking up money and there is no revenue being created. But, what if we put up this video board? Yeah, maybe you’re paying a little bit more on the front end but it wasn’t astronomically that much more for what we were going to do and we were already putting up a scoreboard anyway.

My pitch started a development team and our president was also thinking that instead of putting up something that is just going to suck the money out of us for ten years, why don’t we put up something that can create revenue at the same time? That’s kinda how it got pitched for us. I wouldn’t say it has met every single goal we’ve had for revenue but we’re entering year three and are really just trying to figure out how much revenue we can create out of it. It’s made our facility pop and I think it has been a huge recruiting tool for us in other instances as well.

Justin: What sort of impact has it had on your sports teams?

Tony: Our coaches have really embraced it. Specifically, our football team will bring in a kid and walk him out to the stadium and they have their highlight video playing on the video board. The kids are always taking pictures in front of the video board with their highlight video playing in the background with some music playing and it’s really cool. And it’s not hard. Our assistant football coaches just do it and they take it and run with it, so its been a great tool for that.

Also, we have a contract that we always host one football game every year  that is on ESPN3. With that comes a lot of media timeouts. Well, in small college athletics, you are not really designed to fill the time of a 3-minute media timeout eight times throughout a game. So, this has been a great filler for us and we love it. It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun and our fans really enjoy it. We play a lot of  promotional videos, a lot of Bethel college videos and connecting the campus to the academic side.

Our alumni really like it too, because it is fun for them to see features like a historical Bethel football hero. This past year was the 150th anniversary of football, so we did historical context about football alum with a highlight video of them in between the first and the second quarter and had them come on the field watching it. And so it is really interactive for us and so its kind of fun.

Now, I go to these larger event venues and I just take notes of things we can try. Let’s try this or lets try that and see if we can make it our own. It’s really kind of fun to do that and I’ll come back and tell my SID, who does most of the design, that I want to do this and that. He’ll tell me, “You realize how much time that will take?” And I tell him, “Yeah, but it will be great!” So, yeah, we try these new things each and every time. We just create this script for us and we just go with it.

For example, this past year our mascot is a thresher and so we have a hometown thrasher video each game. basically, kids who are in the state of Kansas, or we know their families is going to be at the game, we do a highlight of them. They were born here and we show a baby picture of them and have fans guess this athlete. It’s interactive and the crowd likes it and we have a lot of fun.

Justin: What about your sponsors? What feedback have you received in that area?

Tony: Overall, their feedback has been really good. It has been a good working relationship that we have been able to have with them. It’s fun and you know it’s one of those deals where the four main corporate sponsors that we did when we put this deal together, they were on board with it right away because they trusted what we were doing. The excitement was a piece we were able to expand to get sponsors that weren’t connected to our college before that are now wanting to be connected to our college.

I know some other ADs that think there is great value in print signage and I think it is a total pain in the butt, to be honest with you. When I can get a video graphic and get it up now in 10 seconds almost and I don’t have to worry about a print signage or something else like a local restaurant that all of a sudden went out of business or didn’t want to sponsor the next year. Well, now we have their sign, we spent a $150 on it and now what do we do with it? Do we throw it away? Do we hang onto it?

The digital side to that is you sign your one year contract, this is what it is and then we can do renewals. We typically try to do more than one year or 3-5 years and if someone backs out of something, we aren’t out the cost of anything. And in that aspect, it is good and we have been able to generate a lot more people that want to do advertisements.

We tripled, maybe almost quadrupled, the amount of corporate sponsors we had this year compared to our first year. It’s just because word spreads and sponsors enjoy it. And, crazy enough, we have charged more in year two than we did in year one as well. So, go do the math on that.

We just had a big corporate meeting as we are working on some additions to our softball facility. Some individuals are saying, “Well, we would like to be a sponsor and be more visible on your campus.” I said, “Great!” So, we gave them some ideas and the number one thing was we want to be on your video board. People just see that as an iconic opportunity. So, we run ads almost all game long unless there is something that we need to show. For example, in the first quarter we just have our ads running on a loop. It’s really easy for us to take a break and show what we need to. Then we can switch back to running ads. So, I think our corporate businesses are getting way more than their money’s worth in terms of what they invested into us and we are perfectly fine with that.

Justin: What advice would you give schools looking to get a video board?

Tony: Truly look at what you are going to spend on just a generic board. If you are going to put up a generic scoreboard, which obviously everybody has one, what is your money investment that you are going to do? Initially, we were going to put up a smaller video board and were all set and keen on it. Then, all of a sudden, as I started piecing it together, I saw some others that had that smaller video board and saw that is not going to meet our needs. The worst thing I want to do is put up a video board and people can’t see it.

Also, look at what kind of revenue this is going to create for you. It’s monumental in terms of return on investment. It’s going to be significantly higher and I think in part of that too is how much time are you going to save. I know I mentioned you are adding time in terms of complexity of creating ideas and innovating ideas, but I think that is a different time. But how much time are you going to save with some of the things like trying to work with local print companies to get something done so you can get their graphic on a whatever vinyl cover that is going to blow away a lot of times or something like that. So, I think that helps a lot. I would also encourage people that this video board adds experiences to your campus, helps recruitment and helps retention. And it also helps brings revenue to your campus and other elements.

To listen to the full conversation on the Daktronics Experience Podcast, click here.