Scoreboard operators do more than just push play

One event producer, who works with the big screen programming, said Saturday’s game was the best so far for their operations.

Kari Ahlsterand, center, directs cameras for the big screen at the football game on Saturday.

Kari Ahlsterand, center, directs cameras for the big screen at the football game on Saturday.

Katherine Lymn

They were at work long before the Gophers kicked off against Purdue University at 11:04 a.m. Saturday. They had spent the previous week preparing for the next few hours. Fans see their work every couple of seconds, whether consciously or subliminally. TCF Bank StadiumâÄôs scoreboard is the third biggest in college football, and its operations go far beyond just pushing play. Out of two rooms on the sixth floor of the stadium, a collection of dedicated scoreboard programmers work nonstop every Gopher football game at the University of Minnesota. Event producer Tadd Wilson, who oversees scoreboard programming, works with four colleagues out of a smaller room, which has no view of the game with the exception of a series of different sized screens that show possible graphics, replays and numerous views of what is going on out at the field. The main control booth screen has ten miniature screens within one. Three of these are feeds from cameras on the field that film footage used solely for the big screen. The room, decorated utilitarian-style with an enormous computer system as its center piece, is void of the spirit out in the stands âÄî cheers and roars from outside are not heard here; the employees are all business. A second room, just a couple doors down the hall, has a VIP view of the stadium, and caters to big screen team members who need to see the game directly to do their operations, like the closed caption transcriber and the audio operators. âÄúIn the control room, you donâÄôt really get as good of a feel for the game,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúYou donâÄôt get the complete feel of whatâÄôs going on out there.âÄù PA announcer Jamie Verbrugge is the only tenant of the âÄúfield side room,âÄù as it is known, who is not directly related to the scoreboard programming. âÄúItâÄôs a little complicated,âÄù Wilson said of the operations as a whole, adding that the key to a smooth operation is communication among the two rooms and any other dispatchers throughout the stadium. The complexity and multi-tasking does not seem to faze the programmers themselves, however, who are at once meticulously focused and sufficiently relaxed in their surroundings that they can share a laugh. Director Kari Ahlstrand spent the majority of the SaturdayâÄôs game calmly deciding which camera feed would be projected on the scoreboardâÄôs screen. âÄúReady three, go three,âÄù she would say mechanically, choosing a different feed several times a minute. For Wilson and his team, seemingly small details are the name of the game. An elaborate programming schedule allows the group to be a step ahead of the rest. From Goldy GopherâÄôs first appearance to a t-shirt gun promotion, Ahlstrand had the camera feed ready before the action happened. âÄúDave, can you get over by GoldyâÄôs Perch?âÄù she warned a cameraman early in the game. âÄúMake a move here, Dave.âÄù The technicians are employees of Daktronics, which designed and built the scoreboard at TCF Bank Stadium. The company also produces event programming systems, including the one used for SaturdayâÄôs game. Daktronics provides electronic scoreboards for colleges across the country, including The University of Texas at Austin, which is, along with Mississippi State, one of only two colleges in the country with a scoreboard bigger than that of the University of Minnesota. The UniversityâÄôs scoreboard measures 48 feet by 108 feet, or 5,184 feet squared. After beating Purdue 35-20, the Gophers were not the only winners on Saturday. Wilson said he saw the game as his teamâÄôs best work so far this season. âÄúEverything went real smooth,âÄù he said. Although the group had never worked together before this football season, Wilson said the team is starting to gel. âÄúEverybodyâÄôs just kind of coming together and thereâÄôs been improvement from scrimmage, the first game, the second game and so on,âÄù he said.