New O's JumboTron might see light of day

Team, stadium authority may replace video screen as part of park upgrades


July 11, 2002|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Oriole Park's JumboTron -- the giant video screen that was considered cutting edge a decade ago -- might be replaced by a newer model.

A formal request for bids from manufacturers is being prepared jointly by the team and the Maryland Stadium Authority, which built and owns the stadium, and could be issued next month.

The current video screen cost $2.6 million and was among the most advanced in sports when it was installed for the opening of Oriole Park in 1992. But the technology employed by the 23-foot by 31-foot board has been eclipsed by snazzier ones such as the oversized SmartVision in the Ravens' stadium.

The Orioles' JumboTron, manufactured by Sony, is essentially an integrated network of television screens that consumes a lot of power. Newer boards use "light emitting diodes," or LEDs, similar to the ones that light up alarm clocks and wristwatches. Boards based on LED technology are cheaper to build and operate and offer superior picture quality.

Stadium Authority executive director Richard W. Slosson said a new JumboTron could cost $1 million and would be the first enhancement the agency and team have agreed to as part of a planned $10 million infusion of cash in the ballpark.

A panel of arbitrators last year ordered the state to put aside $10 million for ballpark upgrades, ruling the baseball team's lease was less favorable than the Ravens' deal with the state and thus in violation of "parity" guarantees in the Orioles' lease.

"The JumboTron is the first, most obvious need," Slosson said yesterday after a meeting of the authority's directors.

If the authority and team agree to buy a new video screen, the installation probably would not take place before the end of this season, and might take another year, Slosson said.

The team and authority have discussed hiring an architect to compare the ballpark with newer ones to identify other improvements, he said.

Authority chairman John Brown said the agency and team would like to find upgrades that would increase revenues for both landlord and tenant, either directly, such as in concession sales, or by drawing more fans.

The Orioles have suffered a drop in attendance in recent years, which reduces rent paid to the authority through the team's revenue-sharing lease. Meanwhile, maintenance and operation costs have risen as the stadium ages.

"We don't want to spend it just to spend it. We want to find things that increase revenue," Brown said.

He said neither side has raised the issue of expanding seating capacity -- something the team suggested years ago. Critics of the idea feared the park's intimate ambiance might be diminished.

The Orioles did not respond yesterday to a request for comment.

Yesterday, the authority accepted a bid from Raymond James Financial, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based financial services firm, to underwrite the issuance of $10.25 million in bonds.

The money is to be deposited into a stadium improvement fund that the stadium authority established when the park opened in 1992. Under the team's lease, the state is required to put up to $200,000 a year into the fund separate from the one-time, $10 million payment.

The two sides jointly decide how it will be spent each year and the Stadium Authority does the work.

The arbitrators specifically prohibited the $10 million from being spent on additional skyboxes, which the Orioles had demanded, on parking or on the private offices of the Orioles or their concessionaire.

Should a dispute on the use of the $10 million arise, the panel created guidelines: Improvements shall be made that are deemed "desirable or appropriate for a first-class" ballpark.

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