A Naperville, IL start-up called Smart Digital Screen has launched a service that touts the use of digital signage and complementary technologies to make marathons, 10Ks and other mass sporting events better and safer.
The idea for Real Smart DS came from the experience at the Boston Marathon in 2013 – where two bombs were detonated by naturalized Americans who turned into radicals, and more recently in California, where a local 5K military-flavored run was cancelled after an incendiary device was found in a trash container.
The idea here is that such races can use outdoor LCD displays on large vertical trusses to communicate to both participants and the crowd along the race route.
Since the bombing at the Boston Marathon, in April 2013, says the company, we have been exploring the idea of technology and IT solutions that go beyond a random number of cameras used by police posted throughout key areas at marathons. While this surveillance information helps police, homeland security, and other security teams identify potential threats; Real Smart DS provides Communication to runners, volunteers, and spectators with the reports from those sources in “real time.”
The need for real-time “visual and audio alerts” must be upscale and more progressive than other forms of media, including social media which is limited and can be compromised,” says Greg Evans, founder of Smart Digital Screen.
Evans is also president of Race Director University, which appears to be a consulting firm and certification program aimed at people operating marathons and shorter public races, which almost always rely heavily on volunteers and sponsorships.
“I worked with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon staff for years in providing communication and entertainment systems on the marathon course,” says Evans, “however, despite using a verbal alert system that informs runners, volunteers, and spectators about weather conditions and terror threats, Real Smart DS extends those provisions by adding a high impact visual imagery.
The unique strength of this platform is that a warning both visual and audio can be replicated to 10, 15, 20 plus platforms within 1-2 minutes in real time covering the marathon course at each mile marker or wherever these structures are physically placed. Real Smart DS is new technology and had not been used or produced by any of the national race management organizations, like World Major Majors, the Competitor Group, Life Time Fitness or Charity based cause market owned events.
The EAS (Emergency Alert Systems) are currently used to illustrate changes in weather and physical flags are used to warning runners; the Real Smart DS system includes that system using digital media, and the media rotates every 5 seconds allowing for other signage, advertising and marketing opportunities for sponsors on the course.
Evans says heightened security and public communications needs are now the new normals for events like road races, and says tools like public address systems, color-coded signs and social media are no longer enough because of the sheer size of the race route.
The primary need is adequate communication at all times at different places on the course. Secondly, we need a robust system that can deliver content without any latency. And finally, it needs to be portable, redundant and affordable.
In 2016, we decided that “Real Smart DS” is a robust communication system designed to provide the latest technology upgrade for major sporting events and special events. This platform is a combination of large monitors, audio and video equipment, media players, wifi systems that can connect to the cloud, computers, software, generators, cameras and if needed a drone. An IT (Information Technology) specialist and an (optional) certified drone pilot would be necessary for higher level projects if permitted.
Digital Signage provides this advantage because we can also split the screen and add schedule content to appear at various times and have the ability to change this content on the fly.
Evans suggest the system can be monetized, and costs offset or recovered, through sponsor advertising.
For example, if we create a subscription for sponsorship ads only at mile 20 and schedule 5-second ads, we would have 12 ads a minute 720 per hour and 3,600 ads for five (5) hours just at Mile 20. This would provide advertisers a lot of exposure and the call for action would increase sales if the products/services are competitive. If we incorporate some of our other advertising and marketing tools and use a variety of social media assets at each mile, then we could capture additional information from participants and generate other reports for the rights holders and event management company.
I know almost zero about how marathons and other road races work, but my spidey senses tell me this will be a nice to have for a lot of race directors but won’t happen often because of the costs and complexity. It’s what stops many many digital signage jobs, and with the exception of some destination marathons like NYC, Boston and Chicago, I’m guessing many/most of these events scrape together the sponsor dollars to pull them off each year.
That said, it’s interesting to see the thinking behind this, and the possibilities and arguably need for real time communications. In a world of wearables, ubiquitous connectivity and big data, you could imagine how screens on a course could get all the way down to personal messaging (“Go MOM!!!”) on screens based on where a runner is on a course.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than 13 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia.