Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino in New Mexico (near El Paso, Texas) is open year-round, but from December through April, the complex features four-day-a-week live thoroughbred and quarter horse racing along its one-mile oval track (including the Sunland Derby, where the winning horse moves on to the Kentucky Derby). The glorious Rio Grande River flows directly parallel to the track and its backdrop sports purple mountain majesties (to borrow a tune). And the entire complex is definitely colorful—everything from racing silks to casino lights to food buffets.
But one thing proving an eyesore was a low-resolution, malfunctioning LED display board along the track infield. The facility had been transmitting both live and recorded video of horse races on it for about six years, yet it was expensive to operate. Maintenance costs were piling up, repair parts were difficult to find, and the need to air-condition the sign resulted in high electrical costs. It not only looked “out of place” but also “out of time.”
Sunland Park Racetrack Video Manager John Nichols was unsatisfied with the atmosphere this display was presenting. He even likens this 13-by-16-foot display as a Christmas tree. “If one thing broke, anything downstream of that would go out,” he says. “I had to work on that every day too, because there was no one in town who does that kind of very expensive maintenance.”
With the horse racing season quickly approaching the starting gate last fall, Nichols knew it was time to saddle up and invest in something newer, more visible, and more state-of-the-art. So he contacted his local sign dealer, Francis Fluorescent Signs of El Paso, Texas, about recommendations.
Francis Fluorescent, in turn, contacted Neil Dietz, a Southwest territory manager for Watchfire Signs. Dietz visited the racetrack, where he demonstrated the LED boards available via the traveling F-350 demo vehicles. “These trucks contain two full-color LED signs with two different resolutions,” says John Kunze, Director-Eastern Division/of Watchfire Signs.
Sunland Park opted to go with a brand-new Watchfire XVS 16mm with live video on demand. This display stands 12 feet, 7 inches high-by-22 feet wide, features a 224-by-384 matrix, and contains 19 lines-by-60 characters.
Kunze states that, when it comes to selling LED displays, it’s important to have conversations with the customer and educate them about budgets necessary to set up and run this technology. “But the most important challenge for any sales person is to quit talking and start listening,” he adds.
This particular sign took about four to six weeks to construct. Francis Fluorescent had the display up the same day they came out using cranes and bucket trucks. The new display sits in the infield next to a tote board featuring all the wagering data. The sign features live video during the races and video feeds or recorded videos of other races around the country.
Another bonus is that Sunland Park boasts a complete recording studio at its racetrack. They can produce telecasts that include recorded interviews with jockeys and horse owners and then cut away to live footage of the national anthem or of the horses warming up in the paddock. Nichols and his crew of two full-time graphic artist and camera operator and twelve season production members use Watchfire’s Ignite® Graphics Software to program the sign.
Nichols is also thrilled that there’s no maintenance involved. “We’re out in the desert, and during March and April, we experience very big windstorms,” he says. “There were three different days here where the sand was blowing so hard you couldn’t even see the other side of the racetrack. Yet the board turned right on, and there were no operation deficiencies.”
As you’d expect with sandstorms, Nichols plans to clean it before the next live racing event (even though it’s still visible at this point). “We have a bucket truck and someone will get up there with a brush and a bucket of water and scrub it back and forth and then dry it,” he explains.