The County Stadium Scoreboard: Big, Ugly and Misunderstood
Of every word that might come to mind when thinking of the old scoreboard at Milwaukee County Stadium, “dynamic” might not be among the first, oh, few thousand. But back in 1979, when the Brewers were looking to upgrade their right-center field board, that is exactly what they had in mind with the hulking black and yellow monster. And, believe it or not, they were actually fighting with the county over who would have the privilege of paying for the thing.
early 1979, it was clear that the Brewers needed to replace the scoreboard at
summer, two Brewers officials were flown to
officials estimated that the new board – with the ability to promote companies
and products between innings – would provide up to $500,000 per year in
additional advertising revenues. But the team insisted it would be more than
just an income stream. Brewers president Bud Selig confidently announced the
Omega board would be “so dynamic that it will be talking point of
The price tag on the board was steep – over $2 million. But, in a scene almost unimaginable today, the team insisted on paying for the board while the county board – who leased the county-owned stadium to the team – objected, saying that they might want to foot the bill. At issue was the revenue from ads on the board. Both sides saw the board as a great investment and both were eager to cash in. Eventually, the sides settled on a deal made the purchase and upkeep on the board the responsibility of the team until 1991. During that period, the county would get half of all board revenues over $5.4 million. After that, the county would pay all maintenance costs and collect 100% of the ad revenue.
The board was installed in the winter of 1980. Oddly enough, the project was only able to be completed in time for opening day thanks to the solid condition of the steel superstructure from the original 1953 board (despite this, the old board was in danger of being condemned in 1979), into which the new board was built. The display screen was a remarkable 29’ by 63’ and comprised of 48 computerized matrices containing a total of 30,000 40 watt light bulbs. Brewers vice president Gabe Paul was thrilled with the new board, “It’s a much more sophisticated scoreboard than anything built to date,” he told the press. The crowning of the board came with the installation of its massive control computer. When the board was fully on-line, it required as many as 11 people to operate it – five to eight people in the control room and another three camera operators stationed around the park to capture video for replays.
For a decade or so, the board was considered entirely adequate – a bit of a curiosity with its odd dim-yellow hue – but nothing too far behind the time. By the 1990s, however, the board began to age quickly. While other teams introduced all-color boards, the Brewers plugged along with their Swedish oddity, unwilling to invest in a new board while they struggled to build a new stadium. In the mid 1990s, the board suddenly began to draw lightning and suffered through several major strikes – including one in 1996 that put it out of commission for four days.
The team replaced a portion of the panel with a modern matrix board in 1997, but the sluggish original half of the board continued to cause the club grief. By the late 1990s, the board emitted a steady and unsettling groan that could be plainly heard in the bleachers. I vividly remember being at a game during the 1999 season when the very-80s-mod scoreboard clock stopped running. It was about ten minutes behind when the minute hand suddenly began moving at a very unnatural pace. When the hand hit the correct time, it stopped again for about ten minutes until the entire process was repeated again. This continued for the ENTIRE EVENING. By the late innings, the smattering of fans on hand were cheering the renegade minute hand more than anything on the field.
the board’s final years, it was the longevity and loyalty of a single man who
kept it functional. By the 1990s, Gerald Laubscher, a former employee of Omega
who had helped to design the board, was the only man on the planet who was
willing to service the massive 1980 computer that the team still used to run
the board. Every time the board tweaked out, the Brewers flew Laubscher from
By the time the
team was preparing to move into
It was a big, ugly monstrosity, but it was ours.