Magnificent Milestones

A Subjective (and, by no means exhaustive) History of IDEA

by Paul Shubin (with a lot of help from my friends!)

Pre-historic Times

In 1982, Mitsubishi organized a meeting of Diamond Vision operators in Los Angeles.  Later that year, the Chicago White Sox’ Howard Pizer and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Gabe Paul, Jr. attended the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Hawaii, at which the subject of the new color video boards was discussed. It was strongly felt that scoreboard operators should get together to exchange views and discuss programming and technical issues. Howard and Gabe talked about organizing something and, upon his return, Howard invited Comiskey Park scoreboard operator Liz Burke to organize a get-together of fellow operators. 

The first meeting took place in Chicago in February 1983, attended by 29 scoreboard operators, sports executives and one animation artist representing 20 organizations.

The 1984 Conference was held in St. Louis. A welcome surprise was finding a six-pack of Budweiser placed in each of our hotel rooms by the host city’s best-known manufacturer of adult refreshment. Not wanting to drink alone, one of the members proposed that all the beer be dumped in his bathtub to be consumed at a “social evening” later on.

During one of the conference sessions, a “spirited discussion” about video replays ensued between the operators, led by the Yankees’ Betsy Leesman, and baseball umpires, led by the NL’s Bruce Froemming and the AL’s Dave Phillips (the umpires had been invited to participate). Following the conference, the umpires pressured MLB to rescind its support of a scoreboard operators’ annual conference. At issue was video board content. The umpires wanted to control what was shown, and the operators wanted to be free to decide what would be shown. 

Baseball agreed. The 1985 Conference was to have been held in Houston but MLB forbade the Astros to hold it.  At this point, prior to the intended Houston Conference, Karen Johnson of, then-named, Animagination of Racine, WI., offered to host an animation seminar.

The Birth of IDEA

Several teams agreed to defy the MLB proscription but many did not. In some cases, operators had to convince their bosses that this seminar would be essential for establishing relationships between operators, to the improvement of the emerging field and that it was worth defying the ban.

In addition, our attitude was that we weren’t a baseball organization but, rather, scoreboard operators for all sports and, being young, creative and ornery decided that, anyway, nobody was going to dictate to us!

A representative of MLB did attend the first day of the Racine seminar. He sat against a side wall all day, didn’t say a word, left at the end of the day, and we never again heard from him or MLB about scoreboard operators’ conferences.

That evening, returning on the bus from The Safe House Tavern in Milwaukee to our Racine hotel (everyone being high on life), we decided to form a real association. The Astros’ Paul Darst,  came up with the acronym IDEA. As I recall, he and I were standing up, unsteadily, in the bus at the time. 

Then, of course, we had to come up with words to fit the letters I-D-E-A.

Thus, after much serious deliberation and discussion, and still on the bus, was born Information Display and Entertainment Association.

Later, the IDEA light bulb was created, by Cam Steele of the Winnipeg Jets. It was first reproduced in Volume 2, Number 3 of the newsletter, MATRIX, that name being proposed by Galen Armstrong of the Seattle Kingdome.

That year’s seminar saw the election of IDEA’s first officers, the creation of IDEA’s first set of by-laws and the nomination of Gabe Paul, Jr. as IDEA’s honorary president—a position he holds to this day.  

We did get to Houston the following year where we all marveled at the “8th Wonder of the World”—the Astrodome.  We were lucky enough to have an IDEA gathering at the legendary Gilley’s before it burned to the ground.

We headed to the Metrodome in 1987, the first time that an actual board was brought in for an IDEA conference. Imagine the delight of our members from the Great White North to discover that Minneapolis boasted a Canadian bar--Sgt. Preston’s Bar & Saloon at the Seven Corners--with a stuffed moose head on the wall and cold Moose Head in the fridge. The Canuck Contingent piled in for the evening to watch the 1987 NHL All-Star game.

Golden Matrix Awards Created

At some point in 1987, Shintaro Asano, president and owner of Shintron, proposed to the Executive Board of Mitsubishi the establishment of an awards program for IDEA members. It was approved and, subsequently, Sony was invited to become a co-sponsor.

During the sixth conference, in New Orleans in February 1988, Mitsubishi and Sony presented the award idea to the attendees.  It became the Golden Matrix Awards. The first GMAs, in just four categories, were presented the following year at the Anaheim Conference. This year’s awards have grown to number nineteen, including an award for Allied Member Achievement and a special award, given at the discretion of the IDEA President.

The 1994 Salt Lake City Conference was marked by Jamination’s début as designers of the front and back covers of the conference program booklet. These talented graduates of The Ohio State University--whose work won numerous GMAs for matrix animation--have become IDEA’s official program cover designers. 

Memorable Gatherings

IDEA members are so lucky…we’re spoiled by the cities we visit…we represent a fabulous industry…we’re treated like royalty by our host facilities.

Just think about some of the special occasions we have enjoyed: In Pittsburgh (2004) we had the run of the marvelous Andy Warhol museum. In the Bay Area (2002), Alcatraz prison was closed to the public, but open to us for a private visit.  

Cleveland (1995) was our first summer conference, scheduled at the same time as the MLB All-Star Game. We enjoyed the game on the video board from the first-class restaurant of Jacobs Field. All the boards were on, all the lights were on, the game audio was fed through the sound system, the stadium staff was there to look after us. From outside the stadium one might have thought a game was on. There wasn’t. It was only us, partying in a major league baseball stadium, all to ourselves. 

Now, we all work with lights—bright lights. But, at the Buffalo Conference (2000) some of us were lucky enough to get to play with what have to be some of the brightest lights ever. We found ourselves in the building which controls the spot lights which light up Niagara Falls. For a few minutes, we were invited to change the lighting to whatever we wanted. What a power trip that was!

In New York (1993) we wandered around the monuments on the field at Yankee Stadium. In Salt Lake City (1994) we sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. San Diego (1997) will forever be remembered as the Year of the Tostado Sisters. Fort Lauderdale/Miami (2001) gave many of us our first visit to the Everglades and first taste of alligator. Atlanta (2003) was memorable for its five-star production of Jeopardy and our learning how so many streets in one city can have the same name.

On our second trip to Houston, the 2005 Conference, we all took batting practice at Enron Field, and one of our members hit a “home run.”

Officially, the 2006 Conference was held in Southern California. But, in our hearts we were in the glamorous land of Los Angeles, Movie Stars, Universal Studios, Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.

In 2007, for the first time in IDEA history, ALL members attending the conference were high—in Denver, the mile high city. How spectacular it was in our hotel surrounded by the mountains, clean air and magnificent parkland.

Since then IDEA has trekked from Chicago to Phoenix back to Tampa to Kansas City to Minneapolis to Montreal to Dallas/Ft Worth and then to Seattle. All wonderful cities and so many wonderful memories. We look forward to the future being more of the same!

Unparalleled Growth

In 1998-99, with IDEA’s business affairs outgrowing its filing cabinet drawer in the offices of Karen Johnson Productions, the Executive Board named Liz Burke Brown its permanent officer manager, with offices in Morris, IL. The following year Liz was named Executive Director. 

The 2003 Atlanta Conference featured a significant change in conference programming. For the first time, members could sit down for a detailed technical seminar, in this case, in Photoshop and After Effects. These technical workshops were expanded over the ensuing years.

In 2015 the Inspire the Passion Award was established to recognize two outstanding students/interns in the industry and pass on the passion for what we do by bringing them to the annual conference and introducing them to everything it has to offer. This award was inspired by past IDEA President Jeff Schmahl who passed away that same year.

Hall of Fame Established

In 2007, Pete Soto, Bob Becker and Aaron Buckles proposed the establishment of an IDEA Hall of Fame.

The initial inductees, "The Pioneers", are: Dave Belding, Mitsubishi who organized the initial Diamond Vision users meeting and has been a constant corporate supporter ever since; Howard Pizer, Chicago White Sox, one of two Major League Baseball executive who initiated and supported the organization in its earliest years; Gabe Paul, Jr., Milwaukee Brewers, the second MLB executive who was a very strong supporter and spokesperson for us in the early years and Karen Johnson, owner of the animation studio, then called Animaginations, and host of the turning point, third conference.

The Active member inductees are: Liz Burke Brown, Chicago White Sox (now IDEA Executive Director); Jack Croghan, St. Louis Baseball Cardinals; Paul Darst, Houston Astros; Dick Davis, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis; Betsy Leesman, New York Yankees and Paul Shubin, Montreal Expos and Montreal Canadiens.

The Active members named as pioneers were so chosen because they were the only ones who attended the first, second and third conferences. The turning point was attendance at the third, in that this was the make-or-break conference. Had it not gone ahead one could legitimately ask whether there would have been another and whether IDEA ever would have come to be. At least, that’s what we believed at the time.

The 2015 Seattle Conference set an attendance record of over 450, so I guess we were right after all!

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