She’s seen it all.
From her perch high above the floor of Rupp Arena, “Bertha” has witnessed pivotal moments in basketball history from Paul Andrews’ half-court, game-winning shot for Laurel County in the 1982 Sweet 16 championship, to Villanova’s NCAA championship win against Georgetown in 1985, to Anthony Davis’ amazing block of a North Carolina player’s last-second shot in 2011.
Some of the biggest names in entertainment have been announced over her loudspeakers: Pink Floyd, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift and Whitney Houston.
But just shy of 40, the iconic, white sound system with its cluster of horns — affectionately called “Bertha” or “Big Bertha” by Rupp staff — will be retiring in May.
The center-hung sound system will be used for the last time May 8 for the University of Kentucky’s commencement. On May 9, she will come down as Rupp Arena prepares for the installation of a new, state-of-the-art, center-hung scoreboard as part of a $15 million technology upgrade of the storied arena.
The new scoreboard will be 27 feet tall and 34 feet wide. It will have viewing screens on four sides and will weigh 43,524 pounds. It will be delivered in September and will be ready in early October before the UK men’s basketball season.
The new LED screens will give the arena more advertising real estate, said Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp., which oversees Rupp Arena.
“It also gives us more opportunity to directly engage the fans,” Owen said. “It really adds excitement to an event.”
In addition to the center-hung scoreboard, a new sound and lighting system will be installed, as well as a new roof rigging system in coming months. The arena has already added LED screens in parts of the arena and ribbon boards around the second tier of the Rupp Arena bowl. A $2.4 million expansion and upgrade of wireless internet service will begin next year.
The scoreboard will cost $2.7 million — about $378,000 less than the budget of $3.1 million.
South Dakota-based Daktronics is building the scoreboard.
Justin Ochsner, a spokesman for Daktronics, said Daktronics manufactures the LED displays and control system in South Dakota. The scoreboard is then shipped in pieces and assembled in the arena. “We are planning a four-week installation on site in September,” Ochsner said.
Bertha’s fate is still up in the air.
“We have been approached by a couple of different parties who are interested in purchasing it,” Owen said. “It is iconic.”
But it’s also very, very big — about 30 feet tall.
“Just one of those horns is the size of a desk,” Owen said. “We are still exploring options on what to do with it.”