Feature Article - October 2017
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Seeking the Total Package

Trends in Sports Lighting, Scoreboards and Sound Systems

By Chris Gelbach

As new facilities debut and old systems get retrofitted, sports facilities are taking advantage of new technologies that allow them to reduce their operating costs, increase the theming and scenic elements of the experience, and enable more remote control and diagnostics. The implementation of these advances in sports lighting, scoreboards and sound systems are creating a more refined fan experience in environments that range from municipal and K-12 fields to the newest pro facilities.

LED Continues Its Advance

At all levels of sports lighting, LED technology is continuing to see increased adoption. Jeff Rogers, vice president of an Iowa-based company with more than 40 years of experience in sports lighting, still sees some new high school facilities opt for metal halide systems. His company offers both technologies, with equivalent warranties and bulb replacement services for both technologies.

As a result, some of his clients still opt for metal halide, even though the systems do not offer some of the performance benefits of LED. These LED benefits can include less light pollution through better control of light spill, better ball tracking, less frequent light replacement, better control of light intensity and theming, and lower energy consumption. But Rogers still saw about 40 percent of high school and parks and recreation clients opt for metal halide in 2017 because of its lower initial cost.

"We've seen LED as a technology that allows us to advance sports field lighting," Rogers said. "But there's a cost to that. Right now it's probably a 20 to 25 percent delta between metal halide and LED, and we're quickly seeing that go away. But that's been what's kept it from being 100 percent LED in 2017."

According to Rogers, communities with stricter standards for glare and spill in the neighborhood have adopted LED at an even faster pace. Because it is a small light source with greater ability to control glare light, Rogers is also seeing LED become the technology of choice for multifield venues. "If you're going to have a 10-field sports complex and you're playing on field two, you want to make sure that the light coming from field four isn't causing a problem with the field of play," Rogers said. Because it offers dimming options, LED also permits dimming of the lights on certain fields that are not in use for further control of spill light.

Facilities thinking about doing their own light replacements instead of relying on the initial vendor to perform that follow-up service see even greater benefits associated with LED. Eric Boorom, owner of a Michigan-based sports lighting company, noted that his company once sold metal halide bulbs with an expected life of 2,000 to 5,000 hours per bulb. "With the LED chips, we're measuring those in tens if not hundreds of thousands of hours," Boorom said. "The maintenance cost savings to the municipality can be substantial over and above the lower utility bill you'll get with LED."

The implementation of advances in sports lighting, scoreboards and sound systems are creating a more refined fan experience in environments that range from municipal and K-12 fields to the newest pro facilities.

Boorom recommends that recreation managers look to work with established vendors that have a long history in sports lighting, offer innovative or proprietary technologies, can offer in-house service and installation, and provide wireless controls, among other considerations.

Rogers also recommends that buyers be sure to choose an all-inclusive warranty. "People should be careful to make sure that the warranty they're buying is encompassing of not only the core component, the LED, but is of all the controls and all the pieces that are part of the system," he said. It is also beneficial if the company has local support representatives available as well as the technology to perform remote monitoring, diagnostics and support of the system.

Boorom is now even seeing LED make inroads into existing facilities doing retrofits, with a growing part of his company's business going to support those opportunities. "It's so quick and easy to do that if you're going to spend the time and money to change bulbs that are burned out because of usage, you might as well just retrofit it to LED," Boorom said. "I think there is a little bit of a void there in the understanding in the marketplace on how easy it is to retrofit to an LED sports lighting system."

Other new features related to LED systems that manufacturers are seeing more clients adopt include options to include customized branding of the fixture endcaps to match school or team colors. The lighting vendors are also helping clients use the versatility of the LED lights to create different scenic looks.

Boorom noted the example of Turner Field, which was once the home of the Atlanta Braves but was recently transformed into the new Georgia State University football stadium. His company worked with the school on several scenes that debuted during the school's home opener. "There are various looks at different points of the pregame, halftime and postgame," Boorom said. "It underscores the ability to introduce the technology into an existing venue, it looks sharp, and it is 100 percent branded specifically for Georgia State."