Feature Article - October 2018
Find a printable version here

Pump It Up

Scoreboards, Sports Lighting & Sound Make the Game

By Rick Dandes

Turn Up the Lights

The key issues involving lighting systems are the same as they've always been, said Jeff Rogers, vice president of an Oskaloosa, Iowa-based sports lighting system manufacturer. "Customers want to make a good buying decision in terms of initial capital investment and long-term operating costs. They need the best possible lighting in terms of player visibility, they need to keep neighbors happy by avoiding light spill, they need a system they can rely on so they'll always have light when they need it, and they need to keep energy consumption and operating costs down."

True, the emergence of LED as a cost-effective option for sports lighting has created some great possibilities, Rogers said. "But there's a misperception that as long as an LED light source is used, you'll see the same results no matter what equipment is used. And that's not the case. As great as the potential of longer life, quality light and energy efficiency with LED is, it also brings many challenges, particularly for the unique application of lighting for sports fields."

Organizations that have installed lighting equipment using LEDs have sometimes had to replace those newly installed lights because of problems with glare and light spilling into surrounding neighborhoods, he said.

Indeed, the LED sports lighting industry has matured, said Lee Davis, general manager of a Syracuse, N.Y.-based facilities lighting system manufacturer. "It's become obvious," Davis said, "that customers want more than just great quality lighting, energy savings and reduced maintenance. They also want more control and the ability for their system to adapt to their future needs.

A field illuminated with LED sports lighting gives athletes the safest and best conditions to perform, Davis said. "Better lighting protects athletes from losing the ball in the lights and can improve performance by enabling better depth perception. But LED lighting is just as much of a game changer for fans. The versatility, flexibility and expanded capabilities of LED sports lighting allow stadium operators to enhance the game presentation with entertaining light shows and high-quality lighting that can make a Little League game look and feel like game seven of the World Series."

Customers want more than just great quality lighting, energy savings and reduced maintenance. They also want more control and the ability for their system to adapt to their future needs.

Flexibility is a component of any lighting system, said Alison Fiedler, lighting designer for Stantec, an engineering and design firm. "One of our designers recently finished up SafeCo field, home of the Seattle Mariners, with all LED. With more traditional lighting you need a warmup time and a cool-down time. That means you can't turn the lights off and then turn them back on without waiting; with LED stadium lighting, you can have a light show pretty easily."

Using LEDs also provides opportunities for branding, Fiedler said. "For example, having a group of LED panels in one view area. You could dim them all separately and create a very low-resolution type of show. LED essentially becomes a pixel. As far as flexibility goes, you can dim the fixtures with daylight, saving energy, and when we are in full brightness in the daytime, where you might not need all of the lights on, we are able to dim them down."

What should you know before you make your decisions about lighting? Many times, Fiedler said, it comes down to values. "Some may say their value is transparency. Then we are looking for ways to highlight areas that are often behind the scenes so that the public can see those faces. In a sports environment," she said, "we might want to enhance recruitment by making the place sparkle and be an attractive place for future talent to come."

"Every project is different and brings a unique set of needs based on facility type, environmental setting, new installation or retrofit, and many other factors," Rogers said.

Do your homework, Rogers advised. "Sports lighting is about more than just the LED light source. It's about the system. You're making a 25- to 30-year purchase, and there are many electrical components in today's technology that are in the environment 24/7."

Make sure, he emphasized, that the lighting, structural and electrical components are evaluated and applied as a complete system to ensure long-term reliability. "And make sure the manufacturer will stand behind their solution for the life of the system. It's one thing to say you can trust the technology and it will last; it's another to be contractually partnered to guarantee light levels and cover all maintenance costs well into the future."

When all is said and done, remember that LED lighting is part of a system that's been designed to apply light the right way, Rogers said. "LED has fine-tuned our ability to put light where we want it more effectively and efficiently than ever before. We improve the players' ability to see on the field of play, we make watching the game more enjoyable and comfortable for spectators, and we eliminate the impact to the environment by as much as 90 percent."