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Field Lighting Considerations for Sports

Sports permeate the social fabric of American society and culture. They unite us and bind us as we band together to cheer our local sports team to victory over the dreaded opponent – the non-local sports team. Sports speak to something primitive, something tribal within us. In the US alone, they generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue.

Whether you are kicking back on a Sunday watching the NFL, taking your child’s Little League team to see the closest MLB team, or cheering on your alma matter from your couch, sports are ever-present and a great way to relax and unwind from the stresses of life.


Sporting events have shifted over the last half-century from being played during the day to being played at night when more people can watch. However, not all lighting is created equally as anyone who remembers the long shadows cast by old incandescent light bulbs.

The Most Important Elements of Sports Field Lighting

So what’s the best way to light a sports field, and how does it vary by sport? That’s precisely what we’ll be discussing in this article. Read on to learn what goes into lighting considerations for sports fields, and what makes a well-lit sports field for multiple sports.

Lighting Uniformity

The light has to be sufficiently uniform across the stadium. Lighting uniformity provides consistent brightness that is ideal for television cameras and photographers. Sports field lighting for internationally televised events must meet strict standards. In fact, many sports organizations specify the allowable correlated color temperature (CCT) for sports field lighting. For context, quartz halogen and warm white LED lamps typically have CCTs of approximately 3000K, metal halide lamps usually have CCTs of 4000K, and daylight LED lamps typically have CCTs of 5000K.

Another wrinkle to lighting is that the human eye perceives color differently than a sensor in a camera. This requires adjustments, called color-balancing, to display the colors we expect to see. This is why it is important that all the light sources in a sports lighting installation have approximately the same CCT. If they do not, then television cameras will display annoying color shifts as they pan across the field.

Illuminance

Illuminance is the property of having the same lighting regardless of angle. A useful analogy for this principle is how the Earth is tilted on its axis. This causes the seasonal changes we are all familiar with. These changes happen because the angle of the light striking a hemisphere is greater in winter; thus, the light is less intense. Likewise, summer occurs when sunlight directly strikes a surface. Pay attention to the positions of the lights at a sports field. They are not all at the same angles for this very reason.

LED Lighting vs. Metal Halide Lamps for Sports Fields

LED lighting improves the game for the spectators as well as players. Contrasted with metal halide lamps, an arc discharge technology, LEDs have many benefits. When LED lights are installed in a hockey rink or a baseball field, they provide uniform lighting, helping the players to see the speed of the hockey puck or ball.

When metal halide lights are used in such sporting arenas, they create bright and dark spots. These alternating light and dark spots change the appearance of the ball or puck and can give a player the illusion that it is slowing down or speeding up. This is a major disadvantage to a player who only has a split second to determine the position of the ball or puck. LEDs also reduce glare, a very important consideration for players and spectators alike.

Other disadvantages of metal halide sports lighting are that they require around 10-15 minutes to “warm-up” to the proper brightness and that they are prone to catastrophic cascading failures at the end of their life. LEDs do not have these problems as they start almost instantly and will not explode or cause a cascade of other lighting failures if one segment goes out.

Baseball Stadium Lights

Major League Baseball changed dramatically in 1935 when President Franklin Roosevelt threw the light switch for the historic first MLB night game on May 24th, 1935, in Cincinnati. The Chicago Cubs played their first home night game at Wrigley Field over 50 years later on August 9th, 1988. Today it is normal for MLB games to begin at around 7 PM during weeknights. Baseball stadium lights must be mounted at a specific height so as to always illuminate the ball. After all, consider how high a baseball can be hit!

Football Field Lights

The first NFL game played under the lights at night was a hastily rescheduled home game for the Providence Steam Rollers against the Chicago Cardinals on November 6th, 1929. Today, NFL Primetime games like Monday Night Football, are always played at night. The NFL strictly controls the lighting conditions for all its games so as to optimize for consistency across televisions cameras. The lighting of football fields also needs to account for the ability to track the ball as it is kicked or thrown high in the air.

Soccer Field Lights

For soccer’s main governing body, FIFA, all regulation lighting must-have color temperature that exceeds 4000 K, and a myriad of other lighting considerations must be considered for appropriate color, illuminance, and uniformity standards. LED lighting is preferred so as to minimize glare off the ball. A soccer ball is not really ever kicked too high in the air, so vertical illuminance is not a huge concert. Lighting for football is often sufficient for soccer and vice versa.

The Best Sports Field LED Lighting Systems

Among the best systems for sports field lighting are Chip-on-Board (COB) LEDs, which allow for a far more efficient lumen package than equivalent surface mount devices”, increasing your return on investment and delivering more light at a lower cost. COB LEDs are easier to build, less expensive to purchase, and significantly more energy-efficient than conventional SMD LED fixtures. While it is true COB systems generate more heat, this problem is negated by running each chip at 50% capacity. Finally, the use of quality Cree CXA1512 LED chips, and Meanwell drivers guarantee high quality, long-lasting products.

Floodlights at stadiums make sports more accessible, but there are many different aspects to consider. When it comes to lighting a sports field, because of the number of factors to consider from regulations to accessibility, it’s wise to reach out to an expert as a resource.

Slatercom is partnering with Pro Sports Lighting to be the exclusive distributor in the Pacific Northwest along with Nevada and Arizona to offer LED solutions for sports field lighting. Visit them on the web or get in touch to find out what type of lighting system is best for your particular circumstances.

 

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