No matter what level of competition your field hosts, whether it’s youth soccer, high school football or college lacrosse—or anything else—sooner or later, you’re going to need to turn on those lights.

Only what happens when you do? Often, you don’t get a terribly impressive reaction. Sometimes, it’s because some lights (OK, many lights) are burned out. Other times, it’s because of the glare that extends far outside the field. Sometimes, it’s because the lights have aged, leading to color distortion on the field.

Oh, and in all cases, those utility bills aren’t getting lower.

Bottom line: it’s time for a new set of lights. But let’s face it—lighting isn’t a sexy expense. There are plenty of people who would rather spring for something with a bigger wow factor.

Still, for safety’s sake, it’s necessary to admit defeat in this area and start considering your lighting options.

Something you’ll probably notice is a preponderance of LED lighting fixtures on the market and an overall trend toward solid state technology.

“The general trend in lighting is certainly toward LED solid-state lighting,” says Bruce Frasure of Courtsider Sports Lighting in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Over the last five years, orders for our lighting products have shifted to over 60 percent LED. In regards to sports lighting, the adoption has been slower but keeps gaining momentum. The slower adoption has been due to a few factors, most notably the higher light levels required for sports facilities and the general limited nighttime operating hours of sports facilities.

“With advancements in technology, the output of LED fixtures is at a point where they are a viable substitute for 1,000-watt metal halide fixtures. The efficiency of most quality high-output LED fixtures now exceeds over 100 lumens per watt.”

In fact, say the experts, even if lighting doesn’t initially have a wow factor, it certainly can provide one when it goes in, for a number of reasons.

Brightness factor

“Something you always look at when you’re talking about light is the CRI—color rendering index,” says Frank Collins of Energy Efficiency & Sustainability (EES) Consulting, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. “It’s a measure of how well the light renders the colors as compared to sunlight. LED lights are actually closer to actual sunlight than fluorescent lights.”

That whiter, brighter light translates into a far better visual experience. The colors on the field will really pop—and that’s something your spectators will notice. Often, as some of the older lighting systems age, they tend to have a yellowish glow. That won’t be the case with a new system, particularly not an LED system.

Being energy-efficient

Generally, the newer the lighting system, the more energy-efficient it is. And since many schools and parks are now adhering to greener building techniques, it’s LED systems that are getting all the attention.

“Energy efficiency is a major issue when it comes to adoption of a new lighting system. That’s what’s driving the conversation now when people are shopping around,” says Mike Lorenz, president of Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting.

Also, notes Lorenz, an LED system will provide uniform light far longer than other fixtures on the market; under normal circumstances, it won’t need to be replaced for years. In many states, those who install LED systems may be eligible for rebates to help them offset the higher costs on the front end. (One website listing incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the U.S. is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at DSIREUSA.org)

Easier to direct

One of the main complaints about sports lighting is what is called “light trespass,” defined as the glare that lands outside the sports field and causes distraction in adjacent neighborhoods or business areas.

LED lighting has been effective in minimizing this problem, according to Lorenz.

“If you look at the municipal field world, the spillover light is more of an issue,” he notes.

“But now, with solid state technology, the control over the light source is so much better. We have some of the best anti-glare technology now.”

Working with a consultant who understands lighting and sports fields, as well as their impact on the surrounding environment, will also be a key to keeping peace with the neighbors.

“Energy efficiency is a major issue when it comes to adoption of a new lighting system. That’s what’s driving the conversation now,” says Mike Lorenz, president of Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting. An LED system provides uniform light far longer than other fixtures available on the market.

PHOTO: EATON’S EPHESUS LIGHTING

Replace it all?

Many field owners make the decision to replace their lighting and are pleasantly surprised to learn they can keep the same light poles; the heads can be retrofitted to house the new LED systems, a process known as conversion.

“When we go in and retrofit a place, we’re recycling everything we can,” Collins notes. “We’ll go up on top of the pole, remove the head—which sometimes we can actually reuse—and put in the new lights. You can get retrofit kits for lighting now.”

New technology is cheaper

In much the same way tablets, flat screen TVs and smartphones have decreased in cost over the years, the overall investment for LED lighting is dropping as the technology becomes more readily available.

“Five years ago, LED lighting systems were on the market but they just weren’t being installed as much,” says Collins, who notes that, initially, the higher cost was a barrier to adoption of the new systems in all but the highest level of facilities.

“Now, I think we’re right on the knee of the curve of adoption. Part of that is there are more people selling LED systems and that has helped make it very competitive with other forms of lighting. “

Market becoming crowded

According to all the experts, an influx of companies on the market has made it harder for field owners to weed out quality systems from those that may not perform as well. It’s not unusual for field owners and managers to receive unsolicited emails, often from companies in China, advertising the availability of inexpensive LED fixtures.

“With the rapidly growing popularity of LED lighting, the quality and energy efficiency of available products can vary widely,” Frasure notes.

“There are standards and test procedures that can enable buyers to make informed decisions when evaluating LED lighting.”

One way to do this is by seeing where the prospective vendor’s products stand with the DesignLights Consortium. DLC has set technical requirements for lighting products and makes its findings available free of charge.

In addition, Frasure says, a field owner or manager can check systems to learn about any “third-party independent testing for photometric performance (LM-79), third-party independent testing for lumen maintenance and third-party independent testing for heat management within the fixture (ISTMT.)”

As field lighting options continue to evolve, count on seeing even more changes in the landscape. But these days, say the experts, the fact that the technology is available to a wider range of clients than ever before is its own benefit.

“We have this very cool technology, and now we can make it available to high schools and municipalities,” Lorenz says, “and they’re able to justify it based on a number of factors.”