The sports field industry is constantly evolving. However, most of the recent attention (both positive and negative) has been focused on surfaces. What many don’t realize, though, is that the sports field lighting industry has been quietly and steadily making plenty of advancements the last few years, but only recently has it started making news.

The most recent Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix Stadium was the first to be played under an LED (light-emitting diode) lighting system, as was the Pro Bowl in the same facility.

LED sports lighting has been growing recently in popularity, and it was really only a matter of time before it wound up on one of the biggest stages in sports.

Let’s back up for a bit of history. LED was first seen in installations such as traffic signals and Christmas lights, but it gained much favor in the latter use quickly, thanks to its vibrant color and durability. It was also used in display cases and merchandise cabinets. Over time, though, it has advanced, moving into large indoor installations, such as warehouses and factories and even car washes. The next logical step, therefore, was sports fields and stadiums.

The type of lighting used in field installations depends upon a variety of factors, including the location of the field (indoor or outdoor) and the amount of use it gets. Many sports installations that currently feature lighting use high-intensity discharge (HID) systems, incandescent lamps or fluorescent lighting. These systems will likely still be in use for some time to come. But it’s time to get acquainted with the newest player to join the team: LED.

To discover the advantages of LED light fixtures, a good place to start for technical information is the manufacturers.

LED light fixtures have a respectable life span, with some manufacturers claiming their fixtures can provide 20 or more years of service. They also are largely silent and have a steady beam, whereas some fixtures – fluorescent bulbs are one example – tend to hum and flicker.

Another advantage of LED is its slower depreciation. According to Mike Lorenz, president of Ephesus Lighting in Syracuse, New York, LED lighting depreciates at a rate of less than 1 percent per year. This translates into energy savings and cost savings.

Lorenz notes that the energy-savvy aspect of LED systems is what’s spurring their popularity at collegiate facilities. More schools are becoming concerned with creating a smaller carbon footprint and are aggressively pursuing technologies that will help them toward that goal. It’s worth noting that LEDs don’t have any mercury or other hazardous element, so LED sports lights are fully recyclable.

Manufacturers say there is better ability to direct LED fixtures downward onto the field, thereby eliminating light spill onto adjacent properties. Light trespass, the technical term for light that spills off the primary playing area of the field and inadvertently illuminates adjacent property, has been at the crux of complaints, covenants and perhaps a few contentious relationships over the years.

Maintenance of the fixtures is another issue that concerns field managers, as having fixtures replaced is costly and bothersome. Industry representatives note that LEDs drastically cut down on the maintenance requirements of lights.

“The big growing trend is LED,” says Steven Rothschild, CEO of Access Fixtures in Bollard, Massachusetts. “It’s actually moving into the mainstream. The demand is growing.”

While manufacturers say LED is the wave of the future, for now it’s a slow-moving wave. Something that will hold it back is the bottom line. LED is still a new technology, and as such remains significantly more expensive to purchase and install than products that have been in use for years.

Some schools, parks and other facilities are still recovering from the economic downturn, and those making purchasing decisions are justifiably hesitant to invest in a new and costly system. Particularly in fields at the high school and recreational level, the technology is going to be slower to penetrate.

However, as with all technology, LED lighting is growing in availability, which will drive the price down over time. Look at flat-screen computers and televisions, which were once nearly unaffordable on an average income, but are now considered the norm.

Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium, on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, was the first NCAA Division I outdoor college sports venue to be lit with LED lighting.PHOTOS COURTESY OF EPHESUS LIGHTING 


As with any other investment in new technology, those who are weighing the possibility of LED lights (or just a new lighting system in general), are advised to do their research. Questions to ask might include:

  • What system, if any, does your field use?
  • How many light posts does the field have? How many lamps in all?
  • What complaints, if any, do you hear regarding the lighting from athletes, maintenance personnel, spectators, administrators and/or officials?
  • What significant repairs or upgrades have been completed over the years?
  • How often are the lights used?
  • Do you have any way to quantify what the annual energy costs are?
  • Can sponsorship be acquired to help pay for a new lighting system?
  • When were the current lights installed?
  • Are you near the end of your current system’s useful life?
  • Are you trying to market the school or the field in which case a more energy-efficient technology might be a strong selling point?
  • Is there potential for increased field use that might necessitate more night use?
  • What level of play takes place on the field? What is the highest level of play the field will host?
  • How much are you spending in maintenance and lamp replacement?
  • What is the projected budget for the purchase and installation of a new lighting system and its maintenance?

Once you answer these questions you’ll have a good inventory of information. A reputable sports field contractor can then provide recommendations or refer you to a lighting consultant. In some cases you might be able to reuse the light posts already installed at your facility. Each field is different, and an electrical contractor may be able to provide guidance as well.

Whether it’s lighting or field surfaces, technologies are constantly changing, and it’s in your best interest to stay informed on the latest developments. Those who don’t can expect to be left behind.