What to consider before you decide
Suppliers are combining advances in technology with an understanding of the unique needs of sports venues to help facilities with products that fit field needs and budget constraints. A qualified design firm or the staff of a sports field lighting supplier can provide the options within all the components of the lighting system that fit the facilities’ needs, as well as the cost variables within those options. But, first, all the potential issues involved must be addressed.
The sports field manager should be involved from the earliest stages of consideration throughout the design and installation process, notes Patrick Maguire, principal of Stantec Sport.
Maguire says, “The sports field manager understands the specific characteristics of the field or fields involved, as well as the kind of impact the extended use that comes with a lighted field will have on the overall field management program.”
Maguire says, “Among the first things to determine is what level of play the field is expected to see. The lighting required for Little League baseball play is not as great as that for high school, college or professional-level play. There are greater requirements for lighting as play moves up the different levels within the ranks of professional sports. In conjunction with the level of play, determine what sport or sports will be played on the field.”
Consider the lighting requirements for night play as issued by the governing bodies for the sports that could be played on each field. Factor in those sports that might be added to the program during the life of the field and lighting system.
One of the issues these requirements address is the uniformity of light levels across the field, as it affects the ability of the athletes to play the game. Maguire says, “The basic premise is, the smaller the ball and the faster it moves, the more intense and uniform the light needs to be. If you are going to play lacrosse, it would require a specific minimum foot-candle level because of the size and speed of the ball. A light level that is adequate for a typical non-televised college football game might not be safe for the good high school lacrosse game.”
The pole configuration will affect the quality of the light and the amount of light the system will throw. “If a field will serve multiple sports, the lighting system should be designed to serve the sport with the highest level of requirements,” says Maguire. “A standard football field lighting system uses a four-pole configuration, with the placement varying dependent on the height of the pole and the degree of setback from the perimeter of the field. With a standard football four-pole configuration and the poles placed at the 30-yard line, a goalie standing at the soccer goal will not be able to see the back of the soccer ball.
“A six-pole configuration or a four-pole international configuration would solve that problem on a dual-use field. The typical four or six-pole configuration used within the U.S. places the poles set back at spaced intervals along the sidelines and lights the area around the poles. The international style places the four poles behind the end line and focuses the light across the field, providing a greater wash of light.”
When considering lighting as an addition to an existing field, determine if the location has sufficient space to allow the required setback for installation of the lights, including access for equipment needed for the installation and for long-term maintenance of the components.
Clear viewing of all the action by the spectators also comes into play. Another concern is the light level of athletes’ nonplay areas, such as along the sidelines, and the areas that affect the spectators, such as the entry/exit points and the area behind the bleachers.
A key factor that must be addressed during the early stages of consideration, is the affect of lighting on area residents, businesses, roadways or highways. Research all city, county and state ordinances, along with any guidelines these governing bodies may have developed for field lighting design options. Check zoning restrictions, too, as these may contain additional requirements.
Be aware of light pollution, which includes spill, glare and sky glow. Spill is often defined as unintended light that extends beyond the perimeters of the field and facility. Glare refers to the point of extremely bright light. Sky glow may be from natural or man-made electrical sources. Sky glow makes it easy to find the lighted field at night, but it also masks the view of the sky for stargazers and may disrupt the habitat of area wildlife.
Maguire says, “When the configuration of the lighting system and the types of fixtures selected focus more light onto the fields, it not only reduces spill and nightglow, it also reduces the amount of light emitted overall, thus trimming energy costs. Obviously, the sport being played must be considered. Many of the new lighting systems do a tremendous job of directing the light downward, but for baseball and softball, you’ll want a little bit of light up high so the outfielders aren’t looking into the dark to track the hits headed their way.”
Energy efficiency should be figured into the overall cost of the system, notes Maguire. “You’ll want to look at the capital cost of the system, coupled with installation costs, along with the costs of operation and maintenance. A system may be less expensive to purchase and install, but quickly blow through those savings in operating costs,” he says.
“We frequently recommend considering a multi-watt system to cut energy costs. This would allow a facility to use half the lights per pole for on-field evening events, such as practices, and all of the lights for night games.”
Temporary or portable lighting may be an option to explore when field lighting is needed only occasionally for major games or if it would allow practice fields to be used for extended hours during tournament play. Selecting permanent or fixed lighting is more complex. Discuss various options with the system designer early in the process, suggests Maguire.
There will be multiple options in the type of material used for poles and the type of anchoring for them. Pole placement and pole height choices may be restricted by the dimensions of the site, local or regional regulations and other system components.
Additional decisions include the location of the ballast for best accessibility and the type of operating system. Programmable systems can control multiple zones or field sites and allow remote operation off-site by phone or computer.
Though the high-tech scoreboards used by professional teams and many college sports programs are beyond the budget limitations of secondary schools and municipalities, there are still many options available to fit the needs of any size or type of facility.
Portable, remote-controlled scoreboards attach to the standard piping used for perimeter fencing or on an existing structure at the facility. These are battery-powered, so they don’t require an on-site electrical source. There are portable options in baseball/softball configurations or for multiple rectangular field sports.
As with lighting, there are more options available in permanent installations. Facilities need to research the potential uses for each field, the anticipated range of the distance from which spectators would be viewing the scoreboard, the size required to serve those spectators, and the best style and placement to serve those needs.
Maguire notes that scoreboards may or may not be incorporated into the overall lighting system design. He says, “It’s logical to consider scoreboard needs along with lighting when designing a new stadium or sports complex. Costs could be reduced by consolidating power lines and power source placement during the installation. If ancillary scoreboards will be mounted on the lighting poles, that must be factored in during the system design because of the structural loads that could be involved.”
The addition of lighting systems to existing fields is another issue. While it may be possible to salvage or refurbish scoreboards already in place, Maguire notes that older scoreboards usually will have incandescent light sources. “The electronic scoreboards utilizing LED (light-emitting diode) technology reduce both operational and maintenance costs compared to those equipped with incandescent lamps. They also are much easier to view than the older models,” he says.
Depending on the supplier, the size options range from the small, 8 feet wide by 4 feet high, to the very large, up to 46 feet wide. The wireless remote control option provides greater flexibility for facility personnel.
Scoreboards can be designed to fit the facility, with an assortment of color choices and space for the name of the school, complex, or team and a logo. Most suppliers offer options to include sponsorship acknowledgement, either as a permanent part of the design or with changeable panels for annual or specific event sponsor identification. This advertising opportunity gives the facility the ability to cover the costs of the scoreboard and installation and could even generate additional sponsorship revenue.
The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.