The call for lights, camera, action has migrated from the film set to the playing field. With sports as entertainment a prime revenue source, demands for high-tech advancements in lighting and scoreboards have escalated.



Many factors come into play when planning lighting needs. Light requirements, measured in foot-candles, vary according to the sport being played and the level of play. The smaller the ball and the faster the speed of ball movement, the greater the light level required. Lighting needs for youth programs are not as great as those for high school, college or professional-level play.

For players to track ball movement, the light level must be consistent throughout the space involved, from field level to the highest point the ball could travel. Ball visibility for spectators is an issue, too. Higher lighting levels are needed for large stadiums than small ones and for nationally televised games as compared to local TV coverage.

Chuck Lindstrom, president of Universal Sports Lighting (USL,, says, “The kind of coverage television and today’s high-tech scoreboards require is only possible because of advancements introduced by the lighting industry.”

Nik Rule, PR coordinator for Musco Lighting (, says, “Energy efficiency, maintenance and operating costs continue to be hot button issues in the industry today and can be addressed with an operating system that concentrates on more efficient light control. Spill light, glare and sky glow are issues that have been important for decades and continue to be areas of importance for end users. With proper technology and application, it’s possible to dramatically reduce the amount of spill light, glare and sky glow when lighting a field, complex or athletic area.”

To achieve this, major sports lighting suppliers have developed proprietary innovations. Within the last few years, Musco Lighting, USL, Qualite Sports Lighting (, GE Sports Lighting Systems ( and Hubbell Lighting’s Sportsliter Solutions (, have introduced multiple improvements to the various components of their lighting systems, including the lamps, reflectors or both. Other introductions focus on system control. These include the ability to constantly monitor lighting operations, track lighting usage, and make adjustments either on-site or off-site via computer or smartphone.

An ongoing issue within the lighting industry is how to deliver efficiencies and cost savings and still provide light equal to or greater than the targeted light levels throughout the life of the system. The Sports and Recreation Areas Design & Application Committee of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) issued their recommendations for this in 2001 (IES RP-6-01). These incorporate a percentage of additional light output built into the initial system capabilities to compensate for the broad range of Loss Light Factors (LLF), including the aging of the light source (luminaire), to ensure the target light levels are met long term.

Rita Harrold, IES director of technology, reports the IES Sports & Recreation RP-6 Revisions (s) 1 Committee has been reviewing those recommendations. She says, “They are preparing a draft of their recommendations which will then undergo IES internal review. We do anticipate the draft presentation will occur yet this year. When review is completed, the resulting recommendations will be posted on our website [].”

The pole issue

While lighting is the focus, the support structure is essential in providing it. The pole configuration, placement and height all impact the quality of the light and the amount of light delivered at field level. These factors are addressed early in the design process.

“Since athletic field lighting structures are often purchased as a turnkey product package, experienced structural design professionals often are not engaged by owners to review the systems purchased, including the structural supports and foundations,” says Brian Reese, vice president of the Northeast Region of ReliaPOLE Inspection Services Co. “As a result, systems have been installed that are not adequately incorporating prudent load and strength factors consistent with those found in other codes and standards that are in place to protect the safety of the general public.”

Over the past several years, more than 12 documented catastrophic failures of lighting support structures have occurred at athletic facilities around the U.S. In July 2010, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a recall for a particular manufacturer’s sports lighting pole involving approximately 2,500 structures around the country.

Since that time, a great deal of investigation of the steel poles in existing lighting systems has occurred. Faulty design, improper pole design standards, welding issues and natural weather conditions all have played a part in this investigation. Another common characteristic apparent in pole failure is stress fatigue.

Reese says, “In the U.S. today, current practices related to the proper specification, design, installation and ongoing maintenance of athletic field or other area lighting structures is very inconsistent. Some design professionals reference the International Building Code (IBC). Some reference the standards as issued by AASHTO. Still other designers rely on suggested specifications developed and prepared by individual lighting systems suppliers.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE, has formed the Athletic Field Lighting Structures Standard Committee. The committee is developing a national consensus guideline for the proper specification, design, installation and ongoing maintenance of athletic field or other similar large area lighting system support structures. Reese has been named chair of the committee. The initial meeting was held in November 2011.

The committee brings together individuals with the interest and technical capability to address the problem and develop an appropriate solution. Membership is open to all those who might reasonably be expected to be, or who indicate they are, directly affected by the activity. For further information, visit

David Brinker, vice president of engineering for Rohn Products, LLC, is a member of this committee. Rohn designs and manufactures structures for telecommunication and utility uses, as well as steel poles for sports field lighting and other applications. Brinker says, “A national standard will give facility owners the assurance that their poles are meeting a minimum standard that has been developed by ASCE and is accepted and consistently applied industrywide.” Though compliance to these standards may increase the cost of the poles utilized on sports facilities, the increased safety outweighs that cost.


LED (light-emitting diode) technology has not only reduced scoreboard operational and maintenance costs as compared to incandescent lamps; it brings greater opportunities for customization. “We’ve always offered customization in the simple things like paint color, team name and logo. We adjust digit and caption sizes for impact as well as viewing distance,” says Angela Hatton, marketing manager for Daktronics, Inc. ( “Now facilities have the ability to customize their LED color within our standard digit color options. They may want the home team’s score in red to match their school color and the visiting team’s score in amber.”

Chris Westerman, strategic product manager for Daktronics, says, “Our newest option is the white LED which produces a non-color glow. We first introduced it only for large venue installations. It’s now accessible for the smaller venues.”

For Varsity Scoreboards ( customization is in such strong demand they feature a Build-A-Board option on their website.

A trend in multisport scoreboards is the move away from vinyl captions to electronic captions. That may be spurred by cost reductions, a greater comfort level with the technology, leaner staffing due to budget cuts, or any combination of those factors, according to Westerman. He says, “The process is quick and easy. They type the code for the sport into the control console and the appropriate identification shows up.”

According to All American Scoreboards (, 99 percent of new scoreboard systems are going wireless as compared to direct-wired. When changes are needed in a wireless system, a simple software update takes just minutes to install. Fair-Play Scoreboards ( adds assurance to promotion of its wireless scoreboard control systems by offering a 100 percent guarantee.

The message board in this Nevco scoreboard on a Claremont, Calif., softball field urges the team and its fans to “Get Fired Up.”

Nevco ( introduced its intelligent caption option for outdoor scoreboards in 2011, reports Paul Peterson, marketing manager. Peterson says, “Some of our recent advancements focus on functional issues. We strengthened all of our outdoor scoreboards to stand up to 150 mph wind loads. We now install a small rubber gasket around each digit to keep out water. Our antennas have been internally mounted for many years, previously in a raintight box similar to a cable box. They are now inside the scoreboard. It’s less accessible for people that shouldn’t be tampering with it. It’s more convenient for those managing the system. The new antenna just plugs in similar to a network cable. Unplug the protective plate and plug in the antenna. It needs very little maintenance.”

All agree the hottest trend now is video. Peterson says, “That includes both the message center and the mini JumboTron. A message board can be added to nearly any existing scoreboard. Placement could vary, but it’s usually at the bottom. The bigger screen-like displays are most frequently added at the top, though they could be placed at the sides or bottom. Structural support issues must be considered for those. We’re including both features in many of our new scoreboard installations.”

This Daktronics Scoreboard tracks the action at Birdville Independent School District in Haltom City, Texas.

The same is happening at Daktronics. Hatton says, “We’re seeing strong, nationwide demand for both our message center and marquee. Sports complexes and schools at every level want that big league experience.”

Varsity Scoreboards notes its Smartronics Digital Line Advertising and Messaging Solutions, offered in varying lengths and sizes, is being incorporated in a wide range of installations.

The message center can be controlled from a laptop computer. The big screen features of live game coverage, instant replay, crowd shots and graphics require a control room setup. Peterson says, “They need multiple cameras to feed directly into a ‘switcher’ computer that displays all input views on the monitor. For instant replays, they need a ‘buffer’ (like a home DVR). Messages, images and animations can be displayed as well as the camera shots. One person is stationed at the switcher, another individual acts as the producer, keeping in radio contact with everyone involved to direct both camera shots and the image the switcher operator projects to the big screen.”

High schools are using these as a teaching tool, either as a specialized club or a video production class, according to Peterson. “Students tackle the photography, produce the graphics and animations, operate the switcher, and serve as director, developing marketable skill sets. The ability to integrate these features into the curriculum makes the cost of the scoreboard less of a factor.”

With the innovations in lighting and scoreboards already introduced, and more in varying stages of development, suppliers will continue to meet the high-tech demands of field users and spectators.

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.