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Modern Sports Lighting Makes the Magic Come Alive

Welcome Back to Nights Under the Lights

MLB opening day took place last week, and already one thing is clear: no matter who wins it all this season, it’s great to be back under the lights for America’s favorite pastime.  There’s magic in the game, and there’s an unmatched thrill that takes place every time a bat hits a ball.

Part of that thrill comes from the atmosphere of a Major League Baseball game, from the crowds and mascots, the coaches and players, the vendors, the smells, and the sounds and music that can only be experienced in a ballpark.  There is nothing else like it.

For many fans of baseball and other sports as well, that magic atmosphere begins and ends with the lighting.  The vivid illumination that comes from dozens of high bay or pole-mounted stadium, arena, or gymnasium lights does more to create the unique atmosphere of a modern sporting event than anything else.

(Don’t believe us?  Hang around till they turn off the lights and you’ll see for yourself: the party really is over.)

What? “Play Ball” at Night? 

Sports lighting has naturally evolved over the years, along with the experiences imparted to athletes and spectators.  While the earliest stadium lighting represented a big step forward at the time, our standards have evolved with the technology, and most professional sporting events today would be canceled if early sports lighting technology was suddenly all that was available.

Still, in the first days of stadium lighting, the novelty was more important than foot-candle measurements.  After all, with the advent of night games, more people were finally able to attend when their workday was done.

Back in 1935, when Cincinnati Red’s owner Powel Crosley, Jr. spent $50,000 to install electric lights and promote night games, folks thought he was crazy.  However, when the Reds saw their average attendance explode from 3,000 fans to 20,000, it wasn’t long until other teams followed Crosley’s lead.

Lighting at sports fields changed the game forever, allowing for night games and larger audiences for teams.
Source: iStock

Today’s sports lighting technology bears little resemblance to the lights that charmed fans back in 1935.  However, every age has its own magic and by the middle of the 20th century, sports fans knew they were seeing the game like never before.

As for us, when we watch games the way they play them in the 21st century, we are looking at sporting events that are completely washed in cool, bright, energy-efficient light, with no dark zones or blinking bulbs to distract the eye.  Well, at least we do if our stadium, arena, gymnasium, tennis court, or natatorium of choice has made the switch to LED.

All the Best Sports Lighting is LED

Just for a moment, let’s not discuss the fact that arenas and stadiums usually save 60-70% on energy costs when they switch to LED lighting.  For now, let’s just talk about why LED lighting is the perfect sports lighting option for venues of all sizes hosting every type of indoor or outdoor event.

First off, LED light fixtures are not as fragile as legacy metal halide and mercury vapor units.  Because LEDs are more rugged, they stand up to the elements better, and can even withstand the occasional foul ball.  

Next, LED provides superior light quality, with fewer flickers and inconsistencies across an array of similar fixtures.  Solid-state LED lighting provides consistent illumination exactly where it needs to be and nowhere else, with variable brightness and color options available for custom tuning.

See a before and after of an LED lighting upgrade on this tennis court project. Notice the difference?
Source: FSG Media

For those responsible for maintaining the lighting at arenas and stadiums, the extended lifespan of LED lighting is a particular plus.  After all, 50,000 hours is a really long time to not have to do something.

Finally, the 15- to 20-minute start-up times associated with legacy lighting technology really seem antiquated when compared to the instant on/off functionality of LED.  This may be purely a psychological benefit, but how many times have you wondered during that warm-up period, “Are they going to make it all the way this time?” 

As you can see, the benefits of LED lighting for sporting venues are obvious.  So now let us talk about different types of sporting venues, and about how for every type of venue there’s an LED solution.

Lighting for Gymnasiums

Close your eyes and imagine the sound of squeaky sneakers on a hardwood floor.  Maybe you hear cheerleaders or deafening horns blowing from time to time.  You’re in a gymnasium.

Now open your eyes and try not to see those two high bay lights with the burned-out bulbs.  Don’t look at the one fixture over the home team’s bench that keeps flickering.  (Is that a bad mojo?)

This gym needs LED lighting that suits the needs of the space.  Gymnasiums typically require a large number of high bay lights, and the configuration of most gyms leads to dark corners and out-of-the-way places behind structural members or grandstands.

For some gymnasiums, LED strip lighting or wall pack lighting is a good idea to supplement the high bay lights and illuminate all the areas behind stages or within corridors.

Installing LED lighting in Gymnasiums allows for much greater control and savings for facility managers
Source: FSG Media

An important note to remember about gymnasiums is that in some parts of the country at certain times of the year, the local gym can be uncomfortably hot.  With HVAC systems straining to keep up with the load, cool LED lighting makes a dramatic difference in HVAC costs on top of the energy savings associated with the lights themselves.

Not Just Basketball Gyms

When we talk about gymnasiums, we are not just talking about the big barn-like structures where the local high school or college team dribbles and shoots.  Other types of gyms need great lighting, too.

Athletic centers, fitness clubs, hockey rinks, equestrian centers, tennis courts, and racquetball courts all require great lighting to maximize the experience and promote safety for people who use the facility.  (Heck, even putt-putt golf courses would benefit from some fantastic LED lighting.)

This aquatics center looks much better under LED lighting than HID
Source: FSG Media

Gymnasium LED lighting can have a huge impact on player performance, and can dramatically improve the viewing experience for those watching the action.  For facility owners who rely on subscription memberships, holding on to bad lighting is one way to watch your members walk out the door and never return.

When you talk to one of the lighting experts at FSG, you’ll find out about optimal light levels, color temperatures, preferred lighting distribution, mounting heights that deliver the best results, and even the shape of lighting fixtures that work best for your facility.

Choosing the Right Light for your Gym

Most gyms require a combination of high- and low-ceiling lighting options.  For large open spaces such as basketball courts, high bay LED lights deliver superior efficiency, low wattage usage, and illumination that is clear and bright.  Best of all, modern high bay lighting can be outfitted with motion sensors that automatically dim lighting levels after a preset amount of time has expired with no activity in the area.  

For areas with lower ceilings, such as fitness centers or health clubs, high lumen output is not as important.  In these areas the emphasis shifts to sleek fixtures that compliment the interior design and architecture of the space while delivering customized light temperatures at variable levels.

Lighting for Stadiums and Outdoor Fields

For most facility managers responsible for the operation and maintenance of stadiums and other outdoor sporting venues, lights and lighting maintenance have historically presented an ongoing, tedious chore.  These folks carried keyrings that opened storerooms full of ladders, ballasts, and bulbs, and their office desks usually featured a Rolodex full of the names of expensive contractors that could come out on a moment’s notice.

As more and more outdoor facilities transition to LED, these sad days of neverending lighting maintenance are finally coming to an end.  But before an outdoor sporting venue decides to flip the switch in favor of LED, what do they need to know about the different specifications for outdoor LED lights?

After all, quality LED lighting supports more than just the game being played on the field.  Great lighting leads to great video and photography, too, and supports broadcasts of events hosted at your site.

So, when choosing the right lighting for your outdoor venue, here are the most important considerations to keep in mind:

1. Wide Beam Angle

Stadium luminaires need to have a wide beam angle to cover a large surface area.  The goal of proper stadium lighting design is to completely illuminate the entire playing field in a way that promotes player and spectator visibility.

2. High Color Rendering

Stadium luminaires that feature a high color rendering index value provide better clarity on the field and throughout the stadium, improving the experience for players and fans alike.

Video production and photography, in particular, benefit from the accurate color rendering provided by LED luminaires.  The images just seem to “pop” more vividly when the venue features LED lighting.

Understanding Color Rendering Index (CRI) and finding high CRI lighting is important for your product to look good
Source: FSG Media

3. Proper Horizontal and Vertical Illuminance Ratio

On the field of play, horizontal illuminance creates a stable visual “background” that serves to highlight different athletes and objects.  Vertical illuminance refers to the amount of light falling on a vertical plane, in this case from the ground up.  

For high-quality video production of a sporting event, and for the maximum spectator experience, lighting that delivers a proper ratio between horizontal and vertical illuminance is preferred.

4. Shadow Prevention

When stadium lighting comes from only one direction, shadows appear on the field.  This is why ideal stadium lighting features light sources spaced evenly around the venue.

5. Glare Reduction

Nobody likes glare but in a stadium, nobody hates it more than the athletes on the field.  Tied for second place are the spectators and camera operators trying to watch and record the game.

Glare reduction is a built-in advantage delivered by LED lighting.  When compared to legacy lighting technologies, LED delivers eye-saving results and better experiences for everyone at the stadium.

6. Steady, Flicker-Free Lighting

Legacy lighting technology is often known for the flickering quality of the light provided.  These flickers can distract players and fans alike and are especially challenging for photographers and videographers.

Kingwood Country Club Tennis Court Video Case Study
Source: FSG Media

7. Overall Lighting Uniformity

In our high-definition age, we have grown accustomed to stunning images of incredible clarity.  On the field of a sports stadium, this clarity is achieved when the proper lighting is applied with uniformity.

Players, fans, and all those working the event can clearly see every person or object on the field equally, with no “soft” areas or zones with compromised visibility.  

Let’s Not Forget About Safety

Whether we are talking about athletes, spectators, or employees working at an event, consistent, well-designed lighting is crucial to the safety of everyone in attendance.  With rugged, dependable LED lighting, this safety is more assured.

Also, remember that serious athletes are often famous for their superhuman abilities to run, jump, and leap.  Those athletes’ grandparents or toddler children, on the other hand, might struggle with the steps and ramps found in most sporting venues.

READ: UNT Stadium Case Study

All facility owners understand the importance of safety for the customers who visit their venues.  As such, excellent LED lighting is a must when providing the peak level of prevention that helps spectators and venue employees avoid trips and falls.

FSG – The First-Round Pick for Sports Lighting

For new facility construction, and especially for existing facility lighting retrofits, FSG is the star player for your team.  At branches located across the country, FSG has the lighting designers, the products, the technicians, and the follow-through your next sports lighting project needs most.

Your one-call turnkey solution begins when you reach out to FSG about the challenges you are having with your current stadium, arena, gymnasium, or mixed-use athletic facility lighting.  In every market we serve and regardless of the specific type of lighting project we undertake, FSG always provides One Service: we deliver lasting value to our customers

If all you have is a question about the lighting at a sports venue you operate or manage, we encourage you to reach out today.  When you do, we will guide you through your options and help you make a plan that accurately addresses your particular lighting needs.

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