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Lighting for sports venues: how LEDs are transforming the game

Sun Life Stadium LED lighting

Even casual sports fans remember the power outage that temporarily turned Super Bowl Sunday into Blackout Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers were mounting a rally against the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans in 2013 when the Superdome went dark for 34 minutes.

If the field had been lit with LEDs, the story that saturated media worldwide after the game might have been a little different.

Power was restored almost immediately following the outage. But the Superdome, like most sports venues, uses metal halide fixtures to light the field – and these lights take about 30 minutes to warm up. Play couldn’t resume until the lights had reached full brightness.

“Metal halide products have dominated the sports venue market for 40 years,” said Joe Casper, chief technology officer of Ephesus Lighting. * “But we’ve built a product that will transform the way we experience the games.”

In the past five years, Ephesus Lighting has quietly pioneered the world’s leading LED technology for stadiums, arenas and other sports venues. Now, the world’s best venues are turning to Ephesus to revolutionize the way we experience the games we love.

Lighting built for broadcasting

Traditional stadium lights are built to be pleasing to the human eye, but they’re not ideal for today’s TV broadcasts.

“A camera doesn’t see what a human eye sees,” said Casper. “Modern cameras pick up specific spectrums of red, blue and green and mix those colors to give us digital TV – and lighting that works for fans in the stands won’t necessarily work for fans sitting at home.”

Ultra HD (the home market version of 4K cinema) is primed for takeoff. But there’s a catch: most current sports venues cannot broadcast in Ultra HD, even with supplemental lighting.

“The lighting in these venues isn’t compatible with 4K or 8K broadcasts, but that’s where TV is headed,” said Casper. “That’s why we created a new, custom spectrum of LED light for broadcasting.”

Here’s another advantage of LEDs: because they don’t flicker, they won’t cause a potentially distracting flashing effect during slow-motion replays.

Casper and his team spent time on the ground with sports broadcast crews and used the lessons they learned to develop lighting technology around the games.

“It may be built for the camera, but humans have been starving for this technology,” said Casper.

Improving the game

LED lighting isn’t just better for the fans – it can also improve athletes’ experience.

Drivers at Weedsport Speedway, the first racetrack in America to hold races under the glow of LEDs, enjoy uniform lighting and reduced glare. Advanced lensing technology and precise pole and fixture placement ensure drivers have optimal visibility as they zoom around the track.

On a baseball diamond or hockey rink, uniform light helps players better perceive the speed of a baseball or hockey puck.

“When a ball travels through a shadow, it appears as if it’s speeding up or slowing down,” said Casper. “That’s a disadvantage to a batter who has a split second to determine the placement of the ball and whether the pitch is a fastball, curveball or slider.”

Sophisticated controls

It’s easy to take stadium lighting for granted, but great stadium lighting requires a sophisticated control system and high-speed communication. Coupling LED technology with advanced controls increases energy efficiency while lowering operating costs.

“It’s important to have all of the lights on when the ball is in play, but they don’t have to operate at full level during warm-ups, timeouts or cleanup,” said Casper. “With the flip of a switch, lights can be dropped back to 50 percent as the crowd leaves. Controls allow for significant savings.”

Advancements like RGB color changing LED lighting can enhance the in-game experience for players and fans. Using RGB lighting, for example, stadium operators can:

  • Drench the field in the colors of the home team
  • Put on a light show prior to the game or at halftime
  • Activate color chasing LED lights on the stadium’s exterior each time the home team scores
  • Create in-game promotions and activations, like turning the hockey rink pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Week
  • Better leverage relationships with sponsors by using colors and effects associated with promotions

LED lighting controls are especially useful in multisport venues, because today’s most advanced LED sports venue lighting systems can adjust color temperature tuning with the push of a button. For example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) prefers warmer light for its games, with a color temperature around 4,200K. But the National Hockey League (NHL) wants cooler light, with temperatures around 5,600K. College football stadiums may choose warmer light for graduation ceremonies than the light typically used for games.

“It’s all about creating a look and feel,” said Casper.

Energy conservation

In sports terms, LEDs are a slam-dunk: they produce more light using less energy.

“At University of Phoenix Stadium, we replaced about 780 metal halide lights with 312 LED stadium fixtures,” said Casper. “This reduced energy usage by almost 900K watts. But despite cutting the number of fixtures by more than half, we were able to double the amount of light on the field.”

The future of sports venue lighting

Sports venue lighting is both an art and a science, and it will only get better.

“When we position lights in a stadium, we’re ensuring every player has 16 different shadows,” said Casper. “When they’re on camera, it’s as if they’re in a studio. Viewers can see through athletes’ facemasks and distinguish their facial expressions, which makes fans feel closer to the game. That’s an art. But we’ve also built accelerometers and global positioning systems into our lights to ensure that every last one is positioned exactly as it should be. And that’s a science.”

Casper predicted that eventually, all major sports will be played under LEDs.

“You won’t see another stadium built without them,” he said. “LED retrofits are also a cost-effective option for existing venues. In fact, most stadiums can expect a return on investment within three years.

“When you consider the benefits to fans, viewers and players and tack on the energy savings, it’s really a no-brainer.”


*Eaton acquired Ephesus Lighting in late 2015.

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