The Increasing Complexities of Sports Lighting | Henderson Engineers

The Increasing Complexities of Sports Lighting

While all building types present their own unique challenges when it comes to lighting, the complexities that come with sports venues are plentiful. These facilities must balance varying league requirements, player safety, and the fan experience when considering building features such as lighting systems.

Traditionally, sports venues would feature multiple lighting systems and additional theatrical level controls to enhance the fan experience and provide lighting for an event. Things like shutters, follow spots, and other design elements were huge burdens on space consumption and added additional points of failure to venues. Facilities would also need to incorporate multiple configurations of lights to accommodate different sports or event types depending on the facility’s use.

With the greater adoption of LED lighting for venues over the last decade, many of these old stereotypes and additional equipment have been removed from the lexicon of sports lighting design. However, there are still complexities that must be addressed, especially regarding the ever-changing world of broadcast and specific sport requirements.

What Has Changed in the Sports Lighting World?

Fan experience and the requirements of broadcasters have pushed the lighting levels higher and higher. Where 100 footcandles (FC) used to meet or exceed nearly all lighting requirements for professional sports at a venue, some sports and broadcasters now require 250 FC or more. In addition, networks are requesting increased uniformities for clearer broadcasts as well as color changing, tuning, and shows for the fan experience. However, broadcasters do not want a show during an event as the show may affect the settings of the cameras. This complicates designs and what the venue operator may expect or promise to potential event promoters, which raises the question of what is more important, the broadcast or the fan experience?

Requirements vs. Requests

There are often requests from broadcasters that are not listed in league requirements. This will typically include a substantial increase in overall FC levels and prohibiting the use of a show. For example, the NCAA requires 125 FC for football, while a major broadcaster requests 200 FC or more for football. There may be an agreement between the athletic conference with the broadcaster to provide that higher level, but it is difficult to track down that information. While the focus should be on uniformity rather than a higher FC, the competitive nature of sports can extend to rivals desiring the best.

Where Are We Going?

Uniformity has been a rapidly emerging trend in sports lighting. International studies and numerous standards within IES (Illuminating Engineering Society) are being modified to reduce higher overall FC levels in favor of more uniform light. FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) has modified their requirements for the 2026 World Cup multiple times; overall FC has been reduced in favor of higher uniformities. While most existing facilities will struggle to meet these increased uniformities, it does give us backup on new facilities to push for 360 degrees of mounting locations or, at the very least, consider what the venue could be used for in the future. Not all the mounting needs to be covered with lights; it only needs to be in the appropriate locations.

Know Your Standard

IES, league, or broadcast? What should engineers design to? While this used to be a simple item to address, there are often agreements in the background that are not easily accessible. The key in design is to work with what is required. We start our designs with the most readily available requirements, the NCAA’s Best Lighting Practices. These help advise the design team on what is a great basis of design for light levels, uniformity and light placements. With the establishment of a basis of design layout we can work with the rest of the design team and end user groups to finalize controls, scenes and desired light levels. At this point, it is important to work directly with the client and end users to understand any additional site, league or broadcast agreements in place. It becomes our responsibility to help educate the client and end users about what these additional requests will be from an equipment and costs perspective.

Henderson Knows Sports Lighting

Our engineers and designers have worked on numerous premier professional and collegiate athletic venues across the country and sit on multiple IES committees to ensure we stay ahead of emerging trends and codes/standards. We aim to provide world-class venues for players, fans in the stands, and those watching on broadcasts. From courts to fields, we’ve designed sports lighting systems for a variety of sports, teams, and leagues, delivering memorable experiences for fans with programmed shows that integrate all the complexities of sports lighting systems into simple touchscreens.

Written By

Electrical Technical Manager


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