Athletes might say that when it comes to stadium lighting, they just want to be able to see the ball in play; most spectators probably feel the same. Having clean, well-planned lighting has been, and still is, the primary concern of stadium and ballpark owners. But stadium owners are bringing up more concerns in the arena, and technology vendors, lighting engineers and contractors are learning the influence of other stadium lighting drivers: energy cost, maintenance and spillage.

Players in today’s stadium lighting business need to consider those drivers as they install lighting that owners hope will be as inexpensive and effective as possible. Thanks to technological innovations from a variety of manufacturers, the options are more varied and abundant.

“Everything is going toward saving energy,” said Jon Brooks of AE Design Group Inc., Denver. And for some, that may not be an extreme change, just more a matter of smart light planning. “They’re no longer willing to blast the heck out of the field with light. They’ve learned that’s not the way to do it.”

Some of the changes involve more energy-efficient lighting for both indoor and outdoor use and even lower foot-candles. Stadium designers have found light levels can come down in some areas without affecting the quality of play for the athletes.

Lighting manufacturers are exploring a more balanced approach between the competing needs of broadcast television and facility owners that are hoping to bring down lighting costs. In the past, according to Ken Cornett, director, Hubbell Lighting Inc., SportsLiter Solutions, the broadcast TV image dictated the lighting design.

“Broadcasters often drove the lighting design, requiring high vertical foot-candles, sometimes to the detriment of the players with glare,” he said. “The broadcasters love to catch a player’s expression after a big play.” They also like to light up the audience to televise celebrities.

Today’s cameras are able to work with less lighting. “Cameras are getting better and better,” Brooks said. They can work below the 100-foot-candle level, he said, although professional sports still may require more. And smart lighting that ensures illumination from several sides avoids excessive shadows, which further lets lighting be reduced.

Diverging from the needs of the broadcasters, stadium owners are driving a movement toward lower lighting. One example is the NBA’s L.A. Lakers, which is advertising its “Lights Out” campaign at the Staples Center and throughout the city. The campaign includes a move to darken the seating area. Lighting installers who can refocus the lights, so that they are more on the court instead of the entire arena, will strike a better balance.

Be courteous to your neighbors

With the attention light pollution has been receiving lately, light spillage is becoming more of an issue. It is especially a problem for the smaller recreational areas, where a ball field may share a neighborhood with private homes, and games are played nightly. Parking lot lighting often comes with shields built into the shoebox fixtures to ensure excessive lighting doesn’t pool into someone’s home window.

Sports facility managers want their fields smoothly lit to the specified light levels, with minimum light trespass on neighboring properties, said Dan Dwyer, VP of sales and administration, Qualite, Hillsdale, Mich.

“It is important for them to reduce energy consumption from the use of the high-wattage HID lamps that most manufacturers currently utilize,” he said. “So, the goal for manufacturers has been and will continue to be to design systems that are the most efficient, so that fewer fixtures are required to illuminate athletic fields.”

Most manufacturers have relied on some technological advancement from lamp and ballast suppliers to improve the light output from their reflectors. Beyond that, Dwyer said, “Great efficiency gains will be achieved if and when a high-wattage electronic ballast is made available to the industry.”

With all the concern of energy consumption, maintenance and excess glare aside, the main priority for every stadium or other sports lighting project still is a well-lit ballgame, Brooks said. But that includes keeping all the light where it is supposed to be: on the field.

“The owner wants the field lit well,” he said. As a lighting designer, “It’s my job to ensure they get good light levels without shooting light in every direction,” he said, adding that he must make certain that the light is installed and operates with as much efficiency as possible.

Light spillage is affecting not only small neighborhood fields, but larger venues can install new technologies to offset the problems. For instance, GE Ultra Sport floodlights are in use at stadiums such as Denver’s Coors Field and the Bradley Arena in Milwaukee. Their optical design includes a primary and secondary reflector, which provides an oval light design that minimizes wasted light and spillage.

Not all sports lighting takes place in stadiums, however, and the same concerns apply at parks and recreation fields and tennis courts—low energy cost and low light spillage. In smaller sports applications, HID lighting, such as Stonco’s Paraflood Series, offers floodlight technology with flexible aiming for general purpose uses in smaller fields. Similarly, the Stonco FloodPak can be surface mounted in various positions, with little light spill.

Lighting integration

Of course, once installed, someone has to operate the lighting system. Lighting integration offers a number of benefits to large-venue lighting. Stadium managers want to reduce their energy consumption by making the operation of stadium lights an easier option. What better way than remote control?

Square D/Schnieder Electric recently completed a survey that showed the growing interest in Web-based and integrated lighting controls. While 35 percent of stadium owners were seeking lighting integration in 2005, the number increased to 44 percent in 2007. With Web-based systems, the percentage in the same amount of time has gone from 29 to 43 percent.

“There’s been a shift,” said Scott Jordan, Square D lighting marketing control manager. Like so many other technologies, stadium lighting is finding its way onto the Web.

There are other integrated solutions, as well. Vendors provide wireless solutions, including some with mesh networks such as Zigbee. Zero-energy switches have no connection to a power source, and simply touching the device provides enough pressure to generate a signal to activate lighting controls. The device is small enough and requires no power source, so it can be carried around in a manager’s pocket.

Stadium owners want the flexibility of using remote controls for monitoring usage of facilities, Dwyer said. This allows athletic directors and parks and recreation managers to turn off and on lights, preprogram a sporting event and perform routine maintenance checks for multiple fields by simply using a computer or phone. Qualite offers a system called Request that can be programmed to give cities or schools that have tennis courts, basketball courts and batting cages the ability to illuminate these facilities by permitting a user to punch a keypad with a prepaid personal identification number (PIN).

All about energy

With all these innovations, it’s still hard to overstate stadiums’ interest in energy savings. Today, Jordan said he often is told a facility is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status, something that was uncommon a few years ago.

Increasingly, utilities and energy service providers also are looking for agreements with stadiums to reduce energy consumption and to quickly free up the grid at times when capacity reaches maximum. They offer favorable rates for those pledging to decrease their demand.

“All over the country, energy marketers are signing up with customers with large pieces of property,” Jordan said.

When games are underway, little can be done, but when the game is over, stadiums are seeking ways to dim or turn off lights that are secondary when necessary.

“With early systems, electricians were running around turning off the switches,” Jordan said. “Now, systems are smarter and networked to a central station.” For those doing the maintenance, “these types of situations are really pretty simple. A click of the mouse, and the lights come on and off.”

Supplied and manufactured

Lighting efficiency has divided the manufacturers into two camps, however, when it comes to what technology can and cannot provide. Musco Sports Lighting, Oskaloosa, Iowa, sells a low-energy-consumption package known as Light-Structure Green. First released in 2005, it uses less energy from the onset. It starts at a designated lumen level, which can be the minimum of recommended lumens, according to the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America’s (IESNA) guidelines, and it is designed to stay there. Most sports lighting products are sold at higher lumens to accommodate the gradual lamp depreciation, which brings that lumen level to the minimum recommended. By contrast, Musco’s Constant Light feature is designed to boost wattage to the lamp at periodic intervals to ensure the light level remains steady as the lamp ages.

There are critics of this system, however, among Musco’s competitors and others in the lighting industry.

“Musco Lighting has created their own standard that does not follow IESNA-recommended design guidelines,” Dwyer said, claiming Musco simply cannot achieve that minimum level as the lamp ages. Instead, he said such technology “lowered the bar,” and now end-users are receiving less light than the acknowledged experts in the industry recommend. He recommends contractors ensure customers and specifiers choose manufacturers that follow the IESNA’s design guidelines.

IESNA Sports Lighting Committee member Tom Lemons, TLA-Lighting Consultants Inc., Salem, Mass., argued that the “constant-light” feature does not take into consideration a possible supply-voltage drop, lamp lumen maintenance reductions, dirt depreciation and lamp outage light loss.

As an alternative, he said, HID electronic ballasts for lamp wattage up to 750 watts, and 1,000-watt electronic ballasts are becoming available.

“The 1,500- to 2,000-watt lamps used for sports lighting are in the works and will probably be available in 2008,” Lemons said. These electronic ballasts provide a 15 to 25 percent increase in the HID lamp efficacy, making them more energy efficient. The electronic ballasts can be designed to provide dimming by 30 to 50 percent, which is all that is required to design a true “constant-light” system.

Musco, which specializes in outdoor stadium lighting as well as indoor arena lighting, asserts its system works, keeping the lumen level steady throughout the life of the lamp.

“There is some fluctuation in there of 5 percent,” said Jeff Rogers, Musco vice president of sales. The key point, however, is energy savings. “The invention of our products has reduced energy required to light a stadium by 50 percent,” Rogers said.

Today’s Musco products come preassembled, making installation simpler, and they also come with Control Link, a Web-based monitoring system that allows Musco to respond from its central office automatically to problems at the site in the event that lights are not operating properly. It also offers scheduling, turns lights on and off and can be programmed via the Internet.

In that vein, the installation process is becoming more straightforward. Today’s stadium lights arrive at the construction site assembled, pre-aimed and ready for installation, saving the contractor excessive time, Rogers said.

With operation becoming easier, manufacturers are improving maintenance. Qualite offers a maintenance diagnostic system (MDS) that allows installers and end-users to determine the cause of a lamp failure (either a defective lamp, ballast, capacitor or fuses) with a device that can be plugged in at a ballast box located about 10 feet above grade, instead of at the top of the pole.

Lamp suppliers are working on improving the rated lamp life of their products. Most 1,500-watt lamps have 3,000-hour lives, which means a group lamp change usually is required in most manufacturers’ extended warranties.

And, according to Dwyer, more lighting work may be coming.

“We have seen recent signs of the availability of funding for schools and municipalities to purchase sports lighting systems during an otherwise off-year for the industry. Component suppliers have improved their products,” he said. EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.