Under the Lights

You can call it progress or a restrictive economy, but there is one trend in stadium lighting that keeps contractors on their toes. Stadiums are being built faster than they ever have been, and any renovations happen in a fraction of the time they used to. The change is not so much a matter of better and more efficient construction as it is a matter of dollars and cents. Just ask stadium owners. A huge amount of capital is put aside to do the project with no money coming in until it’s complete.

With the resulting shorter deadlines, contractors have to put up the structure on a tight timeline that doesn’t allow for delays. In some parts of the country, something like weather can’t afford to be factored into the equation. Since lighting is usually one of the last features added to the stadium, it’s up to the electrical contractor to be ready to move on schedule and to move fast. If construction is behind schedule, the electrical contractor can find himself in the unenviable position of making up time. And the plans often change. An architect may change a hot dog stand to a martini bar, the number of suites may increase or lighting requirements based on league requests may change—any of which causes a ripple effect.

Stadium projects are not suitable for the majority of electrical contractors. They require enough capital or credit to purchase large amounts of equipment that then must wait for the opportunity to be installed. They also require a crew that can swell perhaps to hundreds for a short period of time.

A good relationship between contractors, project managers and manufacturers can make the difference between a successful project and major mistakes or delays. Russ Owens is the president of West Coast Design Group and chairman of the Sports Lighting Committee of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). He works with contractors on just those kinds of projects. “We as consultants do benefit from electrical contractors’ input.” That input can often be something not everyone wants to hear. “Sometimes there’s a good reason to not like a particular fixture,” he pointed out, “only an engineer who’s too proud will overlook good input.”

Stadium projects are unique in many ways, Owens said. They rely on flawless project management. Without that, mistakes happen and are often staggering. Owens recalls seeing stadium work where a conduit was needed from “point A to point B” and the electrical contractor didn’t see it because the engineer drew it in somewhere else on the pile of blueprints. “Then they’re running a surface conduit trying to correct the problem,” he said, which was a solution no one wanted.


Almost everything about stadium lighting is driven by television. Television stations have been requiring more and more lighting, and may continue to, depending on the popularity of HDTV, which is known to demand a great deal more light than regular TV. Television networks and producers don’t want viewers to see shadows shade or lighting variation as the player crosses the field. Spectators in the inexpensive seats also are better able to follow the action with a well-lit field.

The other challenge is to reduce any chance of glare to distract the players who are in the midst of all that light. Complete light uniformity or “flat light” requires a unique set of lighting.

Soldier Field

With 1.8 million square feet in floor space and over 63,000 seats and 140 suites, Soldier Field Stadium (home to the Chicago Bears) is undergoing one of the biggest stadium reconstruction projects in the United States. It presents some unique challenges for Turner Construction, the general contractor for the project, and Huen Electric, which is providing all the stadium lighting.

The stadium is the oldest still being used by an NFL team by more than 30 years. And time has taken its toll on the aging structure.

Instead of tearing it down and building a new stadium, Chicago is doing something unique. Contractors are gutting the inside of the historic building and creating a state-of-the-art, multiple-use venue. While doing this, the city intends to maintain the historical aesthetics of the park.

The stadium, as Robert Sternberg of Turner Construction pointed out, reflects the blue-collar, working-class values of Chicago and the city intends to keep that appearance while updating it to the newest technology.

Much of the stadium will be renovated or recreated to look as it did in the 1920s, when it was built.

In that interest, Huen Electric is taking down historic fixtures and lighting poles, as well as gate lights, to be restored and reinstalled. Because this is a fast-track project, Huen must work on renovating as well as new construction at once.

Project Manager Rudy Lorenz, of Huen Electric, said gate marker signs and entrance fixtures, including ornate light poles outside the stadium, would remain the same. To accomplish this, Huen is taking down each fixture, restoring and reinstalling them. They are installing thousands of new fixtures in general and support areas including all public, maintenance and food service rooms.

On the field, Huen Electric is providing over 600 event lighting fixtures on about 100 racks. They are using the latest in stadium lighting with event lighting installed on large steel racks that can ensure night game lighting that eliminates all shadows.

Huen Electric is not assembling the racks onsite. Instead, they bought lighting racks with the fixtures mounted and aimed. By skipping the task of assembling the racks, Huen Electric can keep up with the fast pace of the project. “We didn’t have to build the racks,” Lorenz explained. And although they found that (for shipping) the “preaimed” lights were mounted in the opposite direction they needed, the lights came with degree markings that allowed Huen to easily turn the fixtures and aim them properly.

The final lighting installation step involves the owner, NFL and broadcasting officials, as well as contractors, all getting together to verify lighting levels, aim and test the lights. Huen Electric and the lighting manufacturer will test the light levels at the playing field, making any necessary adjustments before the final acceptance testing takes place.

Integrated Packages

The kind of assistance Huen has gotten from its manufacturer is becoming increasingly common. Dave Shanahan of Musco Lighting has worked with contractors on some of the biggest stadium projects and has found contractors are increasingly requesting more factory assistance to light up fast-tracked projects. “They’re increasingly recognizing the value in integrated packages” he said. Musco is providing indoor lighting with more flexibility and theatrical capabilities and exotic controls and control shutters. “I have seen contractors are more willing to assign deeper levels of responsibility to others” Shanahan said.

One example is the project at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc. (home of the Green Bay Packers), where Musco furnished the platforms that support structures for the upright columns as well as the fixtures. For the electrical contractor it means fewer people to coordinate timing and helps meet deadlines.

At Lambeau, Musco was able to provide the entire catwalk structure, mount it to the vertical columns and wire it. The electrical contractor could then bring power to the platform.

Light trespassing

Fields designed for municipal games, and usually located in residential areas, require a unique form of lighting. Del Armstrong at Soft Lighting is responding a growing concern about light pollution and light trespassing. “In recreation fields the glare is a big factor.” To address that, his Pacific Northwest company makes lighting that offers a full cutoff—with no light emitted above the plane of the luminaire. The sky does not glow. “That’s become the big thing in many kinds of outdoor lighting.”

And it’s no surprise that the interest in that kind of light trespassing in growing. Amateur sports fields comprise as much as 80 percent of all sports-related lighting in the United States. Most fields are near or in residential areas and have programs that can run as late as midnight.

John Selander, vice president of design and application at IES, agreed that light trespassing awareness is increasing. Nearly every chapter of the IES works with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) based in Tucson. The IES is trying to work as cooperatively with the IDA as possible. “We’ve got IES people on IDA boards and IDA people on IES boards,” he said. The result is better lighting products and better fixtures with cut off angles. At the same time, Selander added, “I think certain over-restrictive codes would not be appropriate.” EC

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


About the Author

Claire Swedberg

Freelance Writer
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com .

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