Expert Insights on the Planning & Design Phases of LED Sports Lighting Projects

Expert Insights on the Planning & Design Phases of LED Sports Lighting Projects

In the realm of sports infrastructure, the spotlight is firmly on lighting. It’s not just about illuminating the field anymore; it’s about optimizing player performance and elevating the spectator experience. As the industry leans more towards sustainable and efficient solutions, LED sports lighting is taking center stage. However, the journey from selection to installation is not without its hurdles.

To navigate these challenges, we brought together a panel of seasoned experts for an in-depth roundtable discussion. Representing some of the leading LED sports lighting companies in the United States, these professionals offer a blend of hands-on experience and forward-thinking insights. Our goal? To provide a roadmap for those looking to embark on their own LED sports lighting journey.

This is first episode of our two-part roundtable expert conversation. In this article our panelists provide comprehensive insights into the planning and design phases of LED sports lighting projects. This discussion is crafted to cater to a wide audience, be it an athletic director of a high school or college contemplating a lighting revamp or a facility manager eager to delve deeper into the nuances of modern sports infrastructure.

Dive in with us as we explore the challenges, solutions, and the promising horizon of LED sports lighting in the modern athletic landscape.

Second part: Roundtable Discussion: LED Sports Lighting Installation and Maintenance Best Practices

Kick Off Your LED Sports Lighting Project

We’ve created a comprehensive set of tools designed to assist facility managers and project planners in initiating their projects and connect them with the professionals in the industry.

Meet the Panel

Our discussion on LED sports lighting is enriched by the expertise of our selected panelists. 

Let’s introduce our distinguished experts:

  • Bill Smith, GeoSport Lighting
  • Max Bartlett, GameDay Lighting
  • Colton Quinn, Impact Sport Lighting
  • Carter Sokolowski, Sportsbeams

Navigating the Planning Phase

What are the key factors to consider when assessing the lighting needs of a sports facility?


Max Bartlett (GameDay Lighting): When we first meet with a customer, we want to figure out what their current light levels are and what they’re expecting out of the upgrade. I think there are some standards written about what light levels should be, but based on what they have, those don’t always meet what they need. So the conversation usually starts with, “What are your maintenance costs right now, and where are you trying to get to?” So those are what we focus on first, and then we build our proposals off of that. It’s easier for us to design a few options, starting with a high-end option, all the way down to, “Here’s just an energy savings switch into LED option for you as well,” so that’s usually how we start those conversations. Every sport is different. When we focus on tennis, we pay significant attention to glare, the location of the lights, their direction, their height, and their brightness. This is crucial because players frequently look up, especially when serving, and experience a lot of fast-paced movement. They don’t want any excuses for a light obstructing their view of the tennis ball. In contrast, baseball involves the ball flying high in the air, necessitating a lot of uplight and well-lit areas to ensure everything is visible. I grew up playing baseball, so I know firsthand that if there are dark areas on the field, you can easily lose sight of the ball. I was an outfielder, so lighting was definitely crucial. Football is similar in that you need to light everything very evenly, but glare isn’t as critical since players aren’t looking up as often. So, these are factors that we walk through, explaining why you need to do this versus that based on your sport.

Carter Sokolowski (Sportsbeams): The most important factor to consider when beginning your research into any sports facility lighting project is the level of play. Basic requirements for every facility are typically dictated by the levels of competition taking place. In most cases, recreational fields require lower light levels than high school, college, and professional fields. If you are renovating a pre-existing facility, it is also necessary to evaluate what is already in place. You may be able to reuse the existing infrastructure (poles, catwalks, etc.), as well as the existing wiring and controls. However, it’s also possible that you may need to replace the entire system based on your lighting goals or due to wear and tear on what’s currently on site.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): When it comes to sports facilities, lighting plays a crucial role in creating a safe and enjoyable environment for players and spectators alike. To design the right lighting system, you need to assess the size and layout of your facility, the type of sports played, and the level of competition. Other key factors to consider include energy efficiency, maintenance requirements, and cost-effectiveness. By taking a strategic approach to your lighting design, you can create a well-lit facility that enhances player performance, reduces the risk of injury, and provides an optimal viewing experience for fans.

What are the key factors to consider when setting a realistic budget for an LED sports lighting project?


Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): Budgeting correctly for your next sport lighting project is key to a happy and successful project. It’s crucial to conduct a thorough analysis of your lighting needs and the implementation process. There are several categories to take into consideration, including pole requirements, luminaire density, and controls. By understanding these factors, you can set realistic project goals and determine an appropriate budget. It’s important to ensure that your budget reflects the specific needs of your project so that you can achieve optimal lighting results for your sports field or facility.

Carter Sokolowski (Sportsbeams): Ultimately, it’s crucial to define your lighting goals, understand the level of play that will occur in your project, and consider the long-term prospects of the facility. If your ambitions are high, your budget will need to align with your intentions. The level of play occurring on the field may necessitate a larger budget, or it could cost less than anticipated due to the need for lower lighting levels.Should your goal be to maintain the facility in good condition for at least a decade without significant changes, investing more upfront in a reliable product and manufacturer might be worthwhile. Opting for a supplier that offers an extremely inexpensive product with only a 5-year warranty could end up being more troublesome and costly over time than initially expected.

Max Bartlett (GameDay Lighting): The biggest factor that needs to be taken into account is whether to use the existing poles or to install new ones; this is a major expense and is structurally crucial to the project. We’ve talked with many customers who want to use their existing poles and just change the lights to LED. However, sometimes those poles have been standing for 60 years, and they could potentially fall, which is a huge factor that could change their budget, potentially doubling it. So, the first thing we start with is: Is it safe? And do you need new poles? The next option to consider is light levels. What kind of light do they need on their field? We look at the foot-candle readings. Do they want to light a track and a field, or just a field? This doesn’t have as significant an impact on the budget; it just adds a few fixtures here and there or adjusts the wattage up or down. But the next factor is determining the required light levels on their field. I think, finally, after that, we consider more design factors. Do they want to comply with dark sky regulations? Do they want to minimize light spill? Are they located in a neighborhood, and do we need to keep the neighbors happy? They might also want to light the parking lot. We can offer visors, lenses, and different aiming techniques, too, which we can add to the budget as well. So, we start with the big issues that could make or break their budget and then work our way down to the fine details after that.

What should facility managers prioritize when selecting a sports lighting vendor for their project?


Carter Sokolowski (Sportsbeams): Quality should be your top priority. It’s crucial to thoroughly research the technology, dependability, experience, and reputation of the vendor you choose, as well as the prestige of the projects on which their products have been utilized. There’s nothing more disheartening than a facility manager opting for a suspiciously cheap product, only to encounter performance issues almost immediately. If you’re investing time and money in a sports lighting project, don’t compromise. You don’t want to find yourself back at square one, regretting your choice of vendor. Additionally, make sure to assess everything the vendor offers, including their approach to the bidding process and their communication style. Choose a vendor who demonstrates professionalism and attention to detail, ensuring your project meets your lighting goals and providing you with a reliable partner throughout the installation’s lifecycle and beyond.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): Lighting in the sports space has developed a trajectory like the tech industry. New innovations in the sports lighting market create a moving target as it relates to long-term support. We use non-proprietary electoral components to support the sport lighting system ensuring serviceability and immediate action at game critical times. Selecting a sport lighting partner that takes longevity factors into account during system development should be a top priority. LED diodes can have lifespans of more than 150,000 hours; your electrical components that support the diodes should be interchangeable and easily accessed for all the years of play to come. Durability is key for sports lighting systems, which must withstand harsh outdoor conditions and frequent use.


What role do local regulations and standards play in planning an LED sports lighting project?


Carter Sokolowski (Sportsbeams): Understanding local regulations and standards of play is crucial as you embark on your sports lighting research. Different levels of play necessitate varying lighting standards, as outlined in the latest IES sports lighting guide. Local regulations in each town and city must be taken into account for any lighting project. It is paramount to manage spill light—the amount of light measured at the property line—and ensure it remains below a certain level, as dictated by local regulations. Additionally, you may be required to adhere to a specific maximum pole height to prevent any impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): The goal is to live and play harmoniously in the place you call home, ensuring your lighting system is considerate of those off the field as much as on the field. Your Sport Lighting Partner should consider things like light spill, pole height restrictions, and hours of operation limitations. Using advanced optical design and lighting controls can eliminate a number of these concerns in the planning phase. Detailed and comprehensive Photometric simulations should accompany every proposal consideration; these photometric simulations should show complete site inclusion and off-site lighting calculations. Impact researches and compiles all governing body requirements and recommendations for every project from National Lighting guidelines to next door neighbor concerns.

What are some common pitfalls to avoid in the planning phase?


Bill Smith (GeoSport Lighting): Many field managers assume that HID and LED design characteristics are interchangeable. Having experience or expertise in the HID systems market does not necessarily translate to the LED systems market. The digital lighting world offers superior design capabilities and is drastically different from the design concepts used in the obsolete HID marketplace. In some cases, managers believe it is necessary to replace existing cross arms or poles to upgrade to LED lighting. This is not the case. The best LED systems in the world can be installed on existing poles and cross arms, regardless of the previous supplier of the HID system. These retrofits drastically reduce the upfront cost and allow a far better return on investment for the owner.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): Understanding not all lighting is created equal is a common issue we face. Selecting a lighting professional that has extensive knowledge of Light and Fixture design will ensure you can make educated selections with designs backed by professionals. Your sport lighting partner should be able to provide extensive photometric simulations developed in industry standardized software. Planning for an overall scope should be fully evaluated and account for all phases of the project. When performing a new construction site proper planning and permitting is mandatory, if you are upgrading an existing site completing a comprehensive infrastructure review can be the difference between hassle-free or change order after change order as new issues are discovered.

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Best Practices for the Design Phase

How do you determine the optimal number and placement of fixtures?

Max Bartlett (GameDay Lighting): This is a structural issue, whether to start with existing poles or not. Sometimes, when using existing poles, we need to consider smaller fixtures with less wind drag. If we’re installing new poles, we can usually opt for larger fixtures to get more light on the field. So, the first consideration is the size and wattage of the fixture, which actually plays into the light distribution ratio across the field. More fixtures mean fewer shadows, so if you can reduce the wattage of the fixtures and install more of them, you can achieve better, even distribution. On the other hand, using fewer fixtures with higher wattage can create what I call “hot spots.” You can factor in beam angles and light spreads to avoid that, and that’s part of the engineering. But these are conversations that need to be had. Based on those factors, we also need to consider glare, pole position, and what we are lighting. Lighting multifield baseball complexes versus a football field requires completely different aiming and fixture calculations. So, all of these factors play into the decision-making process.

Carter Sokolowski (Sportsbeams): After determining the level of play and lighting objectives, we offer a comprehensive photometric analysis, showcasing the necessary fixture count to achieve the required light levels, as well as the placement of poles and direction of the fixtures. It is crucial that the vendors are specialists in their domain, capable of devising a plan that alleviates any additional burden from you. Always take into account not just the quantity of light on the field, but also its evenness and uniformity, to guarantee the project appears as optimal as possible, free from hot spots or dark areas.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): When it comes to determining the optimal number and placement of sport light fixtures, there are several key factors to consider. These include the size and shape of the playing surface, the specific sport being played, the desired level of illumination, Glare zone improvements for players and spectators, and proper pole specification to maximize the efficiency and impact of the light generated. A professional lighting design team will take all of these factors into account, using advanced software and modeling tools to create a custom lighting plan that meets your unique needs. By working with experienced sports lighting professionals training in photometric analysis, you can ensure that your sports facility is properly lit for optimal performance and safety, while also minimizing energy costs and reducing environmental impact.

What are the key elements in designing for uniform light distribution and minimal glare?

Bill Smith (GeoSport Lighting): Uniformity is king when reviewing photometric (lighting layout) designs. Uniformity refers to the “smoothness of the light” over the surface and involves measuring corresponding points of light to eliminate hotspots or dark spots. High wattage fixtures are not a positive, especially on smaller fields. For example, if a baseball infield needs 5000 watts of light to meet necessary light levels, installing two 2500-watt fixtures or four 1250-watt fixtures is not an optimum design strategy. By installing eight 600-watt fixtures, the design team is given more aiming angles to better distribute light. Additionally, if you experience a fixture failure with low fixture counts, the light on the field is drastically impacted, as opposed to a design that utilizes designs with more points of light distribution. 

Max Bartlett (GameDay Lighting): The photometric analysis will reflect that, showcasing a 3D model before we initiate the installation, indicating the expected light levels. Following the completion of the project, I personally conduct a walk-through with a handheld light meter to measure the light levels. I take several readings at different points across the field to ensure that we have achieved the minimum foot-candle level we guaranteed to the customer. For instance, if we promised 50 foot-candles, I ensure that no area falls below that, and that the average across the field meets the 50 foot-candle requirement. This is how we guarantee and verify our work. While there may be variables and unforeseen factors, this hands-on approach ensures we meet our commitments and verify the light levels on site.

Carter Sokolowski (Sportsbeams): Key considerations include the mounting height of the fixtures, their directional aim, and the number of fixtures utilized. To prevent undesirable dark spots, it is frequently beneficial to opt for a greater quantity of fixtures, paired with a sufficiently strategic aiming plan to eliminate any potential hot spots.When it comes to controlling glare, the quality of technology is paramount. Our product employs a single glass optic, devoid of any plastics in the light path, ensuring a consistent and optimally distributed beam of light to minimize glare. Vendors of lower quality are notorious for producing excessive glare, negatively impacting both players and spectators.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): When designing uniform sport light distribution with minimal glare, there are a few key elements to keep in mind. First, the placement of fixtures is crucial for achieving even lighting across the playing surface. Second, the type of optics used in the fixtures will determine the direction and spread of light. Finally, glare can be reduced through the use of shields or louvers on the fixtures themselves. By taking these elements into account, you can ensure that your sport lighting design is both functional and visually comfortable for players and spectators alike.

How can LED sports lighting technology enhance the fan experience in stadiums and arenas?


Carter Sokolowski (Sportsbeams): At the end of the day, you want your sporting or entertainment event to create memories and provide the best possible fan experience each time you bring people together. LED sports lighting technology has advanced significantly, enabling show-stopping performances while still offering the highest quality lighting for the playing surface, something athletes will surely appreciate. Red, green, blue, and white (RGBW) lighting has revolutionized the industry. You now have access to 2 million different colors for lighting effects and performances beyond your imagination, all while illuminating the playing surface to the highest standard. Our specific product has illuminated professional sports stadiums and arenas nationwide, with each fixture having RGBW capabilities, eliminating the need for additional fixtures solely for providing color. With the advent of RGBW LED technology, you experience the lights, not just see them.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): When upgrading your stadium or arena with LED sports lighting technology, enhancing the fan experience comes standard with Impact. We build fan experience capabilities into every fixture, the level of control can be tailored to fit your space and improve venue potential with the press of a button. LED lighting can improve visibility and create a more immersive atmosphere for fans. Selecting the proper system for your venue ranges from wired to wireless, individual fixture control to pre-programmed simplicity, allowing for a unique game-day experience that will keep fans engaged and entertained. Impacts dedication to consistent color temperature and flicker-free fixture operation creates a repeatable lighting solution for spectators both in the stands or on screen. Customizable solutions implement a unique and memorable impact for your fans week after week. Inclusion of RGB(W) lighting into your High Color rendering index system can bring team colors to life and further cement your fandom.


What are some common pitfalls to avoid in the design phase?


Bill Smith (GeoSport Lighting): When exploring lighting, especially in complexes and smaller venues, lower wattage fixtures that allow more aiming angles in the design create superior uniformity and lighting performance. If a design is presented that offers low fixture counts with high wattage fixtures, you immediately know uniformities will suffer due to limited lighting distribution points, and an outage on any single fixture will hamper the ability to continue activities at the facility. The well-versed manager should demand multiple lighting distribution points, which in turn guarantees maximum uniformities and performance.

Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): When designing a sport lighting project, there are several common pitfalls that you should avoid. One of the most prevalent mistakes is failing to define the scope of the project. This can lead to scope creep, where the project expands beyond the original plan and budget. Another issue is not involving stakeholders early enough in the design process, which can result in misaligned expectations. Additionally, neglecting to consider the end user’s needs can lead to a product that is difficult to use and ultimately fails. By avoiding these pitfalls and involving all necessary stakeholders early in the process, your project will have a better chance of success.

How do you integrate energy-saving features like dimming and sensors into the design?


Colton Quinn (Impact Sport Lighting): The sport lighting system should incorporate advanced lighting controls options that are optimized for your site. Your sport lighting partner should have detailed conversations with you about the use of your space, offering play specific scenes such as a practice scene dimming all lights to 50%. Using Play specific scenes in daily operations can reduce your energy usage throughout the system’s life. Incorporating system time constraints and user accessible interfaces can eliminate the need for constant illumination when the site is not in use. Advanced lighting controls can incorporate motion sensing or daylight harvesting options to eliminate unwanted operation of the system. Using facility wide control strategies that can include High- or Low-level trimming, Continuous Dimming, Zone Level control, Advanced 365 scheduling, User set-preference and occupant profiles, and Event and Astronomical scheduling adaptations are just a few of the tactics Impact employs to implement energy savings into every project.

Kick Off Your LED Sports Lighting Project

We’ve created a comprehensive set of tools designed to assist facility managers and project planners in initiating their projects and connect them with the professionals in the industry.


Navigating through the planning and design phases of LED sports lighting installation is a complex task, as emphasized by our expert panelists. These initial stages require meticulous attention to detail and a deep understanding of the project’s requirements.

The consensus among the experts is clear: partnering with experienced sports lighting companies is invaluable. Their extensive knowledge of the planning and design processes can significantly contribute to the project’s success, ensuring that all potential challenges are anticipated and addressed proactively.

For those considering embarking on a sports lighting project, the insights shared during this discussion are crucial. Selecting a lighting partner with a proven track record in both planning and design is paramount. Making an informed decision at this stage sets the foundation for a seamless and effective LED sports lighting installation.