Football Field Lighting Design Considerations for Project Starters

football field lighting design

There is no one-size-fit all approach to designing a football field lighting system. In the planning phase the first thing that needs to be established is the use concept of the football field. Some of the questions that need to be answered are for example: 

  • Who are the main users?
  • What is the competition level?
  • Are there spectators in the stands? 
  • What is the capacity of the stadium?
  • Will games be broadcast on TV?

The requirements for a football field lighting system vary depending on the competition level. However, there are also many other factors to consider. In this article we intend to explain what they are and how they affect the design of the lighting solution.

If you are planning to invest in a new football field lighting system, try our cost calculator to get a customized cost estimate for your project.

Football field lighting requirements on different levels of play
Requirements per competition level Training / Rec High School College / Pro
Area of playing surface
57.600 sq ft
57.600 sq ft
57.600 sq ft
Lux needed
200 - 300 lux
300 - 500 lux
500 - 1000
Foot candles needed
20 - 30 fc
30 - 50 fc
50 - 100 fc
Lumen output needed
107,020 - 163,000
163,000 - 267,550
267,550 - 535,100
Number of poles
4
6
8
Light pole height
50 feet
70 feet
90 feet
Setback
50 - 100 feet
50 - 100 feet
50 - 100 feet
Uniformity (min/max)
2.5 or more
2.5 or less
2.0 or less
The numbers in the table above are only indicative estimates. This estimate is not a subsitute for an audit/estimate performed by a professional sports lighting company.

Football field lighting requirements for different competition levels

Football is played on many different levels of competition and as a general rule the higher the level the more illumination is needed on the field of play. 

The amount of illumination needed is typically measured in lux or foot candles. Both of them are measures of illuminance but there is an important distinction:

  • Lux = amount of  lumens that fall on the surface one meter away (1 lumen / sq meter)
  • Foot candle = amount of lumens that fall on the surface one foot away (1 lumen / sq ft)

A football field that is used mainly by recreational players or for training purposes only needs to comply with the minimum lighting requirements to keep the game safe for the players on the field. Normally the minimum illuminance level is around 200 lux / 20 fc. 

From the high school level onwards the requirements change mainly due to the fact that there are more spectators watching the game in the stands. At high school football grounds you can expect up to 5,000 spectators attending the games. In order to provide an excellent experience to the spectators, the lighting level needs to be increased to at least 300 lux / 30 fc. 

When you are dealing with football fields that are used for collegiate or even professional games, the lighting requirements shoot up dramatically. First and foremost, football games on this level are being broadcast on TV, which requires an excellent lighting system that can provide a crisp TV viewing experience. Secondly, the number of spectators also increases from around 5,000 to several tens of thousands. A football field lighting system on this level will need to produce around 500 lux / 50 fc – 1000 lux / 100 fc uniformly distributed across the field. 

Other factors affecting football field lighting design

1 – Football field dimensions

The gridiron never changes. From Pop Warner to the NFL, a football field is a football field. Admittedly, it can be a bit ridiculous sometimes to see little kids scurrying around a field 100 yards long and 53.5 yards wide, but they grow into it!

The only real differences in football fields across levels are the locations of the hashmarks. As you move up from high school to college to pro football, the hashmarks move towards the center of the field. But other than that, it’s always the same 100 x 53.5 yards, plus the 10-yard end zones with the goal posts centered behind them. Unless, of course, you go north of the border to Canada, where they have two 50-yard lines and put the goalposts ON the goal line! What a world we live in!

Understanding the size and dimensions of the football field is important when it comes to the design of the LED lighting system. The bigger the area that needs to be lit, the more lighting output (lumens) are needed.  

2 – Height and position of football field light poles

Since football fields are all the same size, the main design consideration for the number of light poles you’ll need is how bright the field needs to be. You can provide minimum levels of uniform light coverage for a recreational or high school field with four light poles. High schools with large stadiums or that are broadcast on TV or streaming may opt for six poles, as most colleges do. Large colleges and pro stadiums, then, will have eight poles plus any other fixtures on the stadium itself.

Football fields have an equal number of poles on each side of the field to eliminate shadows. With four poles, there will be two at or near the end zones. If you increase to six poles, the additional poles will line up with the 50-yard line. And with eight poles, most stadiums will place one at each end zone and one around each 30-yard line.

For lighting quality and safety reasons, floodlight poles are positioned always 50, 75, or 100 feet outside of the playing field. Therefore, it is essential to check beforehand if the stadium or football ground has the required space around the playing field to set back the light poles as.  

When it comes to the height of the light poles, there is no one size fits all number to give. Since football lights are designed to illuminate a large sports field the lamps have to be installed high. For a high school field the correct height might be around 50-70 feet and for a college or professional football field as high as 250 feet above the playing surface. 

football field lighting pole layout

3 – Football field lighting fixtures

Generally speaking football fields and stadia tend to use LED lighting fixtures with an output of around 500W-1000W. 

LED lights are the best for Friday nights and any other day of the week. LEDs have all the qualities that players, coaches, administrators and broadcasters insist upon for player safety and performance, cost efficiency and fan experience.

We’ll get more into those benefits below and in the other articles in this section. But as a quick run down, LED lights cost less to operate than conventional halide or halogen lamps. 

They produce very little glare, which helps the players see the ball and each other at the speed of play: a wide receiver won’t lose the ball in the lights while running a route, which means he has a better chance of a completion and of having the awareness to avoid a tackle. 

The low glare also looks better on camera and minimizes light pollution, which will be important to the administrators and community stakeholders. 

Finally (well, for now), LED lights are very easy to control. The coach or team manager can turn on just the lights they need for night practices throughout the week, turn on some more lights for the JV game on Thursday night and then blast the full panel for the weekend games.

Professional sports lighting companies normally work with top quality LED lighting fixture brands. Good quality luminaires are made using high quality components which at the end of the day makes the difference. Make sure to compare lighting brands (and their certifications) that are offered to you.

4 – Football field lighting uniformity considerations

With two poles 100 yards apart on each side of the field, you might be wondering about how much light your players will have at the 50-yard line. That’s a great concern to have, and it’s why it’s so important to have a professional lighting designer as part of your facility construction team.

At every level of play, every square yard of the field needs to have the same level of brightness. Players can’t be throwing and running into darkness and then into light as they drive downfield.

The key metric in football field lighting uniformity is the min/max ratio. It measures how well the lighting is distributed across the field of play i.e. what is the maximum and minimum amount of footcandles present in the same area. The result is a ratio between the minimum and maximum values. A min/max ratio of up to 3.0 is considered to be evenly distributed lighting without shadows or hot spots. The required level of min/max ratio depends on the level of play. For high school football, a ratio of 2.5 or below is acceptable, whereas, for college and professional football the ratio needs to be below 2.0.

5 – Beam and projection angle for football fields

The beam angle and projection angle of a lighting fixture ensure that as much light as possible goes where you want it: onto the field, uniformly.

If these factors are not set appropriately, some of the light will be wasted. Some will go into the stands, some will go into the sky and some will go in areas that are already well-lit, making one patch of the field too bright and another too dark. 

These angles also affect the sightlines of the players. If the angle is suboptimal, players may have to look straight into a light during the course of play – something we want to avoid and can avoid through proper design and installation.

The beam angle and the angle of projection are the two calculations a lighting designer will make to meet the necessary luminance standard. The beam angle is the angle the light makes as it radiates out from the lamp. Think of it as going from a spotlight, which has a narrow beam angle, to a floodlight, which sends more diffuse light over a broader area. 

Luminance levels decrease as light diffuses away from its source. Lighting fixtures that need to illuminate a wider area – think of the “inside” lamps on those poles at the end zones – need a larger beam angle. But they will also need to be stronger, since the same amount of light needs to cover a larger area of the field. 

The angle of projection follows from the height of the light pole and how far back from the field it is. If the light pole is right behind the team area on the sidelines – as would be the case with a rec field, practice field or smaller high school field – then the angle of projection will be very low (very acute). If the light poles are behind the bleachers, then they will have a slightly higher angle of projection. Typically the beam angle used at football fields is between 12 – 60 degrees. This angle ensures that the playing area is well lit at all times and there is minimal spill light outside of the field, which can annoy neighbours or traffic around the football ground. 

Those are top-down considerations. But we also need to consider angle of projection from the ground-up: the players’ perspective. 

The position of the poles and the angle of projection – the horizontal and vertical components – must account for the players’ sightlines. The lamps cannot be somewhere that the players will be looking straight into them – basically staring up into the projection angle – during the game. That would be a hazard for both player performance and safety.

led floodlight beam angle

6 – Lighting color temperature for football fields

One final (again, just for now – there are plenty more) technical consideration is the warmth of the light. Think about the stark white lights you encounter at the doctor’s office, or maybe your own office. Those are “cold” lights. They’re not very inviting when used indoors and they’re not very natural. You and your eyes just feel better when you step outside or into a different room. 

Warm lights, on the other hand, feel – not by temperature, just by… feel – warm. When we’re talking about light warmth, warm lights are in the 2000-3000K range while cold lights are 4000K and higher. 

At the end of the day, football fields and sport stadiums in general tend to use cold lights that range between 5000K and 6500K. This is close to the color temperature of the sun (5780K) and provides a bright white light for the football field with a close to normal daylight vision that spectators and players are used to.  

7 – Request a photometric study to avoid surprises

So you have scoped out your lighting project, made a plan for executing each and every step of the project and set a clear schedule for installation and delivery. What happens if after the lighting system is up and running you find out that the lighting levels are not of the required standard for your football stadium or field? To avoid this type of panic scenario professional lighting construction companies normally prepare a photometric study. This analysis is done with special CAD (Computer Aided Design) software.

You input all the details of the football field and the lighting system (dimensions, height, no. of poles, output of luminaires, beam angles, etc.) and the software renders a 2D and 3D simulation of your lighting system design. You can easily find out beforehand if the lighting quality of the system is good enough for your needs. 

Get started with your football field lighting design project

If you have reached this far, you should have a pretty good understanding of all the moving parts in the design of a new football field lighting system. We recommend you to get a cost estimate for your project at an early stage to avoid surprises later. 

Our football field lighting cost calculator makes it quick and easy for you. Just type in a few key details about your project and you will receive a customized cost breakdown for  your lighting project. 

Once you have the cost estimate you can start interviewing sports lighting companies. 

You can also check our lighting grants section to see if there are any opportunities for oyur poject.