LED Sports Lighting Retrofit: cost, financing and pros & cons

led sports lighting retrofit cost

Cost to convert a sports lighting system to LED

The cost to retrofit LED fixtures to an existing HID or metal halide sports lighting system ranges somewhere between $122,000 and $588,000. This includes the cost of purchasing the new LED lamps and the cost of installing them in the existing lighting fixtures (labor). Cost vary depending on the size of the sports field or court, geographical, the sports lighting supplier, the average maintained brightness requirement and level of competition of the sports facility.  

The exact cost is hard to estimate because every ballpark lighting system is different. It is essential to have a professional sports lighting company audit your existing lighting system to understand what the best way to convert your sports field lights to LED is. 

We explain the different methods of upgrading an HID or metal halide lighting system to LED in this article. If you are in a hurry and just want to get a customized cost estimate for retrofitting LEDs to your sports facility lighting system, use our LED retrofit cost calculator

LED retrofit cost for different sports
Sports field type Cost range
Baseball field LED retrofit
$195,000 - $598,000
Football field LED retrofit
$152,000 - $542,000
Soccer field LED retrofit
$177,000 - $565,000
Softball field LED retrofit
$98,000 - $489,000
Tennis court LED retrofit
$15,000 - $45,000
Pickleball court LED retrofit
$15,000 - $45,000
Basketball court LED retrofit
$33,000 - $78,000

Price range estimates are based on average prices taking into account the following factors:

  • Competition level (recreational, high school, college, pro)
  • Brightness requirements (30 fc, 50 fc, 100 fc)
  • LED conversion method (lighting fixture replacement vs retrofit)
  • Geographical differences (labor costs)
  • Product quality

Table of Contents

What does LED sports light retrofitting mean?

LED retrofit for sports lighting refers to converting a conventional lighting system, such as HID or metal halide, to the new generation LED technology. The conversion is sometimes also called an upgrade or replacement, which is why this topic can get confusing quicky. If that wasn’t enough, there are different methods of converting or retrofitting your sports lighting system. To keep things simple, in this article we use the terms conversion, retrofit, upgrade or replacement interchangeably, but they all refer to changing your existing lighting system to LED technology. 

LED retrofit vs lighting system replacement cost

The technical respects of an LED retrofit are important to comprehend when the project is being scoped out, but for many, the very first order of business is to determine how large a check will need to be written to accommodate it. 

By virtue of what a retrofit is, it is the least expensive to implement. However, ancillary costs can arise, such as rewiring of a ballast, maintenance related to the new setup, and LED lamp and driver charges. However, some facilities may elect to worry about the periphery fees at a later date and go with the choice that is most cost-friendly in the near term. 

Replacing the entire HID lighting system with a new LED system is a more invasive project than a simple LED retrofit. This obviously means that it takes more time and is, therefore, more expensive as a result. The higher cost may come with many benefits which is why we recommend you to discuss internally within the project team what the goals of the project are and how much budget you have in the short and long term for sports lighting installations. 

A lighting specialist will inspect your light poles, lamp mounts, fixtures and electrical infrastructure to determine how much can be adapted for an LED system. If any of the components are particularly old or worn-down, the cost of a retrofit may be quite close to the cost of entirely new lighting system. There are also some features of system control that may not be available with a retrofit, and you’ll need to decide how important those features are and if they would be worth the additional cost of replacing your old light fixtures with new LED luminaires.

What influences the cost of a LED sports lighting retrofit?

Due to many moving parts it is hard to pin point the exact price tag for converting your sports lighting system to LED. Having said that, certain cost factors always remain constant. In the below list we present the most important factors in any LED sports lighting upgrade project: 

  • Competition level – The higher the level of play, the higher the cost. This is mainly due to more stringent lighting requirements. A professional or college level sporting event will need to ensure top quality specator experience in the stands and on TV. 
  • Average maintained brightness level – 
    • Recreational: 30 fc / 300 lux
    • High School: 50 fc / 500 lux
    • College / Pro: 100 fc / 1000 lux 
  • Size of the area to be lit a single tennis court will need less light than a tennis court complex with six full-sized courts.
  • Method of LED retrofit – will you be changing the whole lighting system or only the fixtures?
  • Quality of the LED fixtures – Like with everything in this life, better quality products tend to cost more.
  • Geographical location – Sports lighting installation labor costs vary greatly across the country
  • Supplier pricing differences – Pricing varies between suppliers and even between countries. Kepp your eyes open for good deals! 
LED sports lighting retrofit conversion table
HID fixture wattage LED fixture wattage Energy savings
500 W
60 - 125 W
50 - 75%
750 W
200 - 400 W
50 - 75%
1000 W
250 - 500 W
50 - 75%
1500 W
400 - 750 W
50 - 75%
2000 W
500 - 1000 W
50 - 75%

Why should I convert my lights from HID to LED?

Conventional lighting systems have a single advantage over LED lights, and that advantage expires even quicker than a halide lamp: upfront product and installation costs. If your only concern is how much the lights will cost you over the first few months of operation, then you can make the case for a halide system. But obviously, no one thinks over such a small timeframe. 

Conventional light bulbs start declining as soon as you turn them on for the first time. It’s like the value of a new car: it drops as soon as you drive it off the lot. 

The lifespan of a conventional lamp is how long until it no longer produces any light. But no one keeps a light bulb in the socket until it’s completely out: not at home, and certainly not at a sports field. Halide lamps are replaced when they decline to about 70% of the original, max illumination. This can happen within the first 15,000 hours of operation. On the other hand, LED lights decline less than 5% over 10x as many hours of on-time. That means you would replace a conventional lamp 10 times – paying for parts and labor – before you replace an LED lamp once. So much for those upfront savings.

 

Over the course of that abbreviated lifetime, conventional lamps require more power to produce a given amount of light. Less of each lamp’s light would reach the field because halide lamps scatter light far more than LED lamps do. Therefore, you would also need more lamps to produce a given amount of luminance across your field. More lamps, consuming more power per lamp, wasting more light per lamp, therefore requiring more power across the system to do the same job as an LED system. Again, so much for those upfront savings.

Then what do you do with the defunct lamps? Throw them in the dumpster? Um, no, you really don’t want to do that. 

Halide lamps contain mercury, which is a toxic metal that can leach into water supplies and soil if not properly disposed of. LED lamps are better for the environment both during and after their operations: less energy usage and emissions to turn them on, less environmentally damaging waste in their afterlife.

And the light quality is just not as good from the conventional systems as from the LEDs. LED lamps allow you to adjust the intensity of the light (like a dimmer switch) and the warmth of the light. As a result you can program the appropriate lighting for practices, scrimmage games, competitive games and games that will be livestreamed and therefore need the highest quality lighting.

The operational savings of LED lights can reach up to 75% when you account for power usage, maintenance, repair and replacement. Over their years of operation, LED lights provide significantly lower costs for a superior product, one that increases revenue opportunities given the improved player and fan experience. 

Conventional lighting systems have a single advantage over LED lights, and that advantage expires even quicker than a halide lamp: upfront product and installation costs. If your only concern is how much the lights will cost you over the first few months of operation, then you can make the case for a halide system. But obviously, no one thinks over such a small timeframe. 

Conventional light bulbs start declining as soon as you turn them on for the first time. It’s like the value of a new car: it drops as soon as you drive it off the lot. 

Longer lifespan

The lifespan of a conventional lamp is how long until it no longer produces any light. But no one keeps a light bulb in the socket until it’s completely out: not at home, and certainly not at a sports field. Halide lamps are replaced when they decline to about 70% of the original, max illumination. This can happen within the first 15,000 hours of operation. On the other hand, LED lights decline less than 5% over 10x as many hours of on-time. That means you would replace a conventional lamp 10 times – paying for parts and labor – before you replace an LED lamp once. So much for those upfront savings.

Energy efficiency

Over the course of that abbreviated lifetime, conventional lamps require more power to produce a given amount of light. Less of each lamp’s light would reach the field because halide lamps scatter light far more than LED lamps do. Therefore, you would also need more lamps to produce a given amount of luminance across your field. More lamps, consuming more power per lamp, wasting more light per lamp, therefore requiring more power across the system to do the same job as an LED system. Again, so much for those upfront savings.

Sustainable lighting

Then what do you do with the defunct lamps? Throw them in the dumpster? Um, no, you really don’t want to do that. 

Halide lamps contain mercury, which is a toxic metal that can leach into water supplies and soil if not properly disposed of. LED lamps are better for the environment both during and after their operations: less energy usage and emissions to turn them on, less environmentally damaging waste in their afterlife.

Lighting quality

And the light quality is just not as good from the conventional systems as from the LEDs. LED lamps allow you to adjust the intensity of the light (like a dimmer switch) and the warmth of the light. As a result you can program the appropriate lighting for practices, scrimmage games, competitive games and games that will be livestreamed and therefore need the highest quality lighting.

Operational savings

The operational savings of LED lights can reach up to 75% when you account for power usage, maintenance, repair and replacement. Over their years of operation, LED lights provide significantly lower costs for a superior product, one that increases revenue opportunities given the improved player and fan experience. 

Quite a worthwhile return on those upfront costs.

led retrofitting

What does the LED sports lights retrofitting process look like?

Once your lighting designer or contractor determines how much of your existing system can be preserved, they’ll present you with solutions for retrofitting new LED fixtures or replacing all or some of the old lighting system. 

If you opt for a LED retrofit, the first stage of the work is switching off the lighting system. Secondly, the old HID lighting fixtures are removed and the new LED fixtures are mounted in their place with equivalent or improved brightness. In the third step the process typically entails bypassing the ballast by rewiring, so that electricity is supplied directly to the LED luminaires. Often times the electrical system is also upgraded to support variable control and improving the communication system so you can control the lights remotely. The most advanced LED lights even communicate with the facility, providing regular status reports via Wi-Fi so you can monitor usage patterns and the health of your system. 

Once the new LED fixtures have been retrofitted, the last step is making it ready for gameday. The installers will position and calibrate the lights to ensure uniform illumination across the field. They will also program the main operating patterns to give you ease of control. While the system will always be fully flexible and under your control, coaches and facility staff will appreciate being able to select “practice,” “game” or “community event” from the control panel.

led sports lighting retrofit process

Is LED sports lighting retrofit the right option for my sports facility?

There are a lot of people that could be affected by a change to a lighting solution in a sports facility. Players, officials, coaches, fans, and possibly television broadcast crews could all be impacted. As such, thinking about adjacent issues will be critical. Discerning whether the on-field light quality will improve, or the structural reliability is sound, or the longevity of a retrofit will last for multiple decades are just some of the items to ponder. Furthermore, while LED lighting comes with many benefits, not all LED solutions are the same, so it is important to consider which specific one(s) might be the most helpful in a particular situation. 

In this article, we have already established that LEDs are superior to conventional HID lighting systems. Of that, there is little doubt (only the higher upfront costs of LEDs). However, the question is what is the best method to go about converting your metal halide lights to LEDs for your school or sports club. 

As discussed earlier there are broadly speaking two options: retrofitting new LED luminaires or replacing the whole lighting system. As with any project, the key is to make it very clear for yourself and the project team what are the goals of the lighting project. We recommend you spend time and have an internal conversation with the decision makers of the project to ensure you know what you want from the new LED lighting system.

We have prepared a shortlist of questions you might want to find answers to before you make any decisions on the LED conversion method. Professional sports lighting companies are the experts in the field who can guide you to making the best decision for your school or sports club.

  • Do you want to save money on the upfront installation of LED sports lights?
  • Do you want to save on operating and maintenance costs in the long run?
  • Is better quality of lighting and experience for live spectators and players your main driver?
  • Does better lighting quality for TV broadcasting play a role in your decision-making? 
  • Do you want to have more lighting control and less hassle with maintenance? 
  • Are you basing your decision on environmental considerations? 

The case for replacing the whole lighting system

Replacing the entire sports lighting system can often be one of the best long-term decisions a venue can make. Many LED light fixtures have a life span of up to 100,000 hours, and the maintenance associated with it is much less of a headache than HID lighting. While the benefits of replacing the old lighting system with a new one are plentiful, there are other aspects to consider when choosing between a LED fixture retrofit or a clean slate lighting system replacement.

Condition of your existing sports lighting system

There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to choosing how to convert to LED sports lighting. Every sports facility’s situation is different. If your existing HID lighting system doesn’t have many years left and is soon in need of repair or maintenance, it may very well be worth it to opt for a replacement of the whole lighting system. In this scenario, the upfront cost savings that an LED retrofit would provide wouldn’t make sense, if you will have to replace the lighting fixtures in the near future anyway. 

Upfront cost savings or long-term return on investment?

At the very beginning of the sports lighting project, it can be easy to dream big about a fancy, new LED sports lighting system that will put the competition to shame. However, as the project team advances step-by-step through the project, many times budgetary constraints kill those dreams before they even become close to reality. 

When a school, college, university, or sports club has to work with a limited budget, they sometimes have to sacrifice the lighting quality and control that HID to LED lighting system replacement offers, and instead choose to follow the LED luminaire retrofit route. 

It is worth noting that even if the upfront costs of LED retrofitting are lower than replacing the whole lighting system, it is not obvious that LED retrofit is more cost-efficient in the long run. This is due to the fact that a new LED sports lighting system will more often than not have a longer lifespan than the existing lighting system retrofitted with LEDs. We highly recommend getting in touch with a professional lighting company that can evaluate the return on investment for both scenarios.

Changing laws and regulations

In many cases, there are laws or building regulations that need to be factored in when choosing the right lighting solution. Mandates like Title 24 in California surrounding the maximum threshold of wattage in an area can make a decision-makers selection just as much about compliance as any other factor. 

Additionally, if the scope of a larger construction calls for a complete remodeling, it may not make sense to continue on with older lighting fixtures that may not fit the updated vision.

LED fixture retrofit vs lighting system replacement: Pros and Cons

Lighting system replacement pros
LED fixture retrofit pros
Lighting system replacement cons
LED fixture retrofit cons

Upgrading to LED: Important considerations

LEDs are without a doubt the better option in the long-term compared to metal halide or other HID lighting systems. However, it doesn’t mean that retrofitting is always the best option when converting from HID lighting to LED. In order to make an informed decision, one must consider the potential drawbacks as well. While LED retrofitting is usually not too complicated, certain problems can arise if the incumbent technology is not compatible with existing lighting infrastructure. Even though there are more and more options and different models of LEDs available on the market, not all conventional lighting systems can host new LED fixtures. 

Depending on the existing HID lighting system, after retrofitting the LEDs you might not be able to take advantage of all the modern sports lighting control features such as operating the lights via mobile phone, motion sensors/control, dimming, daylight harvesting, or photosensor controls. These features will help you maximize the benefits of a modern LED lighting system, so it is important to consider at an early stage just how important lighting control is for your school or sports club.

It is also important to understand how old your existing lighting system and its fixtures are to be able to estimate how many years of usage they still have to offer. Otherwise, your new, shiny LED fixtures will not be of much use if your lighting system is old and will need to be replaced in the short-to-mid term. Also, be sure to check how many years of warranty the existing sports lighting system has left. 

Before a transition is underway, a review of the current setup should be done to verify that future issues will not arise with an LED retrofit. In certain areas of the United States, such as California, retrofits need to comply with Title 24 mandates as well.

How to finance an LED sports lighting retrofit investment?

Whether you are planning to install a brand new LED lighting system or retrofit new LED fixtures to your existing lighting system, the cost of installing sports field lighting can be significant. 

Because of the advantages LED lights offer in terms of energy efficiency, performance, safety, revenue, environmental sustainability and community relations, a lot of public and private institutions want to help sports organizations make the switch. 

Non-profits, including some connected to professional sports leagues, offer grants for lighting system upgrades; while local and state governments may offer rebates or tax credits for institutions that install LED lighting and can demonstrate a reduction in their annual energy usage. These can help defray the cost and, by doing so, win buy-in from your organization’s stakeholders who may be on the fence about the lighting project.

Calculate the costs of your LED retrofitting or replacement project at an early stage

The lighting system affects every part of a sports facility’s operation, from business development to day-to-day operations to player safety and satisfaction. Sports field lighting design and engineering is an industry unto itself, and we’ve just presented the top layer of what goes into the costs.

Our cost calculator will bring some more clarity to your planning and budgeting process by giving you price quotes based on the project info you already have. With the quote in hand, we can connect you to the leading providers in the industry. They will help you put a spotlight on each aspect of the process so you can develop the best plan to convert your facility’s lighting system to LED.