Sports field lighting system installations and upgrades: Get started with answers to the FAQs

sport field lighting

Most people don’t notice a sports field’s lighting system until they go watch a game that has an incredible, perfect, state of the art system… and then every stadium they go to after that simply can’t measure up. You don’t want to spend your time and money “keeping up with the Joneses.” You want to be setting the standard and getting the most for your money.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about lighting systems for sports fields.

1. How many lights or light fixtures do I need?

That’s often the first question facility managers and athletic directors ask. Unfortunately, answering it requires asking a handful of questions that should come first.

Walk out onto the field and ask yourself “If I were one of the players, how much light would I need right here, at this spot on the field, to play?” Sports field lighting directly affects player safety and performance. The luminance on the field must be adequate for them to see everything they need to see for their sport, whether that’s a 90 mph fastball coming at them from 60 feet away or a 45 yard pass arcing through the air towards the end zone. 

Once the coaches have their say (and they should have a say), someone from the media or marketing team will say “How will that look on camera?” If you’re lighting a training facility, that won’t be as much of an issue. But if this is a competitive stadium, broadcast requirements may exceed the “playing requirements” for light levels. 

From there, the engineers can map that luminance level across the entire field. Then they’ll ask “Where can we place the lighting fixtures?” That’s a function of how much run-out space you need to have around the field, sideline areas for the teams, spectator seating and maybe a track that will loop around a football or soccer field.

With that information in hand, the lighting designers can start to develop a menu of options for your lighting system. There may be a few systems that use a lower number of high-powered lamps, while others turn to a higher number of low-powered lamps.

So the unsatisfying answer to our question is: It depends… on a lot. Instead of an answer, we’d rather offer the piece of advice we started with: go out to the field and work backwards from there.

2. What are the major costs of installing a lighting system at a sports field?

This one is a bit more direct. Once again, let’s start at ground level. Literally, the ground. 

How much work will you need to do to prepare the ground to support the sports field lighting system? You may need a soil survey to ensure you have an adequate foundation for the light poles (and the weight of the poles will be part of all that stuff we talked about in Question #1). If not, you may have to excavate and install sufficient gravel and dirt for the foundations to sit upon.

Another potentially significant part of site preparation is the electricity infrastructure. You’ll need a way to get the juice to the lights. Depending on what is already in place, powering up a new lighting system may entail installing the conduits, junction boxes and the like.

Next are the light poles themselves. Modern light poles are either metal, concrete or a combination of the two. Wood poles should never enter the conversation. We bring them up only to ensure that if your contractor offers them, you can give them a firm “No.” The cost of the poles will vary based on the material and size (height, weight and diameter), with the size determined in part by weather conditions in your area. 

Then there are the lamps themselves. The price of the lamps depends on their output, the quality of the light they produce (yep, light comes in different qualities), the reflector systems (more on that in #3 and #5 below) and, of course, the number of lamps.

Finally, there’s the labor and installation costs. What we’ve talked about above are simply the equipment. Someone needs to do the actual work and get the lights up and on.

3. What are the major operational costs post-installation?

The big one is the obvious one: electricity. Part of the process we sketched out in Question #1 will be calculating the power requirements. From there, you can project how many hours per day, week and month the lights will be on and, therefore, how much the electricity bill will be.

Part of keeping the electrical costs down is the reflector system. These ensure that all the light coming out of your lamps goes down to the field, instead of scattering. The reflector systems are part of the from-the-field-up planning process, but they are worth recalling when talking about the economic side of energy efficiency.

The other operational costs are maintenance and repair. Along with the power requirements, the lamps will have their rated lifespan, which will give you an idea of how often you need to replace them so you can estimate the annual costs of new lights and the necessary labor. The other component that will need occasional replacement are the fuses in the electrical systems.

Your planning process should factor in the normal weather conditions so everything you install can withstand what it’s expected to handle. 

However, severe or extreme weather can affect your lighting systems in sometimes subtle ways. Your lights may look like they came through those gale-force winds, but they may have blown off their alignment. Re-aligning the lamps is a somewhat common piece of unplanned maintenance.

4. Am I actually saving money by installing LED lights?

Yes. Hands down. Even though we’re talking about one cost after another here, yes, a new LED lighting system truly is an investment in a sports facility.

LED lights last longer than conventional halide lamps, reducing the replacement and maintenance costs. They are more energy efficient, both in the number of watts they consume per lumen and in their ability to focus the light towards the field of play. LED systems “lose” far less light than halide lamps. LED systems also satisfy much more easily and economically all the considerations of glare, light uniformity, suitability for broadcasts and quality.

Thank you for asking such an easy-to-answer question.

5. Is light pollution really something sports fields need to care about? Really?

You want your sports field or complex to be a local landmark. You don’t want airplane pilots joking that they use your facility as a navigation aid because they can see the lights from miles away.

First off, you’re paying for all that light. Whether the photon goes to the field, down the street or out into space, it’s coming out of your pocket. When you see the hazy glow of a stadium over the horizon, think of it as a fountain of wasted money. 

Second, scattered light is pretty annoying. Your neighbors won’t be too happy if they’re losing sleep because light from your fields is spilling into the bedroom. No can afford to jeopardize their relations with the local residential and business community. Reducing light spillage is an easy way to keep everyone happy.

We’ve done our best to answer five questions, and looking back we’ve raised a bunch more. Use those questions to start the conversation with a professional lighting engineer or sports venue construction professional. 

And if you want some nice, hard data about the costs of a new lighting system for a sports facility, that’s what our cost calculators are there for. Plug in the information you have and we’ll send you a quote that will put you one step closer to a better facility.