Lighting It Up: Sporting Venues Transition to LED Technology

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing student blogging series entitled The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. You can follow the series here.

By Katie Levinestadium in lights

Stadiums and arenas at the professional and collegiate levels, and across leagues from the NHL to the NFL have begun the transition to what is becoming known as the 21st century light source: LED technology. Emitting more light per watt, LEDs require significantly less energy than traditional lighting solutions.

As lighting is typically the second largest energy consumer in sporting venues, installing LED lighting systems offers facility managers one of the fastest paybacks among all the potential energy efficiency upgrades, averaging as little as two to three years. LEDs reduce energy costs up to 75 percent and also provide significant maintenance cost savings, because they last far longer than other lights – typically up to 50,000 hours and some more than 225,000 hours.

These economic wins are matched by environmental benefits including lowered greenhouse gas emissions due to their reduced energy usage. As a result, LEDs have become a go-to choice for operators and leagues looking for viable ways to advance their greening initiatives.

The upstate NY-based company Ephesus Lighting is at the fore of aiding this transition to LED lighting systems within the sporting world. Its engineers outfitted the first arena to make the move to a LED lighting system in 2012, the Syracuse War Memorial. Since then, Ephesus has completed more than 30 indoor arenas and outdoor stadiums, partnering with organizations including the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, and most recently the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. As a result of its work, the 2015 Super Bowl will be the first one played under LEDs.

Being on one of sports’ biggest stages is sure to influence further adoption in facilities at all levels. Joe Casper, Ephesus’ Co-Founder and CTO, describes the coming change.

“If you go back three years ago, education was definitely needed, but by this past summer things had totally shifted. It’s not about education any longer. Based on the successes that have occurred, it’s now a technology that most people feel comfortable with. Getting the Syracuse War Memorial to take this technology on, the first AHL team to do it, really paved the way for the adoption occurring today.”

Besides energy savings, the primary factors driving adoption across sports venues are player performance and fan experience. LED lighting systems impact these areas because they enable more precise light directionality, dimming, and the ability to modulate color to optimize viewer experience. It’s also of note that LEDs provide immediate on and off switching. Anyone who remembers the 34-min outage at a Super Bowl two years ago understands how important that feature is in the sporting world.

While daylight is still known to provide the best conditions for athletes to perform in, LEDs can approximate daylight. This allows players, officials and fans to better see the spin of a ball or specific on-court or on-field movements. At the same time, LED lighting systems can be used like theatrical lights, creating firework or chaser effects in a single, easily customized solution. These kinds of added experience features help bring fans to stadium seats, rather than staying home on their couches.

Even with all of LEDs’ benefits, the transition to these new lighting systems will not be immediate. New construction opportunities for stadiums and arenas are limited, and retrofit projects have both upfront costs and technical engineering considerations to take into account. The leagues most likely to lead the way in adoption are the ones with the most games per season — baseball and basketball — because facility owners will have the greatest opportunity to see speedy returns on their investments.

Switching can be a more challenging proposition for NFL stadiums and arenas, because they may only host ten games per season. However,alternate stadium uses including concerts, private events, and exhibition games may increase operators’ financial incentives to make the move.

With several hundred pro and semi-pro sports venues across all leagues, and thousands of sports facilities on college campuses, there is plenty of adoption yet to occur. We’re just seeing the bright beginnings of this new wave in energy efficiency and sports.

Image credit: iStock

Katie Levine is Vice President at Underground. She consults with clients in the social impact space to create strategies, campaigns and communication materials that inspire action.

Presidio Sports

This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. Led by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC, The Business of Sports and Sustainability certificate is housed at Presidio Graduate School, the nation’s top sustainable MBA program. Posts explore the connection of sustainability with operations, branding and fan engagement of the sports industry including leagues, teams, venues, sponsors, vendors and surrounding communities.

Leave a Reply