Managing the lighting at a sports stadium or arena is one of the most important facets of a venue Operations Manager’s job. Its performance has to be stellar. It represents a cost that is significant that needs to be minimized. And it is a major factor in a venue’s Greening (or not). LED lights, which are both high performing and energy efficient, initially faced a slow adoption curve in the industry due to high costs. But, as the cost curve is moving down, more venues are making the switch to LEDs.

Old School Solutions

For decades, metal halide lights have illuminated arenas. 5-6X more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, metal halides also give top quality white light, which is crucial for the illumination of indoor events  and outdoor nighttime events.. Metal halides also contain mercury, which make them an environmental concern at end-of-life.

Beginning around 2005,, arena and commercial lighting technology moved forward with the advent of Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights. LEDs are the clear environmental winners vs. metal halides: Comparable LEDs produce more 28% more light output than metal halides while consuming 54% less electricity.

At first, despite the obvious win-win on the efficiency and environmental side, teams and sports facilities managers were slow to adapt LEDs because of concerns about light quality (it’s a softer type of light) and cost. Even über-green Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, CA went with metal halides because of the light quality issue. But that decision was made in 2012.

Technological advances on the lighting and broadcast sides (i.e. HDTV) since 2012 have flipped the concerns about light quality: LED lighting systems are now preferred to  metal halide by venues and broadcastersalike.   And the differences in cost have become negligible, especially when one takes into account LEDs 1) have a life span 3X as long as metal halides and 2) require far less maintenance. With those two considerations factored in, an LED system was 8% more expensive than a metal halide system as of 2012. Costs have come down fast on the LED side since so that 8% LED is gone.

So the trickle of LED-lit sports venues has now become a steady stream.

Here are some noteworthy examples:

Syracuse Crunch (Minor League Hockey): In 2012, Ephesus Lighting installed the first LED system in a North American sports venue at Syracuse’s War Memorial Arena, the 7,000 seat home of the American Hockey League’s Crunch. Built in 1951, War Memorial’s old metal halide system was experiencing high energy and maintenance costs, low lighting levels. The LED system reduced energy consumption by an astonishing 85%, saving the venue $40,000. Lighting quality and uniformity improved dramatically.

NHL: The NHL, which authored the first-ever sustainability report for any North American professional sports league, also has taken a leading role in the installation of LED lighting systems. PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC became the first US-based NHL arena to go LED this offseason.  Musco Lighting outfitted the home of the Carolina Hurricanes and also NC State basketball with a state-of-the-art system that is expected to reduce energy usage up to 70%! The Bell Centre in Montreal started the NHL’s LED-ball rolling back in 2012. Lighting quality and reliability were the drivers for the Canadiens’ decision more so than the environment. Regardless of the motivation, the decision has led to a dramatic reduction in energy usage.

Staples Center: Los Angeles’ Staples Center , home of the NBA’s Clippers and Lakers, the WNBA’s Galaxy along with the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings made the move to LEDs this summer. The system, developed by Solotech, using Lidium LED lights, will result in $280,000 in annual energy cost savings and a 70% reduction in energy usage.


NFL: NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans and University of Phoenix Stadium , den of the Arizona Cardinals and home of Super Bowl XLIX next February, both installed LEDs in advance of the 2014 season.  Texans President Jamey Rootes was quoted in a recent “Washington Post” Innovations blog post by Matt McFarland as saying that “The payback was quite attractive in terms of the energy savings, not just for our events but in all events that happen out here. You add to it the softer benefits of the quality of the presentation on television, the quality of the presentation for the fans in the stadium, a more vibrant stadium experience.”


College Sports: LED lighting systems are making their presence felt at venues large (Ohio Stadium, the 103,000 seat, Zero-Waste home of the Buckeyes) and small (the 2,350 seat hockey arena at Union College in Schenectady, NY).  LED adoption will continue to grow on campus, given the aggressive move colleges and universities are making towards greening in all aspects of their operations, sports included.


Barclay’s Premier League: The most popular sports league on the planet has just recently gotten into the LED act, with current league leader Chelsea and surprising Southampton  taking the first steps this summer. 


Where is Major League Baseball, you ask? So far, no MLB ballparks have gone LED but that is just a matter of time.   You can quote us here that at least one MLB club will make the trade for LEDs before next season. 

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