When Super Bowl XLIX is played at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, February 1st, players and fans alike will experience their first Super Bowl under LED lighting. The lighting industry is hailing the switch to LED at the University of Phoenix and many other stadia as a new era for sports lighting. LED lights, they say, are brighter and provide more uniform light, which helps eliminate shadows on the playing surface. The switch, says proponents, helps players during play and improves viewing for spectators, both those in the stadium and those watching television at home high-definition screens.
While it’s a change that has been largely invisible to most people, much of the world’s lighting has gone LED. In many places, LEDs have replaced incandescent bulbs, which are cheap to purchase but expensive to operate, and traditional fluorescent lighting, which is dim and unattractive, not to mention a hazard to the environment thanks to the mercury these bulbs contain. LED bulbs have shown up everywhere from the top of the Empire State Building to our own living rooms in the form of next-generation LED lightbulbs that meet federal energy standards. LED bulbs are also showing up in many sports arenas.
Energy conservation is also a factor. LED lights simply use less energy – one third to one-half less wattage than a traditional bulb -- and generate less heat. (Traditional incandescent bulbs waste about 90 percent of the energy they use creating heat rather than light.) In the summer, LEDs are cool and don’t heat up building interiors like incandescent light bulbs, which reduces demand for air conditioning. And because LED lightbulbs last much longer than other bulbs (they offer a lifespan of approximately 25,000 to 35,000 hours, about 25 to 35 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb and two to four times longer than a compact fluorescent bulb, or CFL), they don’t need to be changed as often. While changing a single light bulb in a house may not be an onerous task, changing thousands of lightbulbs in a large stadium is another story.
There are drawbacks, however, which is why LED lighting has been slow to catch on in sports arenas. For starters, upfront costs are higher (as much as four times higher, particularly in retrofitting existing facilities) since LED bulbs are still significantly more costly than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. While a few years of operations and lower energy costs will often pay for the upfront costs, many builders or stadium owners are still wary of the high initial investment costs.
Secondly, there are some beliefs that LED lighting renders colors “odd” on television. When it came time for the San Francisco 49ers to decide on a lighting system for their new $1.3 billion stadium in Santa Clara, California, they skipped over LED and instead chose traditional fluorescent and incandescent lighting, bending to concerns from broadcasters that the LED lights would negatively affect colors for television viewers, according to a recent article by Michael Sanserino writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“Nobody wants to see a pink-shirted linebacker, no matter how many greenhouse gases his team is offsetting,” wrote the San Jose Mercury News.
Supporters of LEDs in sports say the concerns are overblown and that next-generation LED lighting provides for better television viewing, particularly in HD. In addition to the University of Phoenix Stadium, other high-profile arenas that have gone LED include the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, Duke University’s Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium, and The Ryan Center at the University of Rhode Island.