Seeing the Light: When Sports Venue Lighting Creates Problems in Neighborhoods | Sports Destination Management

Seeing the Light: When Sports Venue Lighting Creates Problems in Neighborhoods

Oct 30, 2019 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Cities that want to leverage their sports fields, stadiums and other outdoor arenas to attract sports tourism know there are a lot of benefits to doing so – mainly having to do with economic impact.

But as the arms race to build better facilities continues to heat up, and as more areas become landlocked, leading to construction in residential areas, there is one amendment to facilities that tends to get neighbors really upset: lighting.

Lighting, as it turns out, is a two-edged sword. It allows venues and event owners to schedule more efficiently, packing more games into one day and minimizing the duration of tournaments (thus making them more appealing to parents who are taking off work to bring their children to participate). It makes venues more appealing to event owners since they know that even in seasons with an earlier sundown, schedules can be accommodated. And it makes the venue safer, even if games do end later.

The problem, however, is that good lighting does not necessarily make good neighbors. The lights that give an almost daylight look to a night-time game often bother those near the venue.

It’s a story that has been around for a while; often, the resolution is a long time coming. How long? Well, in 2011, in Westport, Connecticut, more than three decades (yes, we said decades) after Staples High School first floated the idea of permanent lights on its football field, it was able to overcome neighbors’ objections and get them.

Athletic Business, which had followed the story of Westport and its lights, noted the intervening years had seen a lot of changes. Gordon Holmes of RLS Lighting noted that in the 35 years of arguments, technology had advanced:

"You know what's happened in 35 years?” he asked Athletic Business in its article. “Lighting went from old incandescent lamps to metal halides to LEDs. RLS, AB notes, is one of the companies that have, over the years, steered the outdoor sports lighting industry away from massive pre-aimed and unshielded floodlights that illuminated far more than the playing field toward automated, more efficient and effective lighting systems that aim to please facility operators, athletes, spectators and the neighbors who claim a sports complex is an invasion of privacy in their own backyards.

Still, there are concerns. And as communities where athletic facilities are being improved to help attract more business, you can count on hearing the complaints.

Generally, there are three main components to complaints:

  • Light trespass, also known as spill, is just what it sounds like: lighting that extends further than it should, illuminating nearby yards and being visible to those inside their homes;
  • Glare is not to be confused with light trespass; it is what a person experiences when lighting causes temporary problems seeing things. One example is when a baseball player loses sight of a ball because he is looking up into the sky and the lighting makes it impossible for him to focus on the ball – although it can just as easily bother someone in a nearby house who is unable to look across the street properly because of the bright lights;
  • Glow, also known as sky glow, is the bright light one sees above the lights from a distance. This is actually a result of the light catching moisture and particulate matter in the air and illuminating it. (Depending on where the venue is located and what the weather is like, this phenomenon may be more pronounced at some times than others).

The sport being played, and the level of play, will have much to do with the amount of lighting required. Anything that will be used on broadcast television – college bowl games, for example – is held to a higher standard for lighting. Fortunately, today’s lighting can be set for higher or lower levels, depending upon what the field is scheduled to host.

Lighting manufacturers have found themselves called upon to speak at community meetings – often bringing presentations showing the flexibility of newer lighting systems and the lowered impact such systems have upon communities. (Unfortunately, many residents are often thinking of lighting as the high-mast incandescent lamps used at old ballfields – and not as the current LED fixtures which are easier to direct, more energy efficient and which result in far less glare and light spill).

The market for LED lighting is growing, according to the Illuminating Engineering Society, with LED holding the largest share of the stadium lighting market in 2017. In fact,the stadium lighting market is expected to reach $622.2 million by 2023, up from $432 million in 2018, according to report from Research and Markets. Factors such as upcoming national and international sports events, enhanced stadium experiences of fans using LEDs, and reducing costs of LEDs and lifecycle operating costs of stadiums are boosting the demand for stadium lightings. 

As the sports tourism market continues to grow, expect the issue to rear its head now and again. Expect, too, that another issue that will be a concern to communities is that of the ambient noise that also accompanies night games. (And with the exception of having a roofed stadium, there isn’t much that can be done about that).

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