NGU Sports Lighting


Upgrading to Smart LED Sports Lighting: Is It Time?

Smart LED sports lighting offers you the potential to introduce an intriguing solid-state technology into your building’s infrastructure, and an added, powerful measure of external control over how, and how well, you light your events for impact. On its face, upgrading to a smart LED system sounds like a simple investment decision. The vanguard carries an allure beyond installing more mechanical lights.

Yet this investigation is more complex than it seems. Sports lighting is mission-critical—it is pretty hard to host an NHL game indoors or a high school football game or even a night affair between the Buffalo Bisons and the Syracuse Mets without turning the lights on. It is incumbent upon you to get this decision right the first time. Sports lighting is also a long-term capital investment that will carry a lifespan of at least a decade and more likely multiple decades. Additionally, it is but one physical component alive in your operating budget competing for priority, along with the field or the performance bowl, the seating, the scoreboard and accompanying HD screens, the PA system and the foundation, among others.      

Chances are if you are thinking about making the move to smart LED lighting, or are actively seeking the switch, it marks the first time, and perhaps the only time, in your career you will be making the purchase. That naturally breeds pressure. However, making the ultimate decision to upgrade takes careful consideration and critical thinking, and in many ways a leap of faith that you will be able to pull off the transition in a way that fits the unique requirements of your venue.

Here are four major factors you need to analyze to determine when it is finally time to upgrade: 

1.     Is your current system becoming obsolete?

In many sports venues, aging mechanical lighting systems are in place. Usually, these systems are decades old, meaning they pre-date current management, which inherited this infrastructure with the task of maintaining it and making the best out of what they have. Some of these mechanical systems and their accompanying necessary parts date all the way back to the 1960s.

Perhaps these installations are still viewed as sufficient to meet the needs of the fans and the players. However, the older and more outdated the mechanical systems grow, the harder it becomes to actually locate and replace their parts, especially if what you have is now a legacy system. These parts include the ballasts (and external ballast boxes), the fuses, the circuits and the bulbs themselves. Consequently, you may find that your existing mechanical set-up is essentially forcing the upgrade decision upon you. If not, then ask: How willing are you to endure the complications of reaching back in time to maintain your status quo?

A similar dynamic holds in the case of managing an existing, more traditional LED system that’s passed through a couple of technology generations. Now, that system is either is approaching end-of-life or has reached that point. This means you may find yourself with limited or no ability to expand your control of the system, or the inability to replace technological components in the LED bulb itself, such as the chip. You may also lose the accompanying support service, which means you carry the risk of being in a precarious position if something misfires.           

2.     What are you currently paying in operational costs for your facility’s lighting? Does that strike you as too much?

Traditionally, the perceived return on investment on a sports lighting system contemplates energy savings plus maintenance savings. So where do you feel your current ROI stands? A few questions to ask yourself, then:

·      How comfortable are you with your current level of efficiency? Is your average or total usage level acceptable?

·      How well do you feel you are able to transmit your existing lighting onto the actual field of play and onto the players, rather than the periphery? Are you effectively leaking light—and energy?

·      How often do you find yourself swapping out lights, or making repairs, or performing other maintenance tasks?

·      How much of your venue’s total operating budget do the lighting bills comprise? Is that percentage eating the profits, so to speak?

One thing to point out: Numerous studies over the years have shown that lights LED bulbs require up to 80 percent less energy consumption than Halogen bulbs. This itself is not determinative in your decision depending on your level of comfort or tolerance for what is in place currently, but may serve as a temptation as you work your way through your decision-making process.         

3.     How much of your current sports lighting infrastructure will you be able to reuse if you make the switch?

This variable will inevitably take a measure of technical analysis and engineering acumen to assess. This article assumes you are face-to-face with an existing fixture, rather than new construction. That does not, however, necessarily mean that upgrading to smart LED lighting will be a clean installation into the structure as it exists now.

For instance, there may be a level of new construction involved, a swapping out of old poles or crossarms for new ones, or a retrofitting process to accommodate your new lights. Any new construction or reconfiguration, in addition to the installation and customization work involved, will lead to a lengthier, more costly project. Conversely, the more reuse you can sustain, the less cumbersome the upgrade process will prove.

How much tolerance, appetite or budget do you have for a hybrid installation/construction project versus your desire to enter the modern era of smart LED? This could certainly be a trigger in deciding whether to move forward or not.      

4.     How do you rate your ability to provide your fans with an exciting lighting experience?

Earlier this year, the 10-part ESPN documentary series “The Last Dance” became standard-issue COVID-19 quarantine viewing for scores of sports fans. This reintroduced the world to the championship dominance of the Chicago Bulls during NBA glory days of the 1990s. The series also brought back into consciousness what arguably is the most enduring and most entertaining player introductions ritual in American team sports history. As The Alan Parsons Project’s “Sirius” blasted over the sound system at the United Center, a spotlight danced on the Bulls’ logo painted at center court. Additional lighting etching the team logo and worded expressions danced on the court. Then, a warm spotlight tracked each starter as the PA announcer excitedly shouted each name, leading up obviously to the crowd’s explosion for Michael Jordan.

The United Center’s lighting helped infuse that story into the hearts of even casual fans watching outside of Chicago every home game. Here we are a quarter-century later reminiscing about this indelible fan experience.

So what story will the fans who frequented your building tell 25 years from now? Are you able to tell that story now with your existing lighting? Can you win over fans who increasingly treat their phones like an appendage, and who find entertainment and hyperfocus in intricately designed video games and virtual-reality applications, with your current capacity to provide a unique experience?

If you feel you are falling short of this expectation, then the additional control smart LED offers in amping your creativity and color may be what ultimately wins you over. So, too, could the prospect of redefining ROI to include accrued fan loyalty via attendance, increased sponsorship and other measures. 

The four aforementioned factors in deciding whether now is the appropriate time to upgrade to smart LED sports lighting are not presented here as the only ones to weigh in your evaluation and analysis. This is a crucial undertaking. It is one that will take time, concentration, a wade through multiple layers of data points, an assessment of risk and especially the involvement of all of your major stakeholders, from the engineers to the operations managers to the general manager and to perhaps even the team owner. With the right mindset, determination and maybe even partnership with a trusted advisor, the bolder move could reveal itself over time to be the right move. 

To learn how you can get started, visit or call us at 1-855-NGU-LEDS.