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10/09/13 Evaluating the Requirements of Sports Field Illumination

Article- Oct, 2013 By Larson

High Intensity LED Light Tower

Larson Electronics 600 Watt High Intensity LED Light Tower

Modern organized sporting events, be they little league baseball or professional football, tend to most often be played during evening hours. As a result, it is necessary to illuminate the playing field so that both players and spectators can easily view and keep track of play. At first glance this would seem a simple matter of just providing enough illumination to see the field and the players on it, and to keep the glare of the lights out of the players field of vision. While at the core this is indeed the goal of those responsible for illuminating the playing field, there are still other important considerations that must also be taken into account in order for field illumination to be truly effective.

The first things that must be considered when deciding to illuminate a playing field is the type of sports which will be played and at what level. A field that will see mostly general public use and little league play will not require the same lighting levels as a college or professional level field. Also, faster moving sports with smaller playing balls such as baseball or lacrosse are going to need a higher level of illumination. Sports such as soccer and football on the other hand can be sufficiently illuminated at lower levels. In most sports there is a minimum foot candle recommendation that is provided by the Sports & Recreation Areas Design & Application Committee of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, which includes these criteria in their publication “Recommended Practice for Sports and Recreational Area Lighting,” (IESNA RP-6-01).

Field lighting levels are generally measured in foot candles. This represents the amount and intensity of the light reaching the playing field surface. Some general lighting levels recommended for various levels and types of play are outlined below but should not be considered a set of industry agreed upon standards. Recommended levels can vary from one locality to the next, or according to the number of spectators present for example, and it is most often best to refer to the Sports & Recreation Areas Design & Application Committee recommendations or your local governing sports authorities.

Recreational sports such as little league baseball and football require approximately 20fc to 50fc. For baseball, 30 foot candles in the outfield and 50 foot candles in the infield is average, and for football 30 to 50 foot candles is common.

College level football is recommended to require at least 50fc and up to 100 due to the large crowd sizes and lighting needs of the media covering play. College level football has grown in complexity and popularity over the last couple decades, and it is becoming more common for college level fields to adhere to professional standards for field illumination.

Professional level sports such as football and baseball can require 200 or more foot candles, in large part because of the very large volume of spectators present and the higher lighting needs posed by media coverage.


Another important consideration when determining playing field light levels as mentioned above is the number of spectators normally present. Larger crowds will be spaced over a wider area around the field, and larger numbers of people typically means the area they will be viewing from will be farther removed from the playing field, both of which increase the lighting levels needed for a clear view. The size of the spectator areas can also affect the distance the lighting systems will need to be set back from the field, which in turn can affect how well the systems provide the proper coverage.


It is also extremely important that lighting levels be uniform across the playing field since this directly affects the athlete’s ability to play and overall play safety. Uniformity is greatly affected by light pole placement and lamp configurations and installers should concentrate on achieving beam spreads at the field surface with just enough overlap to avoid creating “hotspots” where excessive overlap may occur. Pole placement is also critical. Pole setback from the field and pole height greatly affects how well a pole mounted lighting system will cover an area of a given size. More set back and higher pole height can mean more powerful light fixtures will be needed in order to maintain light levels and uniform coverage. For fields where multiple types of sports will be played, the safest bet is to base pole placement and lamp power on the sports requiring the highest lighting levels.


In previous years another consideration that was not given a great deal of attention was the effect playing field lighting has on non play areas such as residential zones, nearby roadways and business areas. In the last fifteen or so years however, light pollution has become a serious concern, and those planning a field lighting scheme must also take into account the light spillage that can affect areas outside of the field. Although this may seem an added difficulty, this is in fact a favorable development for those planning an illumination setup. Field lighting systems equipped with full shields and directional controls in fact place more of their lighting onto the playing area rather than losing it to spillage. This means that a system with good light control will not need to produce as much overall lumen output in order to produce the same amount of foot candles at the playing surfaces as a system with no controls in place. This in turn can mean reduced energy consumption and an overall more efficiently operating system that costs less to operate in the long run.


There are in fact a wide range of factors affecting how well a lighting system can illuminate a given playing field. Although there are no set in stone requirements or regulations, some well constructed minimum recommendations are available from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America which can help to simplify the process. By focusing on meeting the minimum recommendations for a given field, operators can ensure an enjoyable playing experience for both participants and spectators alike while also reducing the impact on nearby residential and businesses areas as well.

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