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Lighting how we play
A recreational sports lighting design checklist

Providing better access to existing sports facilities and creating new ones is becoming the new urban thing.


In cities across the world, both municipalities and private associations – teams, clubs, and the like – offer sports facilities to the public. These facilities – soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball and tennis courts – need to be both adaptable and convenient, offering flexible working hours and access to a variety of activities. Done right, they can even drive a neighborhood’s revitalization.

Many factors feed into how good a sports facility is. One factor that’s as too-little thought of as it is crucial is lighting. Not only does lighting ensure good visibility for spectators and participants it also provides a sense of safety after the sun goes down. Lighting, in fact, is becoming an increasingly important element in the renovation of sports facilities and the design of new ones.


At the same time, recreational facility lighting is a holistic issue that has implications for people beyond those who use the facility. The way a local field or tennis court is illuminated can have a dramatic effect on those who live near it. The facility shouldn’t intrude on their lives via such phenomena as light spill, for example.


Below we’ve put together a checklist that both lighting professionals and sporting facility managers can use – at both indoor and outdoor facilities – for reference when deciding what lighting solution to apply at a given facility, or how to devise a lighting system for a new facility. Sports lighting can be a tricky business, given that no two installations are the same. And the stakes can be high: recreational sports lighting installations are meant to last for decades, so you’d better invest in the right solution.

Key points before you get started


First, define your background information and get your materials in order.


  • Is your project a refurbishment of an existing facility or a completely new project? If it’s the former, is it a one to one replacement, or will you have to match new elements with the older elements that are already there? One of the important things you’ll take away from this exercise is a knowledge of how much flexibility you have in terms your installation’s height and in the way you space your luminaires. As every lighting professional knows, luminaire mounting position is crucial to delivering the right lighting plan.
  • Generate a schematic drawing of your site and venue. You’ll need the exact dimensions – and keep in mind that these can vary not only from sport to sport, but also from country to country. A European hockey rink is bigger than a North American one; a Canadian football field is wider than an American one.
  • Understand your site’s future maintenance plan. You’ll need to draft a plan that ensures full light uniformity and that light levels will, throughout the installation’s lifetime, at least equal the minimum values as established by the norms and sports federations.


Second, define how the facility is going to be used.


  • What types of sports will people play at that facility? Sports played with smaller balls will require higher light levels. The European Class III (training) norm mandates 200 lux for outdoor tennis and only 75 lux for soccer. Plus, once again you’ll have to take into account the demands of the sports leagues and federations you’ll be dealing with. Will matches sometimes be broadcast on TV? Your installation has to be suitable for both players and spectators, and there will be different values for light uniformity, glare, and color rendering, depending on the sport and level of practice – and on what’s happening on the field. Lower uniformity and color rendering are fine for practice sessions at a club’s home arena, but for real matches you’ll have to adhere to higher standards.
A recreational sports lighting design checklist | Philips Lighting

How much activity will this recreational facility accomodate?


  • The number of people that the facility holds, the actual capacity of the spectator area and the distance from the field at which spectators will sit are all crucial to your lighting plans.
  • Calculate the facility’s burning hours per year. At bottom, this is a maintenance question, but the answer to it could mean the difference between your installing a 1,000-hour solution and a 4,000-hour one (the latter in the event that you’re working indoors). The need to maintain at least a minimum light level for a given period of time also needs to factor into your calculations here.


Third, take into account the environment constraints you’ll be facing.


  • For outdoor use: determine the area that your facility will affect. You’ll need to control spill light, especially if you’re working far away from the city or close to residential buildings.
  • Inventory the obstacles, furniture and other structures on the site: masts, catwalks, stands, other metal structures, etc. Such objects can block light, impacting your lighting results.
  • Take into account mandated safety zones. In soccer, for example, there are restrictions on what you can erect at this or that distance from the lines that define the playing field.

Now that you’ve got all of that information, you can define your lighting requirements. Here are some very typical lighting criteria that you’ll probably come across:

Lighting level:
The lighting level or quantity of light that falls on the playing surface is naturally enough a fundamental parameter. It’s called illuminance and it’s measured in lux (lumen /m²). Lighting levels are defined for types of sports and usage to ensure good visual conditions for players, referees, and spectators.:

  • For soccer: from 75 lux for training (also 200 lux in between) to 500 lux for an official match
  • For tennis indoor: from 300 lux for training (also 500 lux in between) to 750 lux for an official match
A recreational sports lighting design checklist | Philips Lighting


Variations in light and shade are a nuisance to both players and spectators, and thus require careful attention. The level of illuminance variation on the field is called uniformity. It’s expressed as a ratio of the lowest to the average illuminance. Increasing the uniformity value will help in optimizing the perception of the visual information used during sports events.:

  • For football: in terms of uniformity, European norm gives minimum value from 0.5 (for recreational activities) to 0.7 (for top level competition). But it is always recommended to go above the minimum value to ensure better quality of illumination.

Glare rating (acceptable visual comfort):

Glare is the sensation produced by luminance within the visual field that’s considerably greater than the luminance to which the eyes are accustomed, and that therefore causes visual discomfort. For outdoor applications, CIE 112 defines a so-called Glare Rating factor (GR) for which an assessment scale of from 10 to 90 is given. The lower the GR value, the better the glare situation is. A value of 10 indicates unnoticeable glare and 90 indicates unbearable glare. Generally, a maximum GR value of 50 (just admissible) is specified for recreational sports.

  • Make sure to install the right luminaire in the right place (and at the right height and angle). Once you’ve chosen the luminaire type and mounting height, the installation will be difficult to adjust, so make sure you take these issues into consideration well beforehand.
  • Depending on the particularities of certain sports there are luminaire location restrictions, with the goal of maintaining comfort and limiting glare. An indoor basketball application should include no luminaires within a four-meter diameter of the hoop, for example.

Color rendering:

As we all know, color rendering affects the quality of visibility in terms of how realistic colors look under artificial lighting, taking daylight as a reference. For training, European norms require only a CRI value of 20; for a match or game, there needs to be a CRI of about 60. (A CRI of 60 actually indicates average color rendering. Most new recreational sports lighting installations that use LED luminaires will today have a CRI of 70, which is higher than the EN norm stipulates. CRIs in the 80 to 90 range are observed mainly during televised sports events.)

Calculation grid:

This will depend on the recommendations you’re following. The European norm for a soccer field foresees a grid of around 21x13 points, whereas the French football federation foresees one of 5x5 points.

Maintenance factor (maintenance light level):

You’ll need to include this factor in your lighting calculation to compensate for light depreciation. Maintenance factor is defined as the ratio of the illuminance a lighting system produces after a certain period to the illuminance the system produced when new. Indeed, the quantity of light a system provides will decrease gradually throughout the life of the installation, mainly because of the lumen depreciation of the light source, dirt accumulation on the luminaires and the ageing of certain luminaire components.

Spill light control:

Carefully determine your lighting installation’s impact on the surrounding environment: roads, housing, and so on. You’ll also want to know at what hours (such as the night hours) spill light might be a problem for you.

Next, you define your lighting solution. Key solution parameters are:

Energetic efficiency (W/Lux/m²) and power consumption:

These are still very important factors to look at (in combination with others). If standalone LED-based luminaires can provide savings, combining luminaries with advanced lighting control systems like Interact Sports can boost savings even more – by leveraging dimming capabilities, for instance.  The result is exactly the right quantity of light, where and when you need it.

Light distribution efficiency (utilization factor):

You also need to fine-tune the optic/luminaire so that it sends light only in the right direction. By selecting the right optic for the luminaire, you’ll be able to illuminate only the area of interest, giving you an efficient solution. This will let you avoid any light waste and shine light only where you need it. The utilization factor expresses the light distribution efficiency for a given playing field and given luminaire positions. (Defined as the proportion of the luminous flux emitted by the luminaire that reaches the field of play.) With a wide-range asymmetrical lighting distribution, OptiVision LED is a good solution for making a recreational sports installation as efficient as possible.

Quantity of luminaires and quantity and height of masts (relevant for outdoor use only):

  • This can have a big impact on costs. How many luminaires do you need to meet your requirements?
  • For an outdoor installation, you should define mast height so that you’re in line with the admissible glare rating. Increasing mast height will let you comfortably cover a larger area, but will cost more.

Restricting obtrusive light (relevant to outdoor use only):

Here you’ll want to consider how the recreational facility is going to affect its surroundings. The goal is to minimize light nuisance issues. You want to avoid beaming light:

  • Towards the windows of houses
  • In such a way as to discomfort people around the field of play
  • Towards the sky (you need to mind the sky glow limitation, which protects night preservation and biodiversity)

Philips OptiVision LED with integrated louvers is a good solution for a playing field and its surroundings. It diminishes the light that shines beyond the field, preserving the darkness for local residents.

A recreational sports lighting design checklist | Philips Lighting
Indirect glare:

Especially in indoor spaces but sometimes outdoors as well, you’ll need to consider the surfaces in the space in which you’re working – and the way they reflect light. Consider the shiny lacquered surface of a basketball court.

Natural light (relevant for indoor use only):

Take into account the natural light that can enter the space. Then adapt artificial light levels to it. You can install a sensor-equipped control system that decreases interior light levels when higher levels of natural light shine in from outside (and vice versa).

Create a maintenance plan that ensures that you’ll be able to provide to specifications over time.

Combining an OptiVision LED luminaire with a lighting management system like Interact Sports will keep recreational sports installation maintenance costs as low as possible. The OptiVision LED floodlight in fact offers a low-maintenance solution, thanks to a concept that enables a long lifetime (up to 100,000 hours). And connecting it to a remote monitoring system lets users monitor the status of the installation without checking it directly on site. All of that makes it possible to guarantee the right lighting levels on site and keep maintenance costs low.

Create a dimming scenario to fit different activity levels:

This will foster flexibility, make it possible to use different areas for different purposes, and lend adaptability in how the installation is used. (Interact Sports software’s dedicated lighting management application is a good solution here. It offers a variety of pre-set lighting scenes that you can activate with the push of a button.)

The way to ensure that you devise the best possible solution for your situation is to make sure that all those stakeholders are communicating with each other as much as possible.


Recreational sporting facilities are becoming amenities that big cities and smaller municipalities alike are unwilling to do without. They bring new economic life to neighborhoods, raise quality of life, and promote better health. By making sure they’re illuminated properly, lighting professionals can help make sure these facilities reach their full potential.