Replacing halogen and metal halide bulbs and fittings with LED has been the obvious thing to do for the past 15 years.  Well, let’s say 8 years (the promises have been there for 15 but they really haven’t stacked up).  

Most of what was said was true – the lamps used less power, required less maintenance and lasted ‘a lot longer’.  Unfortunately, the original claims of 50,000 hours seldom, if ever, proved to be true and many people got burned with sub-standard product that cost 5 times as much as traditional bulbs yet barely out lasted them.  

Thankfully, however, the technology improved, and we started to get nearer to the life spans we had been promised.  All these problems did cause people to be more sceptical of wild promises and slowed the progress in some sectors.  Governments then started offering incentives and kick-started a wave of replacements which really got the momentum going in the market.

One of the industries that has been lagging behind (for very good reasons) in all this progress is sport.  Sport fields and stadiums, tennis courts, horse racing tracks and many others have struggled to see the value when weighing up against the potential down-sides of early-life failures.  With a number of companies working on this problem for the past few years, we can finally say that LED has arrived for sports applications, as a credible and genuine alternative to metal halide.  

The key benefits are as follows:

Digital Control and Pay to Play

By incorporating digital lighting into your club you can increase the simplicity of another revenue stream – pay to play.  

Apps are available to work in with a number of lighting systems which allows users to book and pay for a court or pitch on-line and turns the lights on at a specific light level for a specific time.  

This gives total control to the club and needs no on-site management as it can be done completely remotely. Having this remote control gives you the option to open up availability to non-members for added revenue and attract potential new members.


With LED being ‘digital’ there is much more control over the amount of light you use. Different lighting levels can be set based on the requirements of the night i.e. training vs competition.  

The lighting requirements for a given sport e.g. football, are 100 lux for training and 250 lux for a match.  This means that for any time that match-lighting is not required, a huge saving is able to be made to the electricity usage.  

Whilst this was possible with metal halide systems, it meant turning off certain lights and keeping others on, resulting in uneven deterioration of the lighting. Digital dimming can even be done from a phone for maximum flexibility.

Reduces Electrical Usage

With certain (not all) modern LED sport fittings, energy consumption can be reduced by 40-50%.  This is a combination of high efficiency LED’s and drivers, but more importantly high efficiency optics.  

The optics control where the light goes and therefore is very important to overall ‘system efficiency’.  Many lights claim high lumen/watt ratios.  This is meaningless unless you have proved this with guaranteed lux levels on the ground. 

This factor, in conjunction with the dimmable feature, significantly reduces the overall power usage.

Reduces Maintenance

One of the huge advantages of LED modules is low maintenance. 

Typically, a metal halide lamp will deteriorate to 75% within 500 hours.  For a well-frequented club, this may be only a few months usage, resulting in either under-performing lights or high maintenance bills.  

The lamps themselves are not overly expensive, but often the required equipment (scissor lifts or booms) are very costly – especially in rural areas where they may have to be obtained from many kilometres away.  

By contrast, LED’s should operate at a high efficiency for 50 000 hours, only requiring occasional cleaning of the optics.  When assessing the costs, this needs to be factored in.

Instant On

Having the lights up to full power instantly removes the need for lengthy start up periods. LED lighting is on instantly and if there is a power failure, will re-start immediately once the power is back on. 

The added benefit to this is that players appreciate the convenience and get used to having uninterrupted play, rather than the frustration of lights turning off during a game and waiting 20 minutes for them to re-start.  

Ultimately this equates to improved turnouts at games, more willing pay-to-play participants, and overall a better image for the club.

So in summary, whilst LED has had a rocky start to their big-field career, we do believe they have finally arrived for good.  The value can be proved, the technology is stable and you can set your club apart, attract new members andreduce your running expenses – all by having digital lighting.

A Word of Warning….

These benefits are still only true if you have the right lighting partner.  Do your research and make sure that what you are getting does stack up as there are still plenty of old-technology LED systems out there.

If you’d like to talk to one of our expert lighting specialists for advice on upgrading from halide to LED, contact us at Legacy Sports Lighting for a detailed consultation.

Ben, an earnest young project manager brings his new idea to the board meeting – replace our ridiculously outdated metal halides for new, singing-and-dancing LED’s.  ‘Everyone is doing it, the whole world is changing to digital LED – it must be the right thing to do!’ Thoroughly researched, he is confident of 100% buy-in from all.  The features are great, the benefits are blatantly obvious. Then, the boss asks the dreaded question ‘That’s all very well but what’s the return on investment (ROI)?’  Ben fumbles around restating the features and benefits for the fourth time.  Opinions are divided and another amazing project get scuttled before leaving the harbour.

The “ROI” question is perfectly fair to ask and not always easy to answer.  So what we’ve attempted to do is give a clear matrix of influencing factors in relation to replacing metal halides with LED lamps.  We have focused on replacing metal halide fittings on a one-for-one basis, although the calculation is still valid for new build, assuming you select an LED fitting that will allow you to use the same pole construction as you would with a metal halide fitting i.e. luminaires are the same size and weight.

The main and obvious influences on ROI are power consumption and maintenance costs.  However, a number of external factors also will impact a decision like this which are more emotional things which everyone will put a different value on.  These are all benefits we take for granted in our homes and businesses but at this early-ish stage of LED development can be easy to overlook in a sporting application when club funds are stretched.  These include carbon footprint responsibility, spill light control to have happier neighbours, the convenience of digital app based control and ‘instant on’.  Basically the convenience and usability we expect in the 21st century which is often hard to put a price on directly.

Carbon footprint responsibility

There may well be differing views on global warming and how this is impacting our planet and what sort of crises we are generating for future generations.  Whichever end of the scale we are at in this argument, saving electricity has to be a good thing.  In most countries electricity production is stretched and costs are only going to go one way.  Additionally many municipalities offer incentives to use more efficient devices, further enhancing the benefits.

Happier Neighbours

Spill light not only costs money in wasted energy but also makes for aggravated neighbours.  Having a pay-to-play system is good news for the club who can maximise their investment, but perhaps not such good news for those nearby who don’t like sleeping in simulated daylight.  Many LED systems offer excellent light control due to each LED having an optic.  This allows for very specific focus of the light to go just where it should, dramatically reducing the stray light.

App based control

Imagine your facilities manager being able to turn the lights off from his bed at 2am when the last rowdy players have forgotten to do so. Better still, set the app so that the lights turn off after a specified time, or when the key-holder leaves, or when the players’ credit has run out etc. etc.  In other words, digital lighting gives us exceptional control of how we manage our lighting to minimise running costs and maximise the clubs ROI.  By making pay-to-play so simple and controllable, clubs can rethink how they make the facility available 24/7, boosting attendances and fees without impacting on their pay-roll.  Additionally, being able to control the intensity of the lights allows you to have different levels of lighting for different sports or levels of play.  This again gives more control of your costs as you can dim the lights to pre-set levels if full power is not required.

Instant On

Have you ever been frustrated with how long your lights take to warm up?  Or worse still had a match in progress and the electricity has tripped, causing a 20 minute delay while the lights warm up to full power again?  A benefit of LED that is hard to put a value on is the way they power up in seconds.  Even with a soft start they are operating at full power in under 5 seconds.

Digital Convenience

Like with many things in our modern world there is a convenience about digital which is hard to put a price on.  Ever considered what life would be like without a smartphone? We now can’t even imagine how terrible this would be but smartphones have only been in existence since 2007. Once we have made the commitment to going digital the benefits compound and it becomes very difficult to image how we managed ‘in the old days’.


So, bearing in mind the somewhat ‘intangible’ benefits mentioned above, put your numbers into the ROI Calculator below and you’ll quickly be able to see how long the investment will take to pay off.

If you have looked into LED lighting at all you will have noticed there is dozens, if not hundreds, of options.  So, as you can imagine, there a dozens, if not hundreds, of variations to the answer of this question. They range from 100W to 1500W, big fins, small fins, fan assisted, metal pressed, die cast, white powder coat, black powder coat, COB’s, small chip LED’s, high efficiency LED’s and so on and so on.  Your head begins to spin at the options, but one thing you can be sure of is that LED is the most efficient – right?  Wrong.  Or more correctly – potentially wrong.

Let’s just confirm that point quickly as it is really important – just because it is LED does not mean that it is energy efficient.  Or, conversely, just because it is old technology metal halide does not make it inefficient.  A number of factors need to be assessed to decide if LED is going to work for you.  How often are the lights used, and for how long etc. etc.

So let’s look at some of these factors in a bit more detail…

How often are the lights used and for how long?

A while back we had a client insisting on looking at LED.  They ran a rodeo once a year for one night and he felt LED was going to give him the best return on investment because if ‘was the best’ and ‘the latest technology’.  Needless to say we were dubious.  The LED fittings he wanted cost 4 times that of metal halide and the amount of electricity used in the year would have only been 10’s of dollars because of only being used once a year.  In this case there was no way of justifying the purchase.  On the other hand, making a 40% energy saving on 100’s of hours of use per year can make it very viable.

How many lights will I need to use?

The only way to conclusively check if there is a gross energy saving is to get a lighting plan done.  If you are using the existing poles then you can figure out what lighting levels you already have and get a comparative study done using LED.  You can immediately see if you will require more or less fittings and energy by the layout results.  Don’t take this as a given that LED will reduce your energy consumption.  Most systems are less efficient than their traditional alternatives.

Optics and field size

The larger the field, the more difficult it is for LED to improve on power consumption.  This is because many of the LED optics are not optimised for big field sports and are therefore very inefficient at distributing the light, particularly at a distance.  The critical factor is the control of the light with optics or reflectors as this determines ultimately how many LED watts will be required.  Again, a lighting plan using the IES file for the specified light is the only way to know if it will work or not.  Don’t baulk at this step.  It may cost a few hundred dollars at worst, and at best could save you hundreds of thousands in wasted investment.

To conclude then, efficiency is relative to the size of the investment vs the usage of the lights.  Assuming you get a really good optic and can replace your metal halide fittings and get a 40% saving in electricity, make sure you get a sensible return on investment by looking at the whole lifetime cost, rather than just focusing on the isolated factor of energy consumption.

When we (those of us over 40) think of an LED we tend to think of a little glowing diode on a pc board or electronic toy and register the fact the LED draws very little power.  While this may be correct for a single diode, when we ramp things up 10W of power is the same whether you’re powering a halogen bulb or LED.

OK so where is this power-consumption advantage of LED then?  And will I not get any benefit from changing over my old 2kW Metal Halide sports lights?

The answers lies in a number of factors which have to work together to make LED effective.  The key elements that the manufacturer has to blend are the following:

  1. Identifying the application
  2. Selecting an LED
  3. Designing an optic
  4. Designing the heat sink or housing
  5. Control of usage and dimming

The first point to consider when designing a lamp is what the application is.

Designing for the application

In a warehouse, the size of the lamp is not an issue as the roof space is generally a void.  Because the lights are running constantly, the user is more concerned about the power usage or efficiency.  For this user a high lumens/watt ratio is ideal as it means using less electricity.  Lights are therefore designed to have a large surface area and use lots of LED’s. Although this costs a bit more initially, the pay-back in power consumption easily justifies it.

Whilst this is good for warehouse lighting, it is not necessarily so for sports lighting or vehicle lighting.  Having a large and heavy light at the top of a 25m sports pole causes problems with ‘sail area’.  Much like a ships sails, these lights will cause resistance to the wind and put a lot of strain on the pole.  For instance, if you’re wanting to change from Metal Halide to LED, the poles at your club may have been designed for holding 10 lights weighing 20kg/each with a sail area of 0.8m2.  These are then replaced with 10 LED lights weighing 30kg/each and a sail area of 1m2.  We don’t have to be mathematicians to realise that we could well have an issue on a windy day!  Likewise having a very ‘energy efficient’ 350mm-diameter driving light on your 4WD is not going to look very cool or be very fuel efficient.

So as we said, the application is very important when designing a light and there is no best-fit for all industries.

Selecting the LED

Selecting the LED for a specific application is a complex problem.  There are hundreds of options on the market from dozens of manufacturers, covering the spectrum from 0.2W up to COB’s which can be over 50W.  As a rule of thumb, the less hard you drive an LED the brighter it glows relative to the wattage you put in.  This efficiency factor is called lumens/watt. So for instance a 5W LED may be producing 100 lumens/watt at 5W but if you run it at 2W it will produce 130 lumens/watt (Lumens being the measurement of light output against how many watts are put in).  Although the overall lumen value is less, the actual efficiency (or light output to current-draw) is much higher. Therefore if you run 5W LED’s at 2W you will get a high efficiency (lumens/watt).

The LED however just produces an intense glow of light and in itself has no control. For this we need an optic or reflector which will guide the light where we want it to go.

Designing an optic

This step is done in conjunction with the choice of the LED as they have to work together and is the most critical aspect.  Each optic or reflector is therefore optimised for a specific LED and this combination will determine the energy efficiency and light control.

As mentioned above LED’s themselves just produce a ball of light.  Harnessing this and guiding it exactly we it needs to go is the work of the optic.  There is three main ways to do this a) Total Internal Reflection optic b) Chrome reflector c) Combination of both.  There are pro’s and con’s for all three and we won’t go into that in any depth here.  Sufficient to say this control of the light decides whether to beam is going to be 5° wide and go 1km down the road, or 100° wide for a wide flood etc.  Sports lighting uses a combination of beam patterns for different applications.  The most difficult has proved to be the asymmetric narrow beam needed for large, field based sports like baseball, football, soccer and cricket.  Most manufacturers have taken the easy route of having a round beam pattern in a set number of angles.  However in big-field sports this proves to be very inefficient and can require up to 50% more power to achieve the same result as using a 2kW metal halide fitting.  Given that LED’s tend to be more expensive than metal halide, this can result in the project costing a lot more than you perhaps budgeted.

So, when you’re looking into this, be sure to get an IES lighting plan done before committing to purchase.  Many manufacturers will do this for a nominal sum, or even free, and is very important to make sure that you can achieve the right lighting levels without overloading your existing poles or ending up using twice the amount of electricity.

Designing the housing

Essentially this should be the simplest part of the design but is still very important.  The LED’s are working away and the optics are putting the light where we need it but unless we remove the heat effectively, the light isn’t going to last for very long.  On the other hand if we space the LED’s out and make large cooling fins, it will run very cool but will be too heavy to replace metal halide fittings one for one.

Designers use special software to model heat build-up and ensure that there is a balance between too much aluminium and sail area (like a ships sail) and being too small and risk overheating. Many high-powered LED sports lights weigh 2-3 times that of 2kW metal halides but are no more efficient.  Care needs to be taken to ensure that the poles have been designed to cope with the extra weight and sail area.

Control of usage and dimming

With digital LED lighting more options are available to us to save energy.  App based controllers are now available to interface with almost any lamp and can be used for pay-as-you-play, dim for training, get energy usage reports and much more.  These systems can have a rapid pay-back and take a lot of hassle out of managing the day to day problems of responsibility and maintenance.  Your lighting supplier would either have their own bespoke system or will have alliances with third party providers to offer a range of packages from simple to very complex.


So, in conclusion if you are wanting to install digital LED lighting for the energy efficiency, make sure that you are able to achieve this as it cannot be taken for granted.  If you are unsure we would recommend investing a few hundred dollars in getting a third party to cross-check that the lighting layout provided is accurate, as once the lights are up it could be an expensive mistake.  Suppliers should be willing to provide the IES files so this can be done.  Also use a lux meter to test what lighting you currently achieve and ensure that you have come-back on the supplier if minimum standards are not met.