Lighting the way

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Mike Simpson, global design lead for Philips Lighting’s Sport Stadium business, explains how a previously humble utility has now become a catalyst for change

From 360° video walls to microbreweries and fine dining restaurants – the way stadia are designed, built and managed has evolved rapidly. No longer can arenas be concrete shells that solely encapsulate thousands of fans for 25 home games a year. Modern stadia must adapt, support the finances of the club, and become multipurpose powerhouses that stimulate the local economy and excite fans.

Lighting, once the most overlooked aspect of arena design, is leading the way stadia are redefining themselves. The demand for high-quality TV coverage for sports has seen a reciprocal raising of the bar in broadcast standards, codified by international sports federations and independent broadcasters. HDTV, 3D and now ultra-high-definition TV (4K) provide a more immersive viewing experience where crisp footage and slow-motion replays capture every detail – from a player’s emotions, gestures and actions, to individual drops of rain.

Going hand-in-hand with new broadcast standards are more stringent pitch lighting standards. The metal halide floodlights of yesteryear fall short of the high performance required by 4K television cameras. To be compliant, stadia are increasingly shifting to LED lighting, which is becoming the de facto standard for venues competing to host the most coveted international tournaments.

Few top-flight stadia can afford to be mono-sports facilities and have embraced a multipurpose arena model. Key to this is next-generation lighting technology, which is enabling top European soccer clubs such as Ajax, Atlético Madrid, Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais to heighten their fan experience through customizable light shows.

New LED systems can be monitored, controlled, rapidly switched, dimmed and synced to music, jumbotrons and perimeter boards as one integrated entertainment system. The addition of moving color beams and dynamic control systems enables the creation of dramatic pre/after-match light shows to thrill spectators.

Lighting systems have also found their way into VIP suites, concourses and offices, and are being applied to illuminate stadium façades – providing owners with new possibilities for advertising and branding. The façade of the Allianz Arena (above), home to Bayern München in Germany, is essentially a 26,000m² (279,860ft²) customizable canvas that can show moving images and dynamic color graphics thanks to 300,000 LED lights installed behind the largest single inflatable stadium membrane in Europe.

The complexity of maintaining a multipurpose stadium in an efficient way and ensuring it is differentiated from other venues is also increasing. Besides this, safety in venues has become a top-of-mind topic, which affects the fan experience.

Using advanced LED systems for all the different areas in a stadium will reduce operational costs, simplify operations and enhance the experience and safety for fans, players, visitors and employees. Such is the power of LED that it is even used as surrogate sunlight to grow grass on the pitch. Using specialist horticultural lighting rigs, clubs can grow high-quality grass all year round.

Outside the stadium, walkways and façades of nearby buildings can be illuminated in team colors, convey messages or guide people, providing a unique spectacle that will encourage fans to remain in the nearby area.

Stadium lighting could even be used to improve crowd control and safety based on sensor data. Lighting equipped with sensors could direct people to specific locations (such as the least busy bar), give location-based promotions, guide people to less congested exits in the event of an emergency, or simply ensure the efficient exit of fans at the end of a game. Such a connected infrastructure could provide the stadium manager with data-driven insights to improve stadium layout, staff planning, and so on.

One thing about the future is certain: lighting, for so long an afterthought in stadium design, is now a central component in the design of a smart stadium and tied inextricably to its commercial wellbeing.

Mike Simpson is the global design lead for Philips Lighting’s Sports Stadium business, located in the UK.

January 17, 2018

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