Court Construction & Maintenance Guide: Bright Ideas
LED lighting is spilling over to sports venues. Is it right for your facility?
The tennis industry is used to welcoming new players to the game. New apparel companies, new racquet technologies — even new lines on the court. And the newest kid on the block is LED (light-emitting diode) court lighting systems. So without knocking our old friends like metal halide systems or fluorescent fixtures, let’s get to know this relatively new entrant into the market.
The technology, which was first seen in installations such as Christmas lights and traffic signals, made its way into warehouses, factories and other indoor uses. It has entered the tennis industry’s collective consciousness within the last several years. From merchandise cases used in pro shops, it has expanded to indoor, then to outdoor, facilities, achieving a respectable reputation due to several advantages.
Green is the new black, and LED lighting can boast energy-efficient technology, according to those in the industry.
“The big growing trend is LED,” says Steven Rothschild of Access Fixtures in Worcester, Mass. “It’s actually moving into the mainstream. The demand is growing.”
While some advantages may be viewed as pertaining to a niche market (Rothschild, for example, says that LED lighting is becoming the preferred solution in areas with high energy costs, such as Hawaii where electricity costs between 30 cents and 50 cents per kilowatt hour, or on Caribbean islands where power supplies are both limited and expensive), there is no getting around the overall eco- and user-friendliness.
“The LEDs — and the fluorescent fixtures — use 30 percent of the energy of metal halide lights,” notes Alex Levitsky of Global Sports & Tennis Design Group LLC in Fair Haven, N.J., “and they turn on and off instantly, which are big advantages.”
Another advantage of LED is its slower depreciation. According to Mike Lorenz of Ephesus Lighting in Syracuse, N.Y., LED lighting depreciates at a rate of less than 1 percent per year, as compared to metal halide systems, which can lose 25 percent of their brightness in one year.
Lorenz notes that it is the energy-savings aspect of LED systems that is spurring their popularity in college and university facilities. More schools are becoming concerned with creating a smaller carbon footprint, so they are aggressively pursuing technologies that will help them do so.
Lighting efficiency company ThinkLite of Natick, Mass., custom designs, manufactures, distributes and installs energy-efficient retrofit solutions, including for sports and tennis facilities. ThinkLite Founder and CEO Dinesh Wadhwani says retrofitting courts that have fluorescent or metal halide lamps with LED is becoming more commonplace.
“Our LED solutions can provide a 40 to 50 percent energy savings, offer a 10-year-plus lifespan with virtually no maintenance costs, and provide better quality lighting,” Wadhwani notes, adding that with both UL and DLC approvals, ThinkLite LED tubes qualify for many utility rebate programs, providing a quicker return on investment.
Tennis court lighting, whether it is placed in a backyard, a club or a park, has long been a bone of contention with the neighbors. Light trespass, the technical term for light that spills off the primary playing area and inadvertently illuminates adjacent property, has been at the crux of complaints, covenants, and perhaps a few less than cordial relationships over the years.
It is here, says Rothschild, that LED lighting really, well, shines.
“There is a lot of West Coast usage of LED lighting for energy-efficiency reasons. But one of the East Coast reasons for going with LED is that it causes a lot less light trespass. We can do a light trespass analysis for 20 feet around the court, and we have seen the light falloff is far more rapid with LED than with other systems. Sometimes there are code issues in neighborhoods, so this is really important.”
The Dark Side
If LED is the wave of the future, it may be, for now, a wave that moves steadily but slowly. As with all new technology, there are going to be areas of the industry it is slower to penetrate.
According to Rothschild, LED is still mainly used in club and recreational settings, since at this point, “It is not going to emit what is required for a televised event.” (His view is not shared by Lorenz, who says LED is ideal for use in events receiving HD television coverage.) The lack of agreement — at least for now — may hinder LED’s ability to make large-scale marketing headway into facilities from which high-profile tennis events are broadcast.
Another, more immediate, factor keeping the tide from turning too rapidly is the bottom line. LED systems remain significantly more expensive to purchase and install than other products that have been in use for years. In a tennis economy still recovering from a downturn, managers may be skittish about investing in a new and costly system as they go about making long-deferred upgrades to their courts.
“At some point, there is no doubt that LED lighting will be utilized for most lighting applications, including tennis courts,” says Bruce Frasure of LSI Industries Inc. of Cincinnati. “Today however, there is still a challenge to provide LED tennis court lighting that provides a reasonable return on investment due to the higher initial costs involved. The good news is that like your big-screen TV, LED lighting technology continues to improve rapidly while the costs are decreasing. For now, I would recommend that tennis facility owners do a thorough analysis when considering an LED lighting system to make sure that the return on investment makes sense.”
In tennis, as in any industry, technologies are constantly changing. Those who don’t read up and keep up can expect to be left behind. Levitsky advises those who are currently buying lighting systems to plan for the future.
“Think ahead. Soon, outdoor lighting will be transitioning to LEDs. If you are installing a new system now, be sure that the light-pole foundations and conduit are designed to allow for the future change to LEDs.”
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.