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The lighting needs of outdoor sports fields and facilities has resulted in the development of lighting products with different performance characteristics than that of light fixtures designed for conventional outdoor spaces (such as parking lots and building exteriors). Sports field lighting requirements have become distinct enough so that lighting products have been specifically created for illuminating athletic playing fields and facilities. 

Football Field Stadium Lights Sized for Blog Post

Sports lighting projects require very specific lighting solutions. While it may be tempting to purchase less expensive “conventional” flood lights to illuminate your sports field, courts, and facilities, sports lights are well worth the initial investment for many reasons. General flood lighting is great for certain applications, however conventional flood light fixtures are rarely able to meet the lighting needs of outdoor sports facilities.

Lighting Comparison

Sports Field Lights are similar to conventional flood lights in that they both illuminate large outdoor areas. However, there are many differences in terms of beam spreads, lumen output, light quality and light levels, mounting height, impact ratings, surge protection, warranties, and wireless control capability.

We'll dive into the more significant differences below. But first, we'll define outdoor sports field lighting and conventional flood lighting, because many times these words are often used together or interchangeably, when in reality, they are two totally different types of LED light fixtures and they provide solutions for different problems. 

Sports Lighting & Flood Lighting Definitions

What is Sports Lighting?

To_CUt-removebg-previewOutdoor LED Sports Lighting fixtures are a type of exterior LED lighting fixture commonly used to illuminate large areas used for recreational or competitive sports activities such as baseball, football, soccer, tennis, basketball, etc.

Sports light fixtures are typically mounted on poles 40 to 100 feet tall, with between 1-12 fixtures mounted on each pole.  


This type of outdoor lighting is often used by schools, colleges and universities, municipalities, amateur sports clubs, and professional sports franchises. These field lights are specifically designed to distribute light

 effectively and evenly in a playing area over large distances and spaces to provide excellent visibility for players and spectators while providing significant savings in operation and maintenance costs.

 Where to use sports lighting:

  • Football Fields and Stadiums
  • Basketball and Tennis courts
  • Race courses & tracks
  • Baseball and Softball Fields
  • Soccer Fields
  • Recreation Fields
  • Skate Parks
  • Driving Ranges
  • & More!

What is Flood Lighting?

Flood Light Image for Blog Posts Flood lighting is also used for exterior lighting and is typically mounted on poles or buildings to provide directional illumination to a variety of areas. Conventional flood lights can be mounted at a variety of angles, distributing the light accordingly.

Most existing commercial outdoor flood light applications utilize high intensity discharge (HID) lamps such as metal halide, high pressure sodium, and if they are very hold, mercury vapor lamps. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) can also be found in non-LED flood light fixtures.

Flood Lighting Applications: Outdoor Flood lights are used to provide light to larger areas for safety and security for vehicle & pedestrian use. Flood lights are not used to provide the light levels (foot-candles) necessary for recreational competitive sports activities

LED Sports Lights vs LED Flood Lights

LED sports lights are currently the most cost effective, efficient, and optimal way of providing the needed illumination to outdoor sports fields, courts, and venues. 

LED wattages can range between 300 and 2000 and generate 50,000 to 200,000+ lumens, however, watts and lumens alone are not sufficient enough. Field and stadium sports lights have several other performance characteristics that address the specific lighting and product needs of field, court, and stadium lighting.

The recognizable performance specifications that separate LED Sports Lighting products from LED Flood Lighting products include (click below to jump to any section):

Beam Spread Differences

Sports Lighting Beam Spreads

LED Sports lighting set-ups typically include multiple fixtures mounted on individual poles, often with different NEMA beam patters. Having multiple NEMA beam patterns on individual poles enables fixtures to provide evenly distributed light across a playing surface, instead of spots of bright light surrounded by dark areas that result from using conventional flood light fixtures.

Beam angles of individual fixtures will vary depending on the pole height and quantity of fixtures per pole. The combination of the right beam angles can make illumination even across your space, but the wrong beam angle can cause cross-beams that blind players, disrupt the game and are visually uncomfortable for players and spectators. 

Photometric Layout Sports Field from TGS


Finding the balance for optimal NEMA beam angles is important for illuminating sport fields and stadiums and is something that should always be determined via a photometric layout of the field or facility.


Because outdoor field lights utilize adjustable angle mounting, that mounting angle affects how those NEMA beam spreads project light at a surface. A NEMA light distribution pattern is indicated by two numbers that correspond to the horizontal and vertical light spread of a fixture and indicates the two planes of light where the intensity is at least 10% of the maximum light intensity of the fixture.

 Below are the NEMA beam angles that should be available with any LED sports light fixture:

  • NEMA3
  • NEMA4
  • NEMA5
  • NEMA6

NEMA Beam SPread Chart for Sports Lights - Stouch Branded

Flood Lighting Beam Spreads

Commercial LED flood lights are often the cheapest product option for outdoor lighting applications, however, the design of the fixtures does not result in the lighting results needed for sports fields and facilities. One of the biggest issues is the lighting would have a significant lack of uniformity. There would be heavy shadows and glare in between bright spots, making it difficult for the participants and spectators to see. 

Flood lights are typically manufactured with a “wide” or “very wide” beam spreads to cover large areas and provide light levels for safety and security. The light levels needed for pedestrian and vehicle safety and security are very different then the light levels needed for sports and recreational activities (you would have a hard time having a catch in a parking lot at night).

A wide beam spread means that light comes from a smaller angle which creates a light that will become more diffused (and less intense) the further it travels away from its source. Flood lights most often have beam spreads of more than 70 degrees and up to 130 degrees. Particularly with flood lights, it’s imperative to look at the mounting angles when discussing light patterns.

With flood lights, the adjustable mounting of flood lights causes changes in the light patterns on the on the ground. For example, a wide beam spread means that light will become more diffused further away as the fixture is angled “up”. So as light moves away from a targeted surface, it spreads out and becomes less intense.

Light Quality & Light Levels

Lighting designers have learned that the size and speed of an object significantly impacts an individual’s ability to locate/detect a moving object. Therefore, activities that utilize smaller objects that move at high velocities compared to the participant (such as a football, baseball, soccer, tennis,) mean it is much more difficult to see balls or other playing objects under low or reduced lighting conditions. 

The Illuminating Engineering Society (IESNA) and other sports governing organizations (e.g., NCAA) have established sports field foot-candle recommendations for different sports and recreational activities. The most well-known recommendations are included in the IES RP-6-15 Sports and Recreational Area Lighting.

IES RP-6-15 Sports and Recreational Area Lighting provides, foot candle and uniformity recommendations for the design of sports lighting systems. The first factor in determining the appropriate light levels is to determine the "Classification of Play", which is based on spectator capacity:

IES Specifications for SPorts Fields & Venues Table Chart Stouch Branded 1 2 105-1

Class I applies to high-level competitions with many spectators in the stands such as professional and Division I collegiate sports. IES suggests at least 75 Foot Candles as a general rule.

Class II applies to competition with a medium amount of spectators in the stands such as D2 & 3 collegiate sports. IES suggests at least 50 Foot Candles for this class as a general rule.

Class III applies to local club and recreational competitions where there are some provisions for spectators such as high school. IES recommends at least 30 Foot Candles for this class. 

Class IV applies to club and recreational competitions where there are limited to no provisions for spectators. This includes community rec fields, youth club facilities, and elementary schools.

IES RP-6-15 recommendations include guidelines for a variety of activities ranging from tennis to football. Each sport or activity has a different foot-candle recommendation, as well as each class. Here are a few examples below:

Sports Lighting Foot Candle Recommendations Stouch Branded Final

The NCAA also came out with their own recommended light levels for specific sports. You can explore every NCAA lighting recommendation here.

Other governing bodies developed their own lighting recommendations including FIFA (soccer), IFT (Tennis), US Soccer Foundation (Soccer), FIH (Hockey), and more.

Lumen Outputs

Each field or venue will have different lighting requirements. For example, more lumens will be needed to cover larger and/or multiple areas and fields. However, LED sports lights (in general) often have higher lumen outputs than commercial flood lighting. 

Sports Lighting Lumen Output

LED sports field lights traditionally begin at 65,000 lumens and can increase up to 162,000 lumens. Sports lighting for tennis courts and basketball courts typically use fixtures in the 36,000-85,000 lumen output range. Lumen output, combined with appropriate beam patterns, provide optimal illumination and uniformity for players and spectators. 

Flood Lighting Lumen Output

Commercial flood lights usually produce 3,000 to 60,000 lumens, which is significantly lower than the standard lumen outputs for sports lights. 

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Mounting Height

Photometric analyses help determine the best pole height to project the proper amount of light on your space without hot spots or dark zones. This is true for both sports lights and flood lights, however, sports lights tend to be mounted at much higher heights (up to 75ft). 

Access Fixtures Photometric Layout

Sporting Lighting Mounting Heights

Sports field and court lights can be mounted at various heights depending on the venue. Because beam angles vary depending on the height, some sports lights must be mounted as low as 25 feet (in basketball and tennis courts for example), but the norm is around 40-75 feet. Larger professional arenas, venues, and fields (where the level of competitive play is much higher and the space for spectators and players is much larger) often require pole heights in excess of 75ft.

Flood Lighting Mounting Heights

In contrast, most flood lights are mounted 20 to 30 feet, with a significantly wider beam angle that provides much lower footcandles on the ground, since that is what needed for pedestrian and vehicle safety. 

Surge Protection 

Electrical surge is a sudden spike of electricity within electrical circuits and they can take a massive toll on all electrical devices that are connected to that circuit. Even the toughest LED sports lights and LED flood lights are affected by electrical surges. Surges cause wires and components to overheat, melt and short circuit, all of which are destructive to the components inside LEDs.

Outdoor sports field light fixtures should have a minimum of 20kV/10kA surge protection and be compliant with ANSI C136.2-2015 Extreme, ANSI C82.77-5-2015 High Exposure, and IEEE C62.41.2 Location Category C High Exposure.

Higher surge protection is something that applies to both sports lights and flood lights. However, higher surge protection is more standard on sports lights for two reasons:

  1. Higher poles increase exposure to lighting strikes and because they’re mounted so high, the cost to replace the fixture (labor-wise) is much higher. Therefore, you'll want to reduce the likelihood that a fixture will fail.

  2. Strong surge protection devices cost more and standard flood light fixtures usually do not offer this feature.

Wireless Control Capability

When you choose to purchase sports lighting, one of the perks is that wireless control capability is usually standard. Weather-protected wireless controls allow you to control the lighting at multiple fields and in multiple locations. LED sport lights typically feature an instant ON capability, so venues can immediately adjust lighting during half time, shows, or between sporting events. 

Standard flood lights usually do not offer this feature, which means you would have to purchase and install a complete control device system to have the same capabilities as sports lighting. Incorporating control devices like this becomes costly, so we suggest skipping that headache and purchasing sport-specific lights that come standard with wireless control capability.

Final Thoughts

In summary, led sport lights provide a significantly better value over commercial flood lighting for outdoor sports lighting applications. LED sports lighting is a more cost-effective way to provide appropriate foot-candle and light levels that ensure a safe and competitive playing surface. If you're deciding between standard or LED flood lights and LED sport lights, we can help you decide whether LED sport lights are worth the investment for your organization. 

Sports lighting is complex and different combinations of power, lumen output, and beam angle produce vastly different outcomes. Every sports project is unique, which is why the right lighting solution matters. At Stouch Lighting, we take into account everything in your space to provide optimum illumination. 

When upgrading your field, court, or stadium lighting, it's important to make sure you're looking for the right solutions. At Stouch Lighting, we can help you choose the right lighting for your project and also help navigate the retrofit and conversion process from start to finish. Our lighting specialists can help you choose the right products for product-only projects, or, we can help you develop a plan from start to finish with Specialized Photometrics and implementation plans.

Ready to upgrade to LED sports lights? Tell us more about your project by clicking below:

Tell Us About Your Sports Lighting Project