Velodrome cycle race

+ Designers with the right knowledge and experience can ensure lighting at major sporting events meets the high standards required by modern broadcast technology.

Lit correctly, major sporting events can look spectacular on high-definition television (HDTV) – which reveals every last detail. But HDTV has its own very specific lighting requirements. I believe getting it right and avoiding costly mistakes requires the advice of a broadcast lighting expert throughout the process. 

I don’t just mean any lighting designer; I mean a lighting designer with specific expertise in the latest broadcast technology. Without their advice, it’s all too easy to end up with problems such as light flicker, camera glare, incorrect exposure, poor colour rendering, deep shadows, excessive reflections and excessive illumination in spectators’ seating areas. 

For example, floodlights connected across three phases of electrical supply need to be balanced properly to avoid fluctuations in illuminance that cause flicker in super-slow motion replays. And if those floodlights aren’t aimed correctly, it can cause camera glare or throw too much light onto spectators – leaving insufficient contrast between the field of play and the crowd. Put simply, it makes it hard for viewers at home to see what’s going on.

Indeed, these are some of the problems we were brought in to resolve in the venues for the London 2012 Olympics. In many venues we were able to balance floodlights to reduce flicker. But in the Velodrome we had to develop a completely new type of electrical ballast to reduce flicker by limiting the electrical current in circuits.

To re-aim floodlights and tackle glare, we used lighting simulations to identify the two main culprits: skip glare from light bouncing off the glossy playing surface and direct glare from floodlights aimed towards the camera. By bringing specialist expertise into a project early, you can catch problems like these before they become expensive to fix.

To try and embed this approach in the industry, Arup has worked with the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and the Institute of Lighting Professions (ILP) to set up a committee involving manufacturers, broadcasters and lighting designers. We hope this will influence new European CIE standards for sports broadcast lighting.

The industry needs to recognise that advances in broadcast technologies require much higher quality lighting. And, crucially, sufficiently experienced lighting designers must be engaged throughout the process – as we have for events such as the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

This was a lesson learned from London 2012, and it’s a lesson I believe the industry would do well to take heed of.