March 04, 2019
“Before we go to the ground we have to wait for the light show to finish,” said BBC Football pundit Gabby Logan. She went on to explain that such displays of light and sound were becoming common ahead of football matches. The occasion was Chelsea v Sheffield Wednesday in the 4th round of the FA cup. It was the second time in as many days that I’d heard a football TV show host talk about pre-match light shows.
How times have changed! I remembered the winter days of my youth standing half-frozen on the terraces of PSV Eindhoven’s Philips Stadium, eating a cone of soggy French fries. Pitch lighting was switched on an hour before kick-off and took at least 30 minutes to warm. Today’s LED pitch lighting is instantaneous and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium was one of the first in England to install this remarkable technology.
TV standards driving change
The main driver for clubs to switch to LED is compliance with the latest standards demanded by TV broadcasters and football federations. Only the highest quality lighting enables TV cameras to capture those amazing flicker-free super slow-motion action replays – where every bead of sweat and strained sinew is broadcast in glorious 4K ultra-high definition.
The ability to use the lighting in pre-match light shows is a huge added bonus – afforded by the ability to program individual LED lights to turn on and off rapidly, vary their intensity and sync them to music. In a few short years, such entertainment has reached new heights of sophistication as top clubs vie with each other to produce the most spectacular light show.
Stadiums such as Juventus’ Allianz Stadium, Ajax Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena and Atlético Madrid’s stadium, Wanda Metropolitano, have all taken the art of the pre-match light show to another level.
Lightshows get better and better
These sophisticated multimedia spectacles turn the stadium into a backdrop for a highly choreographed piece of entertainment. Light can be used to isolate different parts of the pitch so when the team comes out, the players are bathed in a corridor of light.
Even pitch-side advertising screens and large displays featuring team colors and bespoke images can be incorporated and synced to music, while steerable spotlights, of the type used by Depeche Mode and Iron Maiden, add to the excitement.
Of course, having such a capability is good for business; it increases a stadium’s appeal to host FIFA and UEFA tournament matches and as a multipurpose venue to host everything from monster trucks to Madonna.
Today, football is no longer about 90 minutes of entertainment. Arguably the entertainment experience begins even before the light show, as fans approach the stadium. At Signify we’ve lit numerous stadium facades from the Perth Stadium to the iconic Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. One of the most impressive is Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena where 300,000 LED lights transform its 26,000 m2 façade into a giant canvas.
Of course, all these stadium lighting systems are controlled by software such as Interact Sports. The days when pre-match entertainment was soggy French fries and can of cola have long gone.
Today we can control everything. Well everything except the crispness of the fries.