Feature, Hospitality/Leisure

When football became a light show

Before LEDs, pitch lighting was switched on an hour before kick-off and took at least 30 minutes to warm. Now it’s a spectacular light show…

Thanks to LEDs, football has become a spectacular light show as much as a display of sporting talent, writes Kees Klein Hesselink

‘Before we go to the ground we have to wait for the light show to finish,’ said BBC football pundit Gabby Logan.

In the World Cup last summer, Egypt played Uruguay at the Ekateriburg Arena under a new LED lighting installation designed to facilitate 4K and UHDTV transmissions and flicker-free super slow-motion action replays

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 fourth 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 at PSV Eindhoven, 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 the English Premier League to install this remarkable technology.

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.

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 colours 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 square metre 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.



  • Kees Klein Hesselink is the International Key Account Director at Signify Sports Business


  • Learn more about sports lighting and see the latest light fittings and controls at LuxLive 2019 taking place at London ExCeL on Wednesday 13 November and Thursday 14 November 2019. Entry is free – register and see the full programme HERE.