Baseball Under the Lights: How it All Got Started


Early Cincinatti Reds Night Game

Early Cincinnati Reds Night Game

Major League Baseball will play its All-Star Game on July 15th. Baseball may be as American as apple pie, but many people may not realize that it wasn’t always played at night. In fact, before lighting, the stands for most MLB games during weekdays were empty since most baseball fans were at work.  Lighting changed all that and turned the MLB into the behemoth sport it is today. Today, even kids play baseball under lights. Now, Major League Baseball is going through another revolution – LED lighting.

But first, let us take a look at how revolutionary lighting was to baseball.  GE lighting engineer Robert J. Swackhamer successfully deployed an array of high-wattage lamps to light the railroad yards at night for a railroad. The lighting worked so well that Swackhamer convinced his bosses to test the arrays at General Electric Athletic Field in Lynn, Massachusetts.

On June 24, 1927, General Electric lit up the first night baseball game in history between Lynn and Salem using 72 flood lamps on five towers. Salem won 7-2 in front of a crowd that included players from the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Americans.

The GE executives were onto something. The progress was slow at first. It took GE three years to sign up a few minor league teams as customers. By 1935, GE finally hit the Major Leagues with the Cincinnati Reds. The first Major League night game took place at the Red’s Crosley Field on Friday, May 24, 1935. The Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 in front of a crowd of 20,000 people. Legendary Cincinnati announcer Red Barber said, “As soon as I saw the lights come on, I knew they were there to stay.” By 1941, 11 of the 16 Major League baseball fields installed GE lighting, including the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers.

Today, yesterday’s high-intensity-discharge (HID) metal halide lamp floodlights are beginning to be replaced with LED lighting. There are a lot of factors that make LED lighting attractive in to MLB and even NFL stadium management. It may be difficult to light the entire playing surface with traditional HID lighting. Lighting must be able to shine on second base or the 50 yard line requiring brighter and longer distance. LEDs shine brighter and can light longer distances making them more efficient. They are also more precise, so they can light up the playing surface and not blind spectators. LED lighting also lasts longer – 50,000 hours – reducing maintenance costs. They also light to full strength instantly.

Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans was marred by a 34 minute delay at the Superdome. According to Entergy New Orleans, power to the lights was lost when sensing equipment detected abnormalities. Once the outage cause was discovered and power was restored, the HID floodlights required time to come back to full brightness, about 10 to 15 minutes. By contrast, LED lighting is instant on.

Major League Baseball stadiums have already made progress in switching to LED signage with most stadiums sporting LED scoreboards and/or ribbon lighting. The most notable LED scoreboards in baseball are the Detroit Tigers’ 6,096 square feet LED video panel at Comerica Field and the Seattle Mariners’ scoreboard that measures 56.7-feet high by 201.5-feet wide and covers 11,425 square feet. They’re beginning to make progress in switching to LED lighting for their facilities. Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals play, began energy efficiency improvements soon after it opened in 2006. Facility management has replaced more than 1,000 traditional spotlights and floodlights with LED lamps to cut lighting power demand in several areas by 90%.

For Further Reading

GE Reports, If You Build it They Will Come: How a GE Engineer Invented Night Baseball,

Athletic Business, LED Tech Poised to Revolutionize Outdoor Sports Lighting,, Superdome power outage delays Super Bowl XLVII,

Greentech Media, Guest Analysis: Super Bowl Power Outage Shines a Bad Light on HID Lighting,

Super Bowl Halftime Show Sparkles with PixMob LED Light Show

(Bruno Mars peforms during the Super Bowl XLVIII Halftime Show at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J., Photograph by: Jeff Zelevansky , Getty Images)

(Bruno Mars peforms during the Super Bowl XLVIII Halftime Show at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J., Photograph by: Jeff Zelevansky , Getty Images)

If you watched the recent Super Bowl, you were treated to a cool display of LED technology at half-time featuring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and 80,000 people wearing special LED studded hats. Synced up with the music of Bruno Mars and the RHCP, the show filled the stadium with LED lights.

Montreal-based interactive lighting company, PixMob designed and built a unique light show specifically for the halftime show.  Each spectator at the game was handed a complimentary winter gift pack upon entering MetLife Stadium. Each swag bag included items to keep warm, one of the items was a special knit hat that they were asked to wear during half-time.

The stadium was filled with 500 LED panels as well as 14 PixMob transmitters that complemented the LEDs worn by the crowd. The 80,000 knit hats turned each member of the crowd into a pixel.  Each knit hat included three LEDs (for red, blue and green) and an infrared receiver. A PixMob controller directed the light patterns in real time. The receiver in each hat decoded the infrared signal depending on the location of the person wearing the hat, turning the lights red, white, green or blue to create animated effects syncing up with the show.

PixMob has done this type of show before.  They’ve tossed LED-filled beach balls onto audiences and used wristbands fitted with LEDs for unique light shows at music festivals like Coachella and for bands like Arcade Fire, Black Keys and Maroon 5.  There’s even speculation that they’ve got something up their sleeve for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

For Further Reading

USA Today, Here’s a guide to everything in the Super Bowl swag bag,

Montreal Gazette, Montreal firm PixMob turns Super Bowl crowd into human pixels,

Wired, How 80,000 People Became a Human Video Screen at the Super Bowl,

Philips Lighting, Digital Lighting Makes a Splash at the Super Bowl