About That Staples Center Lighting…

I remember it hitting me early this season when I turned on my TV to watch a Kings home game. The place seemed…dead. Like there was no one at the game. But then I quickly realized that the lighting was different. All the attention is placed on the rink, and a negligible amount on the crowd and surroundings. It’s a similar scheme to the one the Los Angeles Lakers employed at Staples Center a number of years ago and have used ever since.

Soon though, I learned that there was more to it than that. This season, the Kings — as well as LA’s other (and now better) NBA team, the Clippers — are not only shifting the focus more toward the playing surface, but in doing so, they are using LED lights instead of incandescent ones. It’s part of a simultaneously energy-efficient and aesthetic change. The Lakers, meanwhile, are maintaining their similar court-focused scheme but are also still using the same incandescent lighting that they always have been.

The Television Viewing Experience

“It focuses light on the playing surface, and less on the seating area,” says Staples Center president Lee Zeidman.

Well, there’s no arguing that part of it. But barely being able to see the fans somehow takes away from the television-watching experience. Perhaps it is a little bit easier for some TV viewers to see the play on the ice (Zeidman and TV techs seem to think so) but I can’t say that conclusively, as I personally haven’t really noticed a difference in that area. Besides that though, it feels like I am watching games that no one is attending (yes, slight exaggeration), and that feeling somehow takes away from the experience of these games being intense events that tens of thousands of fans are completely bought into.

So maybe you’ve gotten the idea that I am not a fan of the new lighting scheme at Staples Center for Kings games. That would be accurate — for the television viewing experience. The live, in-person experience? That’s a different story.

The In-Person Experience

Part of the reason I am bringing this up now as opposed to three months ago is because I wanted to actually attend a Kings game at Staples Center in person this season so I could give a complete and fair evaluation of the new lighting. I attended their game against the New York Rangers last week, which they lost by a score of 4-3 in what was a fast and entertaining affair.

Adding to my entertainment value was — you guessed it — the lighting scheme! Hockey is a sport that is consumed so much better in person to begin with, and that holds true with respect to the lighting at Staples Center. Despite what Zeidman and TV techs might say about how it enhances the TV-viewing experience (it doesn’t), the real enhancement is with the in-person experience. The brightness of the playing surface is really noticeable when you are at Staples Center, and especially if you are seated higher up and can see the whole rink.

The focused lighting makes for a crisp viewing experience without sacrificing the feeling of being surrounded by over 18,000 fans, because, well, you literally are (that helps). The contrast also doesn’t seem so pronounced in person, so you can still clearly see the fans throughout the arena; it’s not like you are completely in the dark. It’s a great balance in person, but unfortunately, in my opinion, this just does not translate to TV (and yes, I do have high-definition).

The Players’ and Coaches’ Experience

There are, however, some people who do not like the in-person experience. Who, you might ask? How about the Kings themselves? (They do of course have a slightly different vantage point and a bit more at stake.)

Early in the regular season, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter indicated that some players complained about visibility issues against a darker background.

“They can’t see the puck at a certain height,” Sutter said back in October. “When we practiced down there, I couldn’t see the puck, either. When it got above the boards, I couldn’t see the puck. But I thought it was because the seats were all black and there was nobody in them. So I just said, ‘OK.'”

But according to defenseman Alec Martinez, the issue extended beyond practice, even when fans had filled the seats for a game.

“Sometimes when the puck gets rimmed around the glass or just kind of goes above the boards in your angle of view, you kind of have a hard time tracking it,” said Martinez at the beginning of this season. “I’m just waiting to see if they keep it or not…It certainly is different. It’s almost brighter on the ice but it’s darker in the building.”

Thus far, it does not appear that any changes have been made to the lighting, although Zeidman has listened and wants to ensure that the Kings are happy with the system. Perhaps the players have gotten used to it since October, but I at least knew then that it wasn’t just me who noticed the new lighting and had some qualms with it.

The new lighting setup at Staples Center yields mixed results. It makes for a great in-person fan experience, but the TV viewing experience and apparently the game-playing experience are underwhelming and possibly even problematic. It will be interesting to see if any changes are made down the road, or if the new scheme will remain in place long-term.