Each year, the Super Bowl, a nonstop parade of incredibly expensive television commercials interspersed with a professional sporting event, is heralded by the National Football League as being the “greenest ever.” And with every passing year, each Super Bowl host stadium ups the ante by presenting a new, envelope-pushing sustainability initiative in addition to the feel-goody tree planting, carbon offsetting and community recycling events that have become de rigueur. You may recall that last year it was food scrap composting at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

This year, the big game — a rough 'n' tumble showdown between reigning Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks, and the New England Patriots — will, for the first time ever, be completely illuminated by high-efficiency LED bulbs.

Like with last year’s attention-grabbing composting scheme, the dramatic switchover to 100 percent LED lighting wasn’t part of a sweeping NFL initiative but a decision made by the host stadium, the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Working with the unsentimental LED revolutionaries at Cree and Syracuse, New York-based commercial lighting company Ephesus, stadium officials have swapped out 780 metal halide lighting fixtures and replaced them with 312 new fixtures outfitted with 44,928 Cree XLamp MK-R LEDs.

The new LED system was installed in the fall in the 63,400-seat (expandable to 72,200) stadium — a 9-year-old venue best known for its retractable roof, moveable field and unusual barrel cactus-inspired shape that locals believe more closely resembles an alien spacecraft that crash-landed in the Sonoran Desert. The LEDs consume a mere 310,000 watts compared to the energy-guzzling 1.24 million watts required by the previous lighting system.

In total, the University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals, will enjoy a 75 percent reduction in lighting energy consumption. And because they don't emit heat as their predecessors did, the LEDs will help lower the stadium's reliance on air conditioning.

In addition to energy savings, a notable boon that comes with ditching high-intensity gas-discharge bulbs is that if the stadium lights happen to unexpectedly go out, as they did during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, LEDs come back on instantly and at full intensity. Metal halide fixtures, on the other hand, generally take about 20 minutes or so to warm back up to their full brightness. So rest-assured, Katy Perry: if you manage to partially knock the stadium lights out by way of your fierce diva-ness as Beyonce did in 2013 (or if Taylor Swift pulls the switch), there will be zero delay in getting them back up and running.

What’s more, LEDs project a brighter and more uniform light than metal halide lamps. This helps to eliminate pesky shadows on the gridiron and makes for an all-around more clear viewing experience both in the stadium itself and on television. LEDs are particularly beneficial for slow-mo captures and replays.

Explains Peter Sullivan, general manager of the University of Phoenix Stadium, in a news release issued by Cree: “They were fantastic on a variety of levels. These lights are rated for super slow-motion, so the clarity and the level of light and the type of light is phenomenal."

Following the stadium’s energy-slashing LED retrofit, it has been announced that New Minnesota Stadium will also be illuminated by Cree-powered, Ephesus-designed LED fixtures. Due to open in 2016 as the new 72,000-seat home of the Minnesota Vikings, it will be first new stadium construction project in the United States to eschew metal halide fixtures and use LEDs. Here’s hoping that stadium officials in Minneapolis get the glass vs. birds situation worked out, too.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

In Super Bowl first, host stadium will be illuminated by LED lighting
The University of Phoenix Stadium undergoes a lighting retrofit that's game-changing in more ways than one.