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Staples Center: Turn Off the Dark

A first-person account of the new LED lighting during Clippers' home games at Staples Center.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In previous seasons, Clippers games have felt like one giant party filled with disc jockeys, loud music, and contests. Both the court and the stands were illuminated, which gave the games a communal vibe and made us fans a part of the action. We could clearly see the reactions of people in the crowd to spectacular (and not so spectacular) plays, and we could all spot Clipper Darrell a mile away. In short, it was an inclusive experience.

Perhaps this is my own bias speaking, but I always felt that Lakers games emphasized the spectacle of the on-court action to the detriment of the fan experience. During Lakers' home games, spectators were plunged into darkness.  These games were essentially presented as theatrical productions. This approach does add a certain formality to the in-game experience, which the Clippers had previously lacked. However, I always appreciated the more informal atmosphere at Clippers games. I liked that the Clippers offered fans an experience that was distinctly different from what the Lakers were offering. This represented yet another delineation between the two teams, as people could choose for themselves which kind of ambience they prefer when they take in a live game.

This is why I must admit that when I first heard that the Clippers were going to change to LED lighting that would spotlight the court and darken the stands, I worried that the Clippers had officially gone "Hollywood" on us.  It seemed that the Clippers were now openly emulating the other LA team. There has been so much positive change this summer, but I was absolutely convinced that this was one was unnecessary. However, I decided to withhold judgment until I experienced a game in person. After all, as Adithya pointed out in his article on the new LED lighting, there are convincing reasons, both financial and environmental, in favor of making this change.

I didn't have to wait too long to experience the new atmosphere at Clippers games for myself, as I attended the first preseason game against the Golden State Warriors.  Before I left for the arena, I saw a tweet from Dan Woike that raised my hackles:

I hit terrible (but typical) Los Angeles traffic on our way to the game and had to rush to my seat in Section 112.  I actually did not notice the lighting until I was settled in my seat. In other words, it was not so dark in the arena that it was a shock to the system to merely step inside. However, as soon as I turned my attention to the court, I immediately noticed the difference.

New LED Lighting at Clippers Games

As you can see, the sections closest to the baskets appear darker than the seats around half court. The court was quite bright as well, so the seats closer to the hardwood are better lit than those that are further back. There isn't a uniformity to the lighting, in this sense. Also, the stands are dark enough that I noticed flashes from personal cameras.

In addition, the Clippers have a "disco ball" element to the lighting, and a colored spotlight dances on the crowd during game breaks. Also, inside the arena the color red really pops. This is especially evident in the new design of the massive banners of the players:

Clippers Banners for 2014-2015 Season

Maybe it's just me, but I think that the Clippers look very intimidating in those banners due to the dark lighting and the red/black color scheme.

Yes, the lighting is not quite as dark as it is during Lakers games. However, it is dark enough where it is difficult to see many fellow fans, especially those seated near the baskets (I could hear but had trouble seeing Clipper Darrell). The music was still blaring but the new lighting did give the game a more subdued vibe (it wasn't just due to the fact that it was a preseason game). I actually found myself whispering at times.

So what effect does LED lighting have on the in-game experience? There is a visual intensity to this kind of lighting, and the game itself did have more of a theatrical flair. Ultimately, I come out on this topic essentially where I started. As of now, I prefer that the stands be illuminated. I will be nostalgic for the over-the-top festive spirit at previous games, and I will miss seeing some of the reactions of spectators in the stands. As I don't have a choice in the matter, I suppose I will just have to get used to it.

On the bright side (no pun intended), despite my reservations, the LED lighting is very slick, and objectively I cannot deny that it is aesthetically pleasing.  And the Clippers do put a product on the court that is worthy of being treated like the spectacle it is.