SportsField Management recently surveyed 284 people within the sports turf industry on the state of the profession, including questions about overcoming various challenges, water conservation, field safety, sustainability, maintenance budgeting, equipment and more:

  • 70 percent of the respondents classified themselves as sports turf managers, 11 percent as assistant sports turf managers, 7 percent as contractors, 6 percent as athletic directors, 3 percent as coaches and 3 percent as consultants.
  • 44 percent of the respondents have a sports turf-related degree (bachelor’s, master’s or associate).
  • 32 percent of the respondents classified their job sector as school/K-12 sports fields, 30 percent as municipal/park, 20 percent as college/university, 12 percent as pro stadium and 6 percent as maintenance contractors.
  • 35 percent of the respondents oversee one to five fields, 31 percent oversee six to 10 fields, 28 percent oversee more than 16 fields and 6 percent oversee 11 to 15 fields.
  • 60 percent of the respondents care for only natural surfaces, while 40 percent care for both natural and synthetic surfaces.

The entire 2017 State of the Industry Survey results can be found here.


We asked…

WHAT’S YOUR 2017 MAINTENANCE BUDGET, AS COMPARED TO 2016?

  • 67% – About the same
  • 13% – Up 5 percent
  • 7% – Down 5 percent
  • 5% – Down more than 10%
  • 3% – Up to 10%
  • 3% – Up more than 10 percent
  • 2% – Down 10 percent

OUR TAKE

This data is on par with our 2016 survey, which tells us that over the past two years, our respondents’ budgets have stayed mostly the same, or have gone up slightly at 5 percent yearly. How will this trend in the future? Costs will always go up, but budgets may not.

YOUR TAKE

“Every year budgets seem to get tighter and tighter, either from a reduction in overall amount or what we’re asked to do with our budget. This creates a constraint on the efforts to pursue newer equipment. We try to overcome the situation by making sure all our equipment stays on a consistent maintenance schedule. Another part of our strategy is partnering with local turf managers to borrow equipment from each other.”

Jason Ferrell
Facility manager, North Campus, Averett University, Danville, Virginia


IF YOU COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU BECOME A SPORTS TURF MANAGER?

  • 92% – Yes, I love my chosen field
  • 8% – No, I wish I would’ve gone into something else

YOUR TAKE

“I love this job because I can’t see myself being in an office. I like seeing a group of people work toward one goal and achieve it. I’m an instant- gratification type of person; this job allows that to happen almost daily.”

Chad Mullholland
Director of grounds, Miami Marlins


GENERALLY, DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE SPORTS TURF INDUSTRY?

  • 90% – Yes, I feel our industry seems to be on the upswing
  • 10% – No, I feel our industry doesn’t have a positive outlook

OUR TAKE

The economics of the industry have been a constant source of discussion over the past several years. Putting dollars aside, the industry has made enormous strides with regard to topics like safety awareness and professionalism. The STMA does a great job in helping foster the industry’s future. It’s imperative that the current generation of sports turf managers take the time to mentor and develop the next generation.

YOUR TAKE

“With field safety and the information about concussions, as it’s related to a specific sport and field, the industry is on the upswing. The exposure based on these topics should help sports turf managers gain credibility in their management programs.”

Abby McNeal
CSFM Operations supervisor, Southwest District, City of Denver, Colorado

“More people are becoming aware of the hard work and time that sports turf managers are putting into the fields and the conditions they have to work through. I think the fields are absolutely amazing across the nation, with regard to the mowing patterns I see at the high school, college and professional levels.”

James Gassman
Associate A.D., Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, New Hampshire


ARE YOU TRYING TO CONSERVE WATER AT YOUR OPERATION OR FACILITY?

  • 45% – Yes, I’m trying to save as much water as possible
  • 41% – Somewhat, I’m trying to cut back
  • 14% – No, we’re watering away

OUR TAKE

Water conservation continues to be a hot-button issue for sports turf managers. Whether your facility tries to save as much water as possible, or not, can depend on your locale. But this falls under the sports turf manager’s role as an environmental steward — a role most in the industry are proud to take on.

YOUR TAKE

“Our strategy revolves around three key components: proper irrigation programming and scheduling, maintaining overall turf and soil health at a high level and embracing new water management technology. With each component, we’re looking to our neighbors on the East and West Coasts where irrigation use and water availability is already a hot-button issue.”

Ryan DeMay
Sports field manager, City of Columbus, Ohio, Recreation and Parks Department

“We use city water to irrigate our athletic facilities. This becomes costly over time, so we constantly monitor water usage versus the plant requirements. There’s nothing more important than the old and consistent method of just laying eyes on what you’re watering. We’re also in transition to smart watering controllers that use new water-saving technologies with an on-site weather station to pinpoint our data accuracy.”

Bruce Suddeth
Director of building and landscape services, University of South Carolina Upstate, Spartanburg, South Carolina


WHICH METHODS OF TECHNOLOGY DO YOU USE AT YOUR OPERATION, FOR WORK PURPOSES?

  • 65% – Mobile apps on phone
  • 36% – Laptop computer
  • 22% – Tablet
  • 22% – None of these
  • 14% – Bluetooth technology

OUR TAKE

We saw a 5 percent increase in mobile app users compared to last year’s survey, as well as a 6 percent increase in Bluetooth technology users. Like most industries, technology is changing the way you do your job. We recommend every field manager try out some of the mobile apps that are available, whether they’re for weather forecasting, irrigation control, turfgrass health or anything else that could make your job easier and more efficient.

YOUR TAKE

“Technology is in. Whomever coined the phrase “There’s an app for that” truly got it right. I use two weather apps — one for long-range forecasting and one for local weather. But what I’m most impressed with in new technology are the high-definition cameras in mobile devices. And with apps and Bluetooth technology, I can now research pest and disease issues on the spot and instantly request assistance from my peers, chemical manufacturers and university extension services.”

Keair Edwards
Turf manager, Gulfport (Mississippi) SportsPlex

“Slack (instant messaging mobile app) has been a very powerful tool for our staff, from top to bottom. I say tool because it has unleashed the collaboration, communication and coordination that was already present in our staff — Slack was merely the platform. The app fulfills our need for communication and coordination by allowing our entire staff to instantly relay information about leagues and tournaments, facility work orders, project documentation and all other operations and planning activities.”

Ryan DeMay
Sports field manager, City of Columbus, Ohio, Recreation and Parks Department

* Respondents could choose more than one answer


WHICH OF THESE CAUSES YOU STRESS?

  • 35% – Staff/personnel issues
  • 35% – Dealing with high expectations
  • 33% – My field conditions
  • 21% – Trying to balance work and personal life

OUR TAKE

From those we’ve talked to, high expectations of parents, administrators and athletes are ever-increasing and aren’t going away anytime soon. Also, it’s important — for mental health reasons — to take the necessary steps to maintain a healthy work/personal life balance.

YOUR TAKE

“I’ve been very blessed that I found a wonderful partner. I’ll give my wife credit; she puts up with a lot of stuff. Juggling your career and family life isn’t easy. I’m not good at leaving what I need to leave [at work], but my wife is very flexible in understanding why sometimes I just can’t come home after a full day. It makes it worth it when she tells me, ‘I’m so proud of you for working as hard as you do.’ Or when I get to bring my kids out to 15 or 20 games a summer, and once the game’s over at 10:30, they come down and help me fix the mound. It’s those things that make what we do for a living palatable.”

Jake Holloway
Head groundskeeper, Greensboro (North Carolina) Grasshoppers

“I try not to let the little stresses bother me. But I’ve had a lot of staffing issues the last 12 months — staff turnover, health leaves, etc. I was understaffed a good portion of last summer and relied on summer help (high school and college students). They did an excellent job!”

Ben Polimer
Fields & grounds coordinator, Town of Weston, Massachusetts

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I can cut an hour here or there and leave earlier. I have great assistants and employees. As we’ve gotten more comfortable with our building and growing environment, we’ve been able to take more days off, or rotate guys off so that everyone gets a break.”

Chad Mullholland
Director of grounds, Miami Marlins

“It’s difficult to hire people that have an interest in both the turf industry and the work involved. Sometimes, the people that are hired have no experience in operating the equipment required to maintain a sports complex.”

Garald Nagelhout
Sports turf manager, Wendall Whisinhunt Soccer Complex, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“The best way to stay fresh in my mind is that I know that there’s an end to each season and that this won’t last forever. We have a strong push both to get fields open after a long winter and keep our synthetic field playable year-round.”

James Gassman
Associate A.D., Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, New Hampshire

* Respondents could choose more than one answer


HAVE YOU EMBRACED THE CONCEPT OF SUSTAINABILITY AT YOUR OPERATION?

  • 52% – Yes, we have committed to improving our environmental, economic and social components
  • 37% – Not really, but I’m trying to learn more about sustainability
  • 11% – No, sustainability isn’t on my radar

OUR TAKE

Surprisingly, we saw a five percent decrease in the “Yes, we have…” camp compared to last year’s survey. With sustainability specifically in mind, the Sports Turf Managers Association rolled out its Environmental Facility Certification Program in June last year. The program certifies and rewards facilities that showcase ecological stewardship and sustainability practices. We’re guessing that as more facilities achieve this certification in the coming years, the number of field managers who are committed to running sustainable programs will increase significantly.

YOUR TAKE

“Sustainability is part of the guiding principles for the city of Denver, and we must protect our assets and be efficient. We’re always looking for ways to improve our operations, reduce waste and reuse what we have around us.”

Abby McNeal
CSFM Operations supervisor, Southwest District, City of Denver, Colorado


WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF EQUIPMENT YOU’D LIKE TO UPGRADE?

  1. Mower
  2. Aerator
  3. Tractor
  4. Sprayer
  5. Seeder

YOUR TAKE

“We use a mower that’s 10 years old that we got when a local professional affiliate grounds crew traded their Toro 2100-D for a newer model. We also mow our infield with a rotary walk-behind mower. If I had the ability to purchase a mower, I would look at the Toro Greensmaster Flex 2120 walk-behind and the Toro Reelmaster 3555-D for the outfields. The employees would appreciate the upgrade, and it would really let their [abilities] shine through.”

James Gassman
Associate A.D., Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, New Hampshire

“My knowledge.”

Anonymous respondent

“I would like to switch from water reels to an automatic, in-ground irrigation system.”

Don Savard
CSFM Athletic facilities and grounds manager, Salesianum School, Wilmington, Delaware

“We’re asking for a fraze mower next fiscal [year].”

Brandon “Putter” Putman
Maintenance coordinator, Peoria (Arizona) Sports Complex


WHAT PIECE OF EQUIPMENT COULDN’T YOU DO WITHOUT?

  1. Mower
  2. Aerator
  3. Tractor

YOUR TAKE

“Our boss-hog infield groomer is a Toro Sand Pro 5040 with all the bells and whistles. Maintaining the grass is easy — our challenge is managing the infield dirt. Thirteen of our fields are multiuse, total-skin infields, each with 13,000 square feet of dirt. To keep them safe and playable, we’ve developed a comprehensive maintenance plan specifically for the infield dirt.”

Keair Edwards
Turf manager, Gulfport (Mississippi) SportsPlex


WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT IN YOUR MIND?

  • 73% – Providing a safe field
  • 15% – Providing a playable field
  • 9% – Providing an aesthetically-pleasing field

OUR TAKE

Athlete safety remains the top priority for most sports turf managers. This is especially the case when the national scrutiny of head injuries and concussions are added into the equation. As a response to this recent heightened awareness, research into making surfaces safer continues at universities across the country.

YOUR TAKE

“Nothing keeps me up at night more than worrying about [athlete safety]. If a player gets injured running after a ball, I take that injury just as serious as the coach does. My approach is finding out what happened with the playing surface that potentially led to that player to injuring themselves.”

Jason Ferrell
Facility manager, North Campus, Averett University, Danville, Virginia

“Safe fields are important to me because I realize that municipal/rec league fields are the foundation for our next generation of athletes. It’s our duty as turf managers to ensure that all athletes — regardless of age or playing ability — be provided the same level of safe and playable surfaces.”

Keair Edwards
Turf manager, Gulfport (Mississippi) SportsPlex

“Providing safe playing fields is the number one goal for myself and my staff, for natural and synthetic surfaces. Every maintenance activity is based around doing the correct agronomic process and not affecting player safety.”

Ben Polimer
Fields & grounds coordinator, Town of Weston, Massachusetts


WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACE IN MANAGING YOUR FIELD(S)?

  • 32% – Mother Nature
  • 31% – Finding reliable help
  • 21% – Very high expectations
  • 16% – Forced to use older equipment

OUR TAKE

Mother Nature won by just one response, which mirrors almost exactly our 2016 survey (where it just barely edged finding reliable help). Weather issues are always going to be a formidable foe, but let’s hope that labor issues that plague many athletic fields get better as time goes on. The answer might be a long-needed effort to increase wages industry-wide or the hope of an influx of skilled workers. Fingers crossed.

YOUR TAKE

“Mentorship [is key], even for seasonal staff. Doing the little things like teaching how to start and finish a task, how to get along with co-workers, ways to earn increasing responsibility, etc. are skills we all want in a seasonal staff. We tend to take the ‘how to succeed at work’ stuff for granted, even with young people. John Wooden wasn’t teaching his All-Americans how to put on their socks and tie their shoes just for his health; he spent time on the little things to make them consistent and repeatable. If we spend time teaching these small things and celebrating team success, good things will happen.”

Ryan DeMay
Sports field manager, City of Columbus, Ohio, Recreation and Parks Department

“We’ve hired new staff that can organize their tasks well and adapt to changes in the schedule with both turf duties and their school responsibilities, like moving band equipment and setting up for school concerts. One advantage is that our district is small and our two campuses are less than 1.5 miles apart, with 14 fields at one location and four fields in the other. We also contract out our aeration, spraying, large-scale fertilizer applications and seeding.”

Ben Polimer
Fields & grounds coordinator, Town of Weston, Massachusetts

“Our biggest challenges involve our change in seasons. Snowfall and freezing temperatures in November and March wreak havoc on our maintenance schedules. We’ve had to clear snow off our athletic fields almost every year, as well as clearing out the seating areas for late-season playoff games. We’ve also had to adjust our flower planting in the spring because of freezing temperatures. I often plan for the worst-case scenario and make adjustments as the challenges present themselves.”

Roger Weinbrenner
CSFM Turf technician, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota

“Dealing with [high] expectations is nothing new. In fact, I think our expectations far exceed management’s. They tell us things look good and we pick ourselves apart, as we know what’s wrong even if we disguised it for TV and the fans. The event expectation is the hardest part for us to deal with. We only play with an open roof [at Marlins Park] between five to 10 times a year on average. So, we expect sun and recovery during road trips. I’ll always attribute our success meeting any expectations to my co-workers — everyone has a role, and then some.”

Chad Mullholland
Director of grounds, Miami Marlins

“If you’re a turfgrass manager in the transition zone, then you’re probably a pretty good gambler, whether it’s blackjack or craps. Probably most of the time it’s craps, because you’re at the mercy of the roll of the dice. [Dealing with Mother Nature] definitely requires a gambling spirit.”

Jake Holloway
Head groundskeeper, Greensboro (North Carolina) Grasshoppers