Sports field managers at some professional stadiums and ballparks are working too many hours and too many days.
There, I said it. Someone had to.
You might question my work ethic, or say I’m just whining. That’s a common first reaction in pro sports and in our more recently professionalized field management craft.
But as we work to build our reputations as professionals, it would serve field managers well to shed this outdated notion in scheduling our time, and start making the case for adequate human resources to do the job to the required high standards, which we always try to exceed. It’s time we offered some resistance to the chronic 18-hour day, the 100 (or more)-hour workweek, and the 330 (or more)-workday year at some venues.
In this industry, which involves actual work in addition to management skills, we prioritize athlete safety when it comes to the qualities of a playing surface we aspire to deliver. We also prioritize worker safety in each task. Tell me how that works when you or your staff are sometimes operating tractors and performing other equipment-related tasks routinely after already having 12-15 hours or more on the shift, maybe several days in a row.
The pro stadium or ballpark has changed from a seasonal game venue into a year-round events center. That’s just the financial realities of today’s pro sports businesses. Twenty years ago, stadium revenue used to be an afterthought in the team revenue discussion. Most teams played at municipally owned venues and made their money off the games.
Now, clubs own or operate their home venues and ballpark/stadium revenue has taken off, and that’s great. But for some who set the table and have to execute these realities, it’s getting harder and harder to come up for a breath and get needed breaks. As a field manager, you can’t give the keys to the team’s field to an events intern. You better be there.
It’s not an issue at every stadium or ballpark, and it’s not just the turf team working ridiculous schedules. Some of the stadium/ballpark operations personnel fall into this same Chinese finger trap in scheduling their work. The stadium and ballpark operational staffing model hasn’t kept up with the meteoric stadium event business model, not even close. It’s an issue that can’t be solved with more part-time workers.
Are we are pounding a round 21st-century stadium revenue model into a square 20th-century stadium staffing model?
I know of at least seven veteran field managers at pro sports stadiums that have resigned in the last two years well before normal retirement age, and more who are considering a similar career decision. That’s probably more turnover than I saw in the 25 years previous.
But pro venues are only a tiny slice of our large industry, and this isn’t generally an issue at publicly owned and operated facilities or even in most major college sports field operations. They seem to better create the conditions necessary to maximize safety and talent retention, for the most part. They actively pursue and even mandate ways to keep employees from burning out.
Every job requires an occasional heroic effort be made in order to succeed. There’s nothing more satisfying than looking back, as part of a team, at the skills required and sacrifices in time and effort needed to overcome an important challenge for the organization. In fact, these challenges are what draw many to this craft of sports field management. But professional level stadium and ballpark missions have changed. There are no more off-seasons, no more “team’s-on-the-road” time to decompress, and recharge for the next big push.
It’s mission-creep in the classic sense and a solution could easily be afforded, believe me.