In May 2015’s  issue of SportsField Management magazine, the cover story titled “Beating the Budget” dealt with how field managers at various levels — K to 12, colleges and municipalities — care for their fields on a budget. The story explained that yes, it is possible to have top-notch fields when finances are limited or reduced from the previous year. Space in the magazine is limited-here are five things we learned about budgets and sports fields that you may find useful:

1. Budgeting is a tough topic

This isn’t a surprise as money is almost always a sensitive subject in any business. Especially when you’re talking about how higher-ups have reduced your budget from what it was in previous years. A few of the field managers we contacted were hesitant to answer questions in detail; some didn’t want to talk about budgets at all. As far as those who did talk to us, while most may have been slightly guarded, we feel we got honest answers to some very tough questions. For example, as one field manager told us, when asked about possible personnel cuts due to a reduced budget, “What is personnel?? Funny, we don’t have any to cut. I have some parents I’d like to get rid of, though.”

2. Sometimes, there isn’t room for improvement

When asked “What are some of the challenges you’ve faced/will face with a reduced maintenance budget for 2015?” we received almost the same general response from everyone: While improvements would be nice, we have to forget about them and focus on making what we have better. In other words, the goal is to keep patching things up rather than fixing, which, as one municipal field manager put it, can be counterproductive. “When in reality, if we could just spend the money, it would cost us less in the long run,” he explained, candidly. Still, cutting back on improvement plans and focusing your resources on what you have is regarded as essential strategy to stretching out your dollars.


3. Down and dirty with the details

Spreadsheets, spreadsheets and more spreadsheets … yes, your aerator is important, as is your mower, rakes and topdresser. But don’t underestimate how valuable a tool spreadsheets can be, especially when it comes to putting together a budget that might be tighter than what you’d prefer. We found several field managers that use spreadsheets, in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets format, to help organize all matters financial. For example, to facilitate the budget review process for a superintendent or school board, field managers can create a maintenance cost summary spreadsheet that includes notes to clarify, in detail, specific line items, like how many labor hours you plan to devote to mowing your football field. Also, field managers can set up a 10-year equipment replacement plan and track both the cost per year of any equipment use and the average use hours per year. Tracking expenditures like this can help when it’s time to replace equipment, so that planning can be done for this purchase in advance. Track all funds and expenses as meticulously as you can.

4. Control usage

“Over-use is a problem where athletic grounds are very limited,” according to University of Missouri assistant extension professor Brad Fresenburg, Ph.D. Fresenburg — an excellent resource for anything relating to field maintenance — recommends that, when possible, activities like physical education and band practice should be restricted to reduce wear and stretch maintenance dollars. Another way to control usage, according to Fresenburg, is to have some flexibility to change up a sporting event from a home game to an away game due to wet playing conditions. This can save a field from destruction. Also, “shifting a field 20 to 30 feet or rotating a field can spread the concentration of traffic over more than one area, allowing previously worn areas to recover,” Fresenburg added.

 5. Donations are good

For field managers at smaller facilities, donations are a way of life. As one field manager put it, “[This year] we’re going to have to rely on donations and parent volunteers to get things done.” Another field manager we talked to recently received a donation of some nice Bermudagrass from a private golf course in his area. He planned to irrigate it for use at his municipal field, but due to budget constraints, won’t be able to.

Read more: Worcester Academy takes athletics very seriously. That’s why it’s imperative to keep fields in top conditions on a budget.