Strategies for surviving tough times

The turf is loaded in for the one-day installation that turned the baseball field into a soccer field.

Today’s economic times are affecting all industries, including sports field operations. Venues are making budget cuts while seeking ways to increase usage to drive more revenue. Baseball stadiums at many levels of play are fitting soccer games in the middle of homestands to help the teams recoup some of the lost revenue. But, who would have imagined Wrigley Field as the site of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on January 1, 2009? Or, Fenway Park hosting NHL’s 2010 Classic? Reports indicate that NFL football is moving some games to MLB ballparks for the 2009/2010 season, and Northwestern University is in talks with Wrigley about holding an NCAA game there.

Making it work

Networking with your peers is crucial. If the team across town is hosting something new on their field, you need to be looking at those events with them. If it’s new to you, too, you can lend a hand and learn from the experience. If you’ve tackled it before, you can still offer help and share what worked for you.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRICKMAN SPORTS TURF SERVICES.

Value the relationships you have with your vendors. It’s a win-win situation. This Toro mower is cutting the turf on a ball field in El Salvador.

Be proactive with your facility’s special events team from the point of initial evaluations. Work with them to build charges into the field user fees to cover the additional use. Think ahead to the ripple effect and be prepared with the budgetary details necessary to cover it. Develop contingency plans for the worst-case scenario.

Developing cost-cutting strategies

The fields are going to take more use and abuse. Look ahead and plan for that as part of the budgeting for next year’s operations. Review your past budgets to qualify and prioritize. Obviously, some things are essential, but now is the time for sharp pencils and hard decisions. Your goal is to bring cost-cutting measures to management instead of them coming to you. Your job is to provide a safe product on the field for the athletes that use your venue. Never reduce the quality of the work you do, just look for the efficiencies in your daily work schedule.

Labor costs and materials drive the operating budgets. Analyze your labor hours and compare all options. Look at your tools, equipment and supplies to determine how you can make them last one more year. Value the relationships you now have with your vendors and be proactive in communicating with them to keep those relationships stable. Ask for realistic price breaks, but remember, they’re facing the same kind of cutbacks you are. Maybe you can purchase seed, fertilizer or other materials at the same price level as the previous year if you guarantee the same volume and a preset payment date. Or, maybe you can take shipment early, reducing their storage needs in exchange for a price break.

It’s game day for soccer on this Lancaster, Pa., baseball field. The three-day project (one day conversion from baseball to soccer, one day for the game and one day to convert back to baseball) was orchestrated by Head Groundskeeper Anthony Defeo with the assistance of Kevin Moses and Joshua Marden.

Work with equipment vendors to compare lease and purchase options. Consider buying used equipment from your vendor. You could also check golf course closings, regional auctions or online sales. Just be sure to weigh the value of the price to long-term service and parts support.

Adding value

Take a more proactive role, working in conjunction with your teams and facility owners, to come up with ways to generate more revenue. Your relationship with your vendors may open up other opportunities for your facility. The quality of your field is maintained with the materials and equipment they provide. Work with them to explore new opportunities, perhaps helping them develop new business. An equipment supplier might provide a machine or use of an equipment package in exchange for signage at the facility or ads in printed programs, on the scoreboard or screen, in stadium announcements, or for endorsements of products or equipment you use on your fields.

Hold a field day at your facility for regional sports field managers that includes a vendor trade show. Use the morning for a facility tour and a hands-on workshop. Seek sponsors for breaks and lunch. Give the vendors time to show their products. Your facility can cater the food and, if you have a gift shop, keep it open to generate revenue for your club. Give each attendee a free ticket for a future game, bringing them back to your venue again. Your field, as the center of attention in your community, generates incremental value for the facility and the vendors.

An ice rink takes over the infield for another special event.

Consider being more interactive with the front office to help generate publicity for your team. You are in charge of your field; you know what’s happening in your area, so take the initiative to put that together in a suitable, polished package that you can sell to the public. For example, Tracy Schneweis, head groundskeeper for the Salem Red Sox, works with the local television station to provide weather reports from the ballpark. She also puts together a “Turf Talk” segment for the team’s Web site, and he gives pregame updates on the big screen at the ballpark.

With everyone watching the value produced each minute, hour and day, your need for accountability and professionalism is magnified. Tap into all your resources to make that happen.

Murray Cook is president of Brickman Sports Turf Services, a division of the Brickman Group. He’s a frequent overseas traveler on behalf of Major League Baseball and the International Baseball Federation.