Benches and bleachers accessorize athletic facilities and are an important part of the spectator experience

Southern Bleacher recently introduced a new plastic seat, available in a variety of colors, that can be affixed to aluminum seat planks for more comfortable and creative seating.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SOUTHERN BLEACHER.

Standing room only is fine if it gets you into a playoff game at the highest level of competitive sports. However, for most other athletic events, spectators want a place to plant their butts. Ditto for players, who would prefer a chance to sit and rest rather than standing through an entire game. So while benches and bleachers might seem to be an afterthought to maintaining the playing field, these products are an important part of the overall playing, and viewing, experience. Fortunately there is a wide array of benches and bleachers on the market to choose from.

Portability is popular

Marilee Gray, marketing director with Kay Park Recreation (www.kaypark.com), says the company’s transportable bleachers are becoming more and more popular. “If a school is tight on budget and they need to upgrade their bleachers at more than one field but can’t afford that, this offers a solution,” she explains. “For example, football stadiums are only used during football season, and baseball. So schools are finding they can move the bleachers to where they need them.”

Portable players’ benches with storage shelves are popular at the moment says Paul Zwaska with Beacon Athletics. “More and more people want the shelf above the bench, because it seems like players just have to sit on that shelf instead of the bench,” he observes.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BEACON ATHLETICS.

The Speed Bleacher system, in particular, is proving popular, notes Gray. “They are over-the-road bleachers, more or less mounted on a trailer with tires and a tongue. You can pull them with a pickup truck,” she explains. This type of product is popular with schools and colleges, she adds.

Century Industries(www.centuryindustries.com) offers its TranSport Mobile Bleachers for facilities that need to quickly move bleachers from one sports field to another. “The all-weather bleachers feature high seating for great spectator visibility, while seating more people in less ground space,” explains sales manager Michelle McRae. “A push-button hydraulic actuation system allows set up by one person in only minutes. A choice of seating capacities of 112 to 450 seats accommodates applications from games to graduation.”

Jaypro Sports Equipment (www.jaypro.com) offers bleachers ranging in size from two to 10 rows and 7.5 to 27 feet in length. Some units can be ordered as tip and roll models, and there are also transport kits available, explains Jane Rathbun, catalog merchandiser for Jaypro.

There are smaller options, as well, for portable seating. Markers, Inc. (www.markersinc.com) recently introduced a new team bench product called Port-A-Bench. “It’s a modular system made with all-reinforced plastic material. It’s 4 feet wide, has a 750-pound test weight, and sets up and takes down in less than 15 seconds,” explains Dave Knoepp, director of sales and marketing. “If you have a team that needs temporary benches on soccer or any other type of sports field, you can move them around from one field to another.”

Knoepp says there’s another advantage: Given the value of scrap metals today, aluminum bleacher systems, particularly those that are not bolted down, are susceptible to theft. The Port-A-Bench is made of plastic, has a list price of less than $100, and can easily be folded up for storage, he notes: “For a smaller school or park district, this could be a great solution to temporary seating problems. And it can be used indoors; for example, to create an extra row of VIP seating at a basketball game or school event. So there’s a lot of flexibility with it.”

Safety first

Gray encourages all sports facilities to check with their local code officers to be sure that any bleachers they are looking to purchase will meet recent safety regulations. “You may need an aisle, handrail or ADA wheelchair cutout, or if the bleacher is elevated you’ll need a wheelchair ramp,” she cites as examples. “You need to make sure you’re meeting whatever your most recent local safety codes state.” Gray says there have been many instances lately of sports facilities upgrading their bleachers because the old units don’t meet the latest codes. “Insurance companies and risk management more or less require that,” she adds.

Rathbun agrees that when purchasing bleachers, customers should first check their local codes, as they can vary by state. She says, “One common code is that bleachers with a back seat height of 30 inches or higher are required to have an enclosure.” Jaypro, she points out, offers a four-row bleacher system designed at 29.5 inches in height to provide the most seating capacity possible without incurring the added cost of the safety enclosure. “We do offer a universal enclosure kit that can be added to existing bleachers to bring them up to code without having to purchase a whole new unit,” adds Rathbun.

Adam Driscoll, product designer with Aluminum Athletic Equipment (www.aaesports.com), notes that, in many cases, safety features are required on five-row bleachers but not four-row units, often making the latter type significantly less expensive. In that sense, it might make more sense financially to purchase two four-row bleacher sets rather than one five-row model.

Features such as picket railings, backrests and stadium chairs dramatically boost the visual appeal and comfort of the standard bleachers. This installation by Southern Bleacher even includes a masonry surround.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SOUTHERN BLEACHER.

Moreover, Driscoll urges sports facility managers with older five-row bleacher systems well over the height limit to consider retrofitting or replacing those units in order to meet current codes. “It’s one of those things where people believe those older units are grandfathered in, but there could be a messy situation if you don’t meet code and somebody falls off,” he explains. A new, code-compliant bleacher system is much cheaper than settling a lawsuit, Driscoll points out.

Another safety consideration has to do with bleacher installation. David Norman, sales representative with Southern Bleacher (www.southernbleacher.com), says one common mistake made when purchasing bleachers is the notion that it’s OK to install an angle-frame system by just setting it on the ground. “That’s really not a good idea. The best solution is to put it on a concrete pad. It will increase the longevity of the product and also prevent it from being tipped over, ” he explained.

If the cost of a concrete pad is too high, concrete footers or earth anchors can be used; the key is to make sure the unit is secured to the ground. “We replace two or three bleachers a year where straight-line winds have flipped bleachers over,” says Norman, stressing that while bleachers may seem heavy enough to remain grounded, severe wind can flip them.

Shelters and shelves

Paul Zwaska, technical sales manager with Beacon Athletics (www.beaconathletics.com), which serves a large number of baseball and softball venues, says that benches with shelves have become popular for dugout applications. While not necessarily designed for that purpose, the shelf is often used more for seating than storage. “More and more people want the shelf above the bench, because it seems like players just have to sit on that shelf instead of the bench,” he jokes. “Kids see that on TV, and then they have to do the same thing.” Those benches are constructed differently to ensure they don’t tip over, Zwaska points out.

Team shelters are another increasingly common sight on televised sports. Driscoll says that one of Aluminum Athletic Equipment’s more popular items at the moment is a player’s shelter that combines a bench and shelter system. “It’s basically a dugout that’s made of aluminum and has polycarbonate sides,” he describes. While movable, the system is designed to be anchored down. “We’ve found that, no matter how much you try to weight the portable ones that are on the market, they will blow over,” says Driscoll. “So ours is semi-permanent: It’s made with anchors that go on all four corners where it’s bolted to footers. If it’s unbolted, it can be moved to another field if there are footers installed there.”

The company’s team shelter includes a shelf on the back that flips up to reveal a storage unit underneath. “Players can throw their stuff in there, which is nice to keep stuff organized,” says Driscoll. He notes these shelters are used most commonly in soccer, lacrosse and field hockey, and are popular with players. But he advises facility managers to consider placement carefully in order to avoid obstructing views of the field for those possibly sitting on bleachers behind the shelter.

Get creative

While benches and bleachers are obviously utilitarian in nature, that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative when selecting seating for your sports facility. Beacon Athletics, for example, offers benches and bleachers in a number of hues, “But in most cases people just pick the plain version,” says Zwaska. He notes that selecting different colors often doesn’t add that much to the cost.

Rathbun says color is a good way to get bleachers to stand out. Jaypro Sports Equipment offers powder coating in a variety of colors, not only for the seating planks, but also for foot planks and even the understructure and safety rails on its bleacher systems. “We give our customers the option to choose one color for the whole unit, or they can choose one color for the planks and a separate [color] for the understructure,” she explains. “With 12 colors in total, the combinations are endless!”

There are also ways to creatively add comfort to your seating. For example, Jaypro offers seat padding as an accessory; and Southern Bleacher recently introduced a new plastic, blow-molded seat that will work in all size installations. The product is available in several colors and simply affixes to the aluminum seat plank. “It’s just more comfortable to sit on,” says company Vice President Garrett Pettus.

You can go beyond colors when getting creative. Pettus emphasizes that even when starting with a standard angle-frame bleacher system, it’s possible to add features such as picket railings, backrests and stadium chairs to dramatically boost the visual appeal and comfort of the bleachers. “We did an installation like that recently where they even surrounded the entire system with masonry work,” he explains. “It really makes it look more permanent and very, very nice.”

Pettus says another trend, particularly for schools and other sports facilities with limited land available, is to try to build concessions and restrooms underneath the bleachers. “Before you even start to think about tucking structures underneath grandstands, you need a bleacher system of at least 15 rows, minimum, in order to have enough room,” explains Norman. So it’s important to decide whether you want a longer, lower bleacher system or a shorter, taller system before determining whether facilities will fit beneath the seating.

There are even ways to get creative when acquiring bleachers, adds McRae. “Financing is one method to purchase and begin operation while spreading the payments out as you use the facility. Plus, you lock in today’s pricing,” she explains. When purchasing portable bleachers, it may be possible to rent the system out to other facilities and groups. McRae says, “When not in use for your events and activities, rental to local and surrounding organizations and communities can return dollars to your organization, helping to offset purchase and operational costs.”

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 15 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for interesting and unusual stories.