The saying goes that everything’s bigger in Texas.
In the world of professional sports, the Dallas Cowboys stand by the validity of that adage, especially when it comes to their stadium – the 80,000 seat, $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium, also known as “Jerry’s World” as a reverence to the Cowboys high-profile owner, Jerry Jones. When the sprawling, dazzling facility opened in 2009, one sports surface contractor had the distinction of putting its name to the field’s new turf – Hellas Construction. The Austin, Texas-based company’s work at AT&T Stadium is a shining example of its impressive portfolio when it comes to field building and construction. That impressive portfolio, along with a host of other factors and qualifications, led to Hellas Construction being named SportsField Management’s 2015 Field Builder of the Year.
The award was presented to Hellas at the American Sports Builders Association’s (ASBA) annual Technical Meeting in December in Scottsdale, Arizona.
AT A GLANCE
Founder, President & CEO: Reed J. Seaton
Beginnings: Hellas was incorporated in 2003
Home Base: Austin, Texas
What They Do: Hellas Construction is one of the largest sports and surfacing contractors in the U.S. The company specializes in the general construction of sports facilities and synthetic turf installation on the professional, collegiate, high school and municipal level.
Where They Do It: Nationwide, including several projects in Hawaii. The company has a strong presence in the Southwest.
Money matters: Hellas reports a revenue of nearly $150 million in 2015.
Philosophy: “We stand on relationships with each and every customer, and we leave nobody behind,” Seaton says.
Reed J. Seaton, the company’s founder, president and CEO, was more than happy to share the credit in an interview with SportsField Management. “If you don’t have an outstanding organization staffed with really dedicated, smart, sophisticated and caring people, there’s no way you can succeed,” says Seaton, who has more than 30 years of experience in the sports surfaces industry.
“Our people are our biggest asset.”
Growing from the ground up
When Seaton (along with Bob Allison, the vice president of Hellas’ track division) founded Hellas in 2003, the concept was to create a company that combined construction services with sports surfacing – essentially a full-service model where Hellas controls the entire supply chain from beginning to end, from the design, construction, manufacturing and installation of sports surfaces, including after-the-sale services for all facilities and clients.
“As there’s a growing need to replace natural grass with artificial turf, we saw a niche in the marketplace where a very well-organized and process-driven sports construction business could probably do quite well,” Seaton says of Hellas’ origins. “We assessed the industry for what it wasn’t delivering. Where most of our competitors come from a textile industry origin, we founded our principles on construction first and materials (turf and track) second. As our group has grown, we’ve added our own manufacturing facilities over the past six or seven years, and this has given us the ability to manufacture best-in-class products in our industry.”
Hellas’ home base is Austin, Texas, with regional offices and various manufacturing facilities in other parts of Texas along with Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Washington and California. The company has 800 full-time employees, 75 of whom are based in the Austin headquarters.
Hellas saw its first-year revenue of $9 million in 2004 increase to nearly $90 million by 2010. Today, the company’s compound annual growth rate – a term for the average annual growth of an investment over a specific period of time – is greater than 25 percent year over year. Near the end of 2015, the company’s revenue was nearly $150 million, according to Seaton.
“The success of Hellas is due to our dedication to delivering the company philosophy in every project, while embracing our core values,” Seaton says. “Good growth comes with really good people. We stand on quality, on-time delivery and kindness. We, as a culture, go into these job locations, and our obligation to our customers is to be unobtrusive and to come in, do a fabulous job, meet – and beat – their expectations and leave them a fabulous sports facility to play on.”
Hellas’ sports surface clients include AT&T Stadium, Baylor University, University of California-Berkeley, Idaho State University, Iowa State University, the Alamodome, Northern Arizona University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of San Diego, University of Georgia, hundreds of high schools and dozens of other collegiate institutions and stadiums across the country.
“We started in the Southwest and we have a very large footprint here,” Seaton explains. “Now, we’re national, from Connecticut to Seattle and down to Hawaii.”
Partnering with the Cowboys
Hellas began its relationship with the Cowboys back in 2004, providing the turf at Texas Stadium (then the home of the team) as well as the team’s training facility in Valley Ranch, Texas.
It was announced in December 2008 that Hellas won the contract to provide its removable “roll-up” turf system to the Cowboys’ new home, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, which opened in 2009.
“We build football fields, and we are based in Texas, and we got the contract to build the most spectacular field in the world,” Seaton told the Austin American-Statesman at the time.
Mark Hickman, AT&T Stadium’s director of projects, expressed much contentment with working with Hellas. “It has been a pleasure to work with Reed and his team at Hellas Construction for many years,” Hickman says. “When we needed a new turf System for ‘America’s Team’ at AT&T Stadium, we called Hellas. The Dallas Cowboys are proud of our partnership and look forward to many more years of success together.”
The deal between the Cowboys and Hellas entailed the purchase of three fields: an NFL field, a college football field and a blank field that could be painted for other events, such as soccer or lacrosse games. Hellas’ Matrix turf, which is what’s installed at AT&T Stadium, can be removed in 12 hours and installed in 18 hours, Seaton says. In addition to Cowboys games, AT&T Stadium has played host to Super Bowl XLV, the 2015 College Football National Championship, Big 12 football championship games, several Cotton Bowl games and various other college and high school football games, soccer games and even the NBA All-Star Game in 2010.
“Being a partner with the Dallas Cowboys is the best there is,” Seaton says. “If you’re not a Dallas Cowboys fan, you can’t work at Hellas.”
That partnership continues to grow, as Hellas is involved in the construction of “The Star in Frisco” – the new, $350 million world headquarters of the Cowboys, located in Frisco, Texas.
“It’s like nothing that has ever been built,” Seaton says.
The six-story, 435,000-square-foot building, which will overlook the team’s 12,000-seat indoor practice facility and fields, will be located among other facilities in a high-profile, 91-acre development in Frisco, slated to open this fall.
Building blocks for the future
A company doesn’t go from nothing to being the turf supplier of the Dallas Cowboys overnight. There’s a process involved and many steps along the way.
According to Seaton, and Hellas vice president of construction Matt Schnitzler, one of those important initial steps was the work Hellas did with the Brazosport Independent School District in Clute, Texas.
In 2004, just about one year after Hellas was incorporated, Hellas and the Brazosport ISD signed a $1 million construction contract, a figure which at that time was rare. The project included turf installation at Brazosport’s Hopper Stadium and Slate Field.
“This was the biggest job we had done when we got started back in those days,” Seaton recalls. Schnitzler, Hellas’ first employee who also has 35 years of track building experience, says building lasting relationships with customers, like those at Brazosport ISD, is a priority for the company.
Although Hellas Construction’s bottom line has grown over the years, the company believes in helping those in need, and in giving back.
In 2011, Hellas partnered with the Rivers of Hope foundation — the charity founded by San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers — to construct a new football field for San Pasqual Academy in Escondido, California. This academy was the first residential education campus for foster youth in the U.S.
“With every project we do, we form a partnership with those folks,” Schnitzler says. “[Even though] a warranty is for a finite amount of time, if there’s any maintenance issues they need help with, or something is damaged, we’ll go in and work with them and make sure their facilities stay top-notch forever, for the life of the product. Not just the life of the warranty.”
Another project that both Seaton and Schnitzler highlighted was the work Hellas has done at Angelo State University, a public university in San Angelo, Texas, that’s a member of the Texas Tech University system.
“Angelo State is a great story,” Seaton explains. “We’ve been on campus there nonstop since around 2011. When we finish the next phase of work, probably in 2017, it will end up being a $20 million, ongoing contract.”
Among the work Hellas has done at Angelo State includes the installation of a softball facility, intramural facilities, a football field, bleachers, a new press box, soccer lighting and more.
Intramural athletics are especially popular at Angelo State. Four landscaped and lighted fields designated by Hellas exclusively for intramural use are available on campus for intramural football and soccer. Angelo State’s competitive intramural flag football teams have won national championships in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.
“These things have transformed the campus as well as the university’s enrollment,” according to Seaton. “This is one of the fastest growing universities in the country. It shows that sports surfaces and academics can be a win-win scenario.”
Hellas recently completed a $6.5 million construction project with the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School District, the 10th largest school system in the country. Fairfax County PSD contracted Hellas to construct five multi-use, synthetic turf fields that were previously natural grass fields. The project totaled over 563,000 square feet of turf installation.
“We stand on relationships with each and every customer, and we leave nobody behind,” Seaton says of his company’s continued success. “This is the fabric of our business. For us, each project is a collaborative effort of all the parties together. We’re all sitting on the same side of the table. We’re all building something for the athletes to use, and it should be a happy process.”
Schnitzler says Hellas’ expertise is one of many things that keeps customers coming, like the project in Fairfax County, Virginia.
“We have the expertise, like certified track builders and certified field builders, on staff. We also have our design facility here; we make our own fiber, our own turf and the chemicals that hold it together,” he says. “We own all the equipment, as opposed to renting equipment. Our staff is trained specifically in all of our equipment, and we have standards on how to run each piece of equipment. We do our survey work and own calculations for our 400-meter tracks that we build. If a sidewalk isn’t built correctly, it’s our position to rip it out and replace it, without the facility owner telling us it needs to be done.”
The turf Schnitzler is referring to is Hellas’ Matrix brand, and the company manufactures the fibers at its factory in Alabama. The company’s infill features a silica pea gravel base, which is known for strong fiber support, energy restitution, enhanced shock absorption and quick drainage. At Hellas Textiles, the Matrix turf fibers are tufted into a triple-layered, dimensionally stable backing. The backing is then fused with a polyurethane coating from Hellas polymers, creating the desired tuft-bind, which holds the fibers in place after many years of wear.
Hellas is on the fourth generation of Matrix turf, which has been named the Helix version.
“It’s like baking a cake,” Seaton says of the company’s turf manufacturing processes. “The better the ingredients, the better the cake tastes. In our plant, all of our people know the name of the field they’re making the turf for, and also where it’s going. I’m super proud of the turf we produce.”
All about associations
Hellas is affiliated with several industry associations and organizations, including the ASBA. Becoming a certified field or track builder sets a company apart from competitors who don’t have the certifications attached to their names.
“Being certified sets a standard,” Schnitzler says. “To get certified, you can’t just fake it. You have to have knowledge and experience and know how to solve problems in the field. The ASBA [certification program] is a good program to identify those people who have the requisite knowledge and experience to provide successful projects to customers.”
Being a certified field builder also means that a company needs to stay atop of industry trends. One product in which Seaton has seen a large increase is turf pads. Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, home of the University of Texas Longhorns, is one high-profile client that uses a Hellas turf pad.
“I’m seeing a lot more [pads] being purchased. I really like that, because I’m a pad guy. I think every field should have a pad,” Seaton says. “Prior to 1998, there was never a football field, to my knowledge, built without a pad. It’s taken 15 or 16 years to turn the cycle to where people are again realizing that we need pads.”
Seaton also mentioned alternative infills for synthetic turf – as opposed to crumb-rubber infill – as another area that is trending upward. One of the benefits of alternative organic infills, like coconut-cork systems, is the decrease in surface temperature as compared with rubber infills.
“Look, turf is hot. I’d love to be the guy to cure that problem, and we’re on that trail,” Seaton says. “The completely organic, coconut infill systems are really unbelievable. As they become more affordable, play better and possess better shoe traction, we’ll see that trend continue to grow. They possess no odor, are 35 to 40 degrees cooler and it doesn’t stick to you or leave the stadium.”
Along with a continued push for alternative infills, Seaton, and the entire Hellas organization, wants to see longer-lasting turf systems as the industry moves forward.
“The owners’ expectation for turf is, ‘I don’t want it to wear out in 10 years.’ I believe they’re entitled to a longer-lasting and better turf,” he says. “The customers should replace turf because they want to, not because it didn’t last long enough.”