The decision for a sports facility to invest in a synthetic turf pitch is considerable and is normally made by the highest levels of authority within an organisation. Curtis Allen discusses what needs to be considered before installation.
The management are expected to have reviewed various financial models and will have budgeted for the surface to repay the cost of construction within the first 65% of the carpet's life. The model should also account for the operational expenses of running the facility from day one; these costs may be new to the facility and will include things such as the maintenance of the carpet and additional employees - for instance evening reception staff. In addition, there should also be a sinking fund allocated to accrue money over the lifespan of the pitch to cover the cost of replacing the carpet at the point it reaches the end of its operational life. If this structure is in place from the day the pitch is opened, it is unlikely that the facility will have any financial difficulties.
In some instances, the synthetic turf pitch can be used as a cash-cow, it will generate regular and reliable revenues which are then used to 'prop-up' other parts of the facility with little or no money being reinvested into the pitch or allocated to the sinking fund. This approach will certainly lead to future problems and must be avoided at all costs. Ultimately, profit for the organisation is one of the reasons a pitch may be constructed along with community requirements, local demand for sport and social responsibility, but the returns must be allocated wisely. The construction of a facility will draw customers to not only use the pitch but also frequent the bar, club house and vending machines generating ancillary revenues. The model used to calculate the usage and return a pitch will generate is very dynamic and can be impacted by many factors once the pitch is operational.
It is important to consider the footfall on a pitch; whilst more people on the pitch means more pounds in the till, the impact of this on the surface must be considered when calculating the lifespan and maintenance. If a pitch is divided into thirds, therefore allowing three smaller pitches to be hired rather than one large pitch (which is more popular and profitable), this will increase the feet on the pitch from a predicted 23 pairs per hour rented, to somewhere circa near 45 pairs per hour rented. The additional loading on the carpet needs to be considered and the projected lifespan of the pitch reduced while the accrual of funds in the sinking fund increased to cover the reduced lifespan. The maintenance will also need to be adapted to ensure the additional footfall is catered for, it is also necessary to amend the brushing routine to account for the difference in direction of play from the usual diamond pattern to three smaller diamonds situated laterally across the surface.
The general upkeep of a facility is an important consideration, if a newer pitch is constructed locally to your facility; it is imperative that customers can be retained and not allowed to drift to a new facility which may be promising a better pitch or a greater user experience. Good management and assiduity towards the upkeep of the buildings, carparks and communal areas will ensure standards are maintained and customer loyalty is retained. When operating a synthetic turf pitch - don't just think pitch, think facility.
The design stage of a facility gives the opportunity to consider many site-specific matters. I would encourage as many people from a facility to be involved in the consultation stages of pitch design as possible. The Site Manager or Head Groundsman will have a unique understanding of the terrain and will be able to offer insightful information on the location of pitch and other external factors. It is well known that people, particularly children walk the most direct route to a pitch; this can mean they will walk off the path and across a muddy area to cut the corner off. It is therefore better to design the facility and access around this type of behaviour rather than the aesthetics of the paths. If a facility
is secured and groups of children are expected to await the opening of the gate, it is good design to create a hard standing large enough for them to congregate without needing to stand in soil which will dirty footwear prior to entering and playing on the pitch. I would always advocate the inclusion of multiple shoe cleaners in a facility and ensure there is a good supply of replacement brushes as their life is finite. The above are all minor considerations to take into account when designing a site, however, they will make the operation of the pitch easier and less costly. Architects and designers understand people flow and access requirements but those based at the site know the site-specific challenges, working together ensures all are considered.
The weather will also affect a synthetic pitch in many ways. The operation and the maintenance of a pitch needs to be adapted to suit the conditions just as it would with any other playing surface. The phrase 'all-weather' for a synthetic pitch is not true and at best should be referred to as 'more-weather'. I have previously written on the topic of viewing a synthetic pitch as an asset and not a burden - particularly from the groundsman's perspective.
The installation of a synthetic turf pitch gives players a surface to use in inclement weather for evening training while not damaging the natural turf pitch prior to a weekend game. If the surface is covered in snow, there is very little that can be done to clear it, without risking damage to the surface. The use of ploughs or buckets on tractors is not recommended as this can stretch and tear seams; as the pitch is surrounded by fencing, there will be a finite amount of space in which to move the snow once ploughed if this is done. This normally means that if there is a large pile of snow left on the side of the pitch which harbours valuable infill material collected in the clearing process, it will take longer to melt. It is common for a synthetic pitch to take longer to thaw than a natural surface, this is because any heat to thaw the snow will come from the ground and not from the sky at these times of year.
As the majority of material underneath a synthetic pitch is layered and is dark in colour, it absorbs any ambient heat, not allowing it to reach the carpet and melt the snow on top. I would recommend having a snow plan in place prior to any snow arriving; there are frequently frantic phone calls asking about the best course of action when a pitch turns white. The potential cost to rectify damage from clearing snow, coupled with the detrimental impact of playing on a surface with reduced infill levels, is not normally outweighed by the revenues generated by opening for the period - that is if your customers and staff can get to the facility.
In colder weather, it is crucial that regular inspections of the pitch are made, particularly in the evenings when the temperature may drop. It may be the case that the pitch is inspected at 17:00 and declared safe, the pitch may be used for another 5 hours until 22:00 at which point the temperature could have dropped dramatically. The lower temperatures can cause areas of the pitch to freeze, particularly in surfaces where the drainage is not sufficient and water retention rates are higher. These frozen areas cause the surface to be unpredictable and can cause injury to players due to the changeable absorbency of the infill material when running across the surface. It is important that the surface is inspected regularly during cold weather and emphasis is put upon the user to make their own judgement as to the safety of the surface during changeable weathers.
Floodlighting increases the number of hours a pitch can operate and subsequently generate increased revenues, making it an ideal surface for evening training sessions, particularly in the winter months. Floodlights come with additional consideration, normally installed at the same time as the pitch, they will be subject to a planning application. This application will take into account the local impact of them being installed and used. There are often caveats on their usage. It is common for them to be required to be switched off by 22:00 and trees to be planted or retained to shield any light spill from them. Trees and synthetic pitches are not an ideal combination, with the possibility for roots to creep under the constructed surface and cause surface undulations, while the leaves from deciduous trees will fall and be required to be cleared to prevent surface contamination and drainage issues. The trees can also create shaded areas which produce a good environment for moss and algae to take hold. If moss does encroach on the pitch, ensure it is treated first to kill it prior to it being removed, do not be tempted to try and brush the moss out as this will spread the spores around the pitch and further compound the issue. The management of the trees is an important consideration and should be factored into the operational procedures for the pitch.
The infill material in a 3G pitch has recently been the subject of much media discussion; there is a need for more testing and reporting on the impact of using rubbers in everyday products. We have seen a range of new infill materials come to the market place in recent years. The synthetic turf industry is constantly evolving and, as technologies change, the opportunity to offer different infill materials to the industry is growing. The options for infill materials today are vast with companies offering cork, natural infill mixes and polyurethane coated rubbers. The latter of which allows for different colours of infill to be used, an important consideration when installing a pitch in a stadium environment and HD cameras are in use to televise an event. Machinery such as the Redexim Eliminator® can be used to extract all of the infill material while leaving the carpet in situ should the infill material need to be replaced. As with all industries, the synthetic turf industry must continue to self-scrutinise and self-regulate to ensure concerns are addressed and the environmental impact of installing synthetic turf is fully understood.