Published on
May 16, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM PDT May 16, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM PDTth, May 16, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM PDT

Tips From The Pros

Ross Kurcab is a Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM) and a professional sports field consultant with 30 years’ experience
as a head turf manager in professional football. He graduated from Colorado State University’s Turfgrass Management program
and now operates and owns Championship Sports Turf Systems.


At many stadiums and parks, the summer non-sporting event season is upon us. In order to maximize the uses of these facilities and generate revenue, some ballparks and stadiums will be more of an event center than a sports field over the next several months. It’s not a new idea, but it is growing as venues discover what the other venues are doing to increase community participation and use at our nations ball parks, stadiums and parks. This new business model on our ball fields also puts added stress on the sports field managers and their plans to prepare safe, playable and attractive fields quickly after the events have finished.

How you manage a field and turf team during this event season makes all the difference to how well these two competing interests can coexist more harmoniously, and maybe the turf team can actually get a weekend or two off this summer.

By the way, if we have many more of these events than sporting games on a field, shouldn’t we just call them events and drop the “special”? The games actually become the “special” event. Regardless, the devil certainly is in the details when it comes to hosting events on your playing surface. As the sports field manager, you have to be in the room during the planning stages of every significant event. Too often, these non-sporting events or “special” events are planned out fully and the details are presented to the sports field manager after the plans are cemented. Sometimes, the client has already signed contracts and now the opportunity to make simple changes in the layout or operations of an event that could mitigate playing surface damage is pretty much gone. This is a recipe for trouble. Marketing and events people are not sports field professionals, nor agronomists.

Sports field managers would do well to understand the business needs in utilizing the playing field in today’s world of “all-access” sports marketing, and the event planners would do well to stop treating the sports field manager as a pain in your event. When these two sometimes competing interests clash in a sports organization, the facility and business suffers. When they work together, the stadium or ballpark hums. It’s tricky because events can only hurt the playing surface, not help. Games cannot really affect events. No one says the surface was horrible at a concert. But in today’s sports economy, events revenue is needed in order to fund the kind of maintenance and perfect playing surfaces that professional athletes demand. So the first task in promoting harmony is for both sides to realize that they need each other and cooperation is the best path.


The first calendar wins. When you are out working your field to perfection, the business folks are building event calendars. So get your maintenance and renovation calendars in earlier. Build walls around the key times you need to get it ready to perform. It’s a difficult task because the field maintenance schedule can’t be planned until the teams schedule comes out. As soon as games schedules are released, events are plugged in around them. Assumptions on field resilience are made without turf managers input, or sufficient contingencies in place if the field can’t recover. The better managed facilities include the turf managers input at all times when developing the event schedule. Assumptions in field resilience are best made by a professional.

Once you are in the planning room, each event idea should be asked this fundamental series of questions. How many people will be doing exactly what, for how long, on which parts of the field, on what date, wearing which type of shoes? What props or equipment will be on the field for the set-up, during the event and the tear-down (strike)? What are the bad weather scenarios? I used to use a grass wetness standard that when enough rain had fallen to make the turf slightly “squishy” in sound when you step on it (beginning of standing water), it was time to postpone or move the event off the grass.

Design, layout and traffic flow. How an event on your playing surface is designed can be critical to whether or not it can be successfully pulled-off without significantly damaging the surface. Some parts of the playing surface are less critical to the athletes than others, and these areas may be allowed to be stressed to a greater degree. A football sideline area might be an example. Still, we all know that player momentum often takes a player at high speed into areas immediately adjacent to the playing surface. So you can’t just destroy these less critical areas.

Bring field maps to the planning meetings so you can sketch-out ideas and concerns and everyone can better communicate. Ideally you have a scaled drawing of the entire ball field “floor”. Event planners are not architects. They tend to underestimate the sizes of certain elements in the event, and it isn’t until the event set-up begins that you realize that your careful plans to protect the surface will not work. Without a scale drawing (paper or digital) of the field and design elements, you might assume you can get 40 dinner tables and seats on the warning track and only on event day, when it’s often too late to make changes, you find out the dinner tables will have to come out on the grass. Or maybe they completely block the warning track for normal foot traffic flow during the event and a deer trail on the grass will be the result.

Today, we have access to technologies and products that can really help with hosting these necessary events on your field. Portable event flooring and easy-to-use turf protection productshave changed the equation for hosting non-sporting events on high-performance sports surfaces. From concerts to simple corporate punt, pass and kick competitions, there are products that can be employed to minimize or even eliminate turf damage, no matter what type of event. The rise in these field protection technologies has been nothing short of remarkable over the last 20 years. As such, any stadium managers and even a lot of sports field managers may not even realize that there are tools out there that can make your field events work without damaging the playing surface.

And it’s not all rigid flooring. Field tarps and covers are invaluable to special event field management. Keep old field and sideline covers around to use as ‘event covers’ that can be cut-to-fit for events as necessary for lighter traffic protection applications.

Sometimes, the solution involves moving traffic flow during the event, when possible, to redistribute the wear on the grass or turf. In these situations, the call should be made when to move by a qualified member of the turf department (see monitoring).

Set-up. Event set-up staff can cause damage to the field if they are not careful. They can create deer-trails where they walk to set up an event. They may be wheeling out food carts or other equipment on carts that can rut turf. For the turf manager, this may be the first time to see these elements, so watch carefully to make sure no one is staking anything into the turf. If anything needs to be staked or driven into the turf, it must be done with the approval and under the supervision of a turf manager. Make quick changes where you see issues and be sure to keep the event manager up to date with any set-up issues as they arise. The same issues involved in playing surface protection and damage that apply to the event set-up will also come into play during the strike, so keep a close eye on things until everyone else is gone.

Get a good roping system, it can be a valuable asset to field protection in directing the traffic flow of a field event and defining critical off-limit areas. Big box home improvement stores typically carry ropes in various sizes, construction and materials. They can be purchased in full rolls of around 800-1,000 feet length on small wooden drums. I like the 1.4-3/8-inch thick nylon ropes. They are resistant to precipitation and weather. You will want some sort of hose roller or fabricated drum apparatus to roll up the long rope after the event. Otherwise, if you just wrap-roll up the rope, it will become twisted and unusable. These stores also usually carry some type of inexpensive stake used to create rope lines in turf. Be sure the depth of the steak-spike in the ground is not deep enough to potentially damage underground field components including irrigation lines. Also be very careful to make the ropes highly visible to participants in the event so that they won’t accidently walk or run into them.

Event Day. Most folks don’t really understand turfgrass and playing surface management issues just like the sports field manager probably doesn’t understand all the various issues involved in event management. You’ve got to have someone from the turf team and an event manager capable of making event-day change decisions as necessary without upsetting the paying client present during the event day set-up, during the event, and for the strike. A turf team member needs to be on the field monitoring the event set-up. Some of the most significant errors and field damage can occur during set-up. Staff loading in flooring, tables, chairs and other event elements can tend to run a deer-trail as they build. You have to watch this and move the traffic flow if necessary. Even well-planned events will need some minor on-field design changes, before and during the event, once you see what everything is and what all is involved.

Heat-burn to turfgrass from event elements tend to be the most frequent issue in the hotter months. The event and entertainment industries love the color black. It keeps their props and equipment less obvious during the event. Heck, they even tend to dress in black. But black or dark-colored items left on the turfgrass can heat up quickly and cause burning of the turf canopy. In severe cases, the damage extends to the crown, and the plant dies.

Monitoring the event. During the event, carefully watch, especially at the beginning of the field event. Watch the traffic flow and any activities and determine any changes that will be required. Don’t engage the guests, but go to the event manager first with the issues. Take pictures and make video notes during events. These can be of great value when planning similar events, or if the event is recurring. Are guests following the rope-lines and the intended traffic flow? Make any adjustments early in the event to prevent the most damage. Any adjustments or changes should be made with the full prior consent of the event planner and done at a time that is not disruptive to the event. You are at someone’s special event. It could be a big day for them, so dress professionally appropriate as you monitor the event. Done correctly and with a good attitude, your work can be a chance to engage guests (fans) a little on how it takes professionals to make all this work. They love seeing how state-of-the-art everything is at a stadium or ballpark, including the grounds crew.

Monitor all severe weather threats during your event and execute your facility plans that should be well communicated and even rehearsed ahead of any field event.

A few considerations.

  • All these field event schedules on playing surfaces is a relatively new phenomena. It can be a complex management challenge for any facility and doing it on a high-performance grass or turf field adds a lot of complexity to the project. As such, there will be additional costs incurred by the turf team in materials and especially labor. These costs should be worked into the price-point of the event. Too often, these additional costs are just absorbed into the turf team budget and may cause deficiencies elsewhere in the field management operation.
  • Develop a set of basic field use rules that can be used by the event staff when selling events. No food (including gum, sunflower seeds, etc.) allowed on the field area is a good one. No drinks either, with the exception of water which can be a health issue on hot days.
  • Develop a timeline for weather decisions. When and how will the final event go-ahead, modification or cancellation come?

Resources of the Month:

In the middle of severe weather season, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center is a good resource to glance at with your morning coffee. A quick national snapshot of severe weather outlooks and more detailed information if you want.

The Penn State Center for Sports Surface research has a traction database available. See how your favorite shoes (cleats) perform on various common playing surfaces.

A new turfgrass disease management app is out that is very useful called Turf MD. It is inexpensive and available for android and IOS (iphone/ipad) devices. Based off top turfgrass disease compendiums and peer reviewed, it is a comprehensive disease management tool taking you from simple to use symptom pages, to question-driven identification keys to images and everything you need to know about the major turfgrass diseases. See a YouTube video demo here.

End Quote:

“Your success lies in your own hands. You must therefore not wait for the grass to become greener by magic. You have the hands to irrigate your own territory by doing what is expected of you!” 
― Israelmore AyivorDream Big!: See Your Bigger Picture!