Tips From The Pros
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.
FIELD MANAGERS LARGE EVENT SURVIVAL GUIDE
Managing a concert or other large event on your sports field presents a number of challenges to the host venue, not least of which is protecting and repairing its playing surface. All parties involved have an interest in minimizing damage to the grass and playing surface, and the venue carries the additional responsibility to return the playing surface to a safe and playable condition prior to the return of games on the field.
The road from a sports field to a concert or other large event venue back to a sports field can be a rocky path, but a few simple tips can smooth the journey and help to avoid some of the land mines.
There are innumerable types of non-sporting events that can be held on today’s sports fields, grass or turf. If there is a chance for a paying audience, it has probably been tried on a sports field at one time or another. Developing a field management plan can seem difficult, but most events can be broken down and managed in similar fashions. In its broadest sense, you want a plan for before the event, during the event or event-week, and also a plan to return the playing surface to acceptable quality.
Most events follow a simple 3-part work flow on the field: load-in/build-out, production and load-out or “strike”.
Well in advance of a large event, good planning from the field is critical. First, determine if the event is one in a traveling series of events, or is a single, unique event for your venue-often called a “one-off” event. If your event is one in a series, the first thing to do is contact the field and venue managers that have already hosted the event, if possible. Ask about the schedules and anything they might have done differently.
Regardless of a series event or a one-off, you want to identify the key personnel in the event management team, especially the person in charge of building-out the elements of the event on the field. First, you want to establish a good working relationship with this person before they come to your town. Second, you want to get your hands on the event floor plan and design as early as possible as it gets harder and harder to affect any critical changes to the event plan as it gets closer to event day. Your facility probably has unique challenges for the layout of the event and the corresponding risk to the playing surface. You may also have unique benefits to your facility that allow for changes to the general plan that will improve the event and lower risks to the field. Major concert tours usually send out a representative to tour and inspect tour venues well in advance of the actual event. Be in on this meeting. Go over the event plan in detail, looking at impacts to the surface and developing creative solutions that maintain or improve the integrity of the event.
I remember a large fan festival at the stadium, fun games on the field and autograph sessions in the stands on a sizzling-hot late June weekend one summer. I knew the cool-season perennial ryegrass would suffer in this heat, especially with the added traffic. One way to minimize the heat stress is to do a light sprinkling of irrigation water over the grass in a process called “syringing” the turf. As the water evaporates off the leaf surface, it cools the leaf. But it would be difficult to impossible to accomplish during the event. My solution was to talk with the event director about adding a special kids-in-the-sprinklers session to the all-day event. I figured maybe the kids would like to cool off as much as the field and “Sprinkler Palooza” was born. It was a big hit, helped cool the turf, and even got some run on local TV news. Get creative with your event change ideas, many stresses can be avoided.
Get an agreed-upon poor and severe weather plan for the build, event and strike that is agreed upon by the interested parties. Also get a solid plan for the exit or strike. This is often when cost-saving measures can hurt the field. For large events I prefer to see some kind of liquidated damages clause for the strike that assesses financial penalties for every hour the strike is late. Otherwise, event promoters may only set up a small skeleton crew that saves costs but extends the damage to the beleaguered field.
There are certain field protection items that the host facility typically keeps on hand like ¾-1” thick plywood sheets and some pieces cut down smaller for any stage footer protection. Enkamat Plus field protection covers can be cut up and used for under the smaller footers and anytime under the plywood protection. Better than Enkamat alone or even straight geo-tex blankets, I believe the combination of the two works best with plywood (or equal) rigid stage element footer protection.
Small sections or single pieces of a quality turf flooring product can save a lot of time and money by not having to lay Enkamat Plus or equal under one or two layers of plywood for field protection. And with a certain amount of translucency and even air exchange in some versions, the damage to grass has been shown to be less using a good flooring product compared to plywood.
Get the basic build day schedules and plans. You want to have someone from the field management team on site during the build and strike to “baby-sit” the field. Just remember, you are there to perhaps make suggestions to the lead, not interfere with the work. Maybe some roadway flooring for forklifts that is not being used for several hours could be lifted, giving the grass a little break and minimizing damage to the playing surface. It’s human nature for every contractor involved in staging a large field event like a stadium concert to want to get their work done ahead of time and be assured they are good with their part. For example flooring and chairs, which typically come late in the build right before the show. The contractors want to get started as early as possible, but waiting until the evening, or at least until the field is fully shadowed can give the grass another break in stress that can add up to less playing surface damage.
Before the event, develop a method to keep track of any additional expenses the event requires from the field management department. Every penny you absorb into your routine field maintenance budget dilutes the true picture of how profitable the event may have been. A time-and-materials report should be included in the event file.
During the event week, you may have windows of opportunity for some basic needed maintenance on the grass. Make sure you meet every morning with the event construction manager and let him/her know what you would like to get done. Bring a good, current printed local weather forecast for the construction manager, they will appreciate that. Mow when and where you can and as needed, same with irrigation.
Take care of your personal well-being as well as that of your team. You can’t outwork every challenge and your greatest efforts and focus will be needed after the event leaves town and you have to return the playing surface to adequate quality.
Turf Tips 101: Turfgrass Management Before and After a Large Field Event.
Bringing your turfgrass into a stressful large field event in good health can make a significant difference in how it comes out of the event. In general, you want to be slightly lean on fertility, especially nitrogen, leading up to the event period. You don’t want a lot of fast, lush shoot growth during event-week. There will be a better time to stimulate growth after the event. Keep soil moisture also slightly lean, as best as practical going into an event, especially one’s that feature large and heavy elements like a stage.
One way to slow down growth heading into a big field event is through the careful application of plant growth regulator (PGR) products. Always follow the label instructions. Depending on circumstances, timing a PGR application to come out of suppression just after the event may aid in field recovery.
Mow and irrigate the entire field before the load-in starts. Don’t over water, but it may be the last time you can get a good, deep irrigation into the soil as your irrigation system may be out of commission during the event week. Allow adequate time to fully drain the soil before they move in, ideally at field capacity or slightly lower. You may also consider using an appropriate broad-spectrum preventative fungicide application if the elements of the event call for covering the turf for long periods of time with some type of flooring or other element. Always use good IPM principles and follow the label instructions on any turf product, especially pesticides.
Have an adequate supply of appropriate sports field sod ready to go for any post-event quick repairs. This may require you to secure the replacement sod and install your specific maintenance specification at the sod farm several months to perhaps a year in advance to make sure you get sports field sod ready to play on.
Take some picture of the field, or the area of the field that hosts the event before the load-in. This can establish a record of the surface conditions before the event moved in in case of any post-event disputes.
Dial-in your post event field repair plans, securing and confirming all your needed materials, equipment, personnel and any contractors.
Turf management after the event:
Run a magnet over everything first thing, there tends to be a lot of screws and bolts left behind on stages and other event elements. You don’t want any safety hazards or flat tires on maintenance equipment.
Break down your turfgrass damage assessment after the field is cleared and try to put each area under one of 3 categories of grass damage.
- Stage 1 damage. Grass canopy is discolored light green or yellow but leaves not yet decayed, crowns and majority of roots healthy and whitish (not brownish) in color. This will typically grow out in a week or two.
- Stage 2 damage. Grass is past just yellowing to more purpling from bruising or dark brown from decay. Grass crowns mostly alive, roots somewhat compromised.
- Stage 3 damage. Grass is dead and decaying including most crowns and roots. Regrowth potential is minimal to none.
Stage 1 damage usually just requires some time and babying of the grass, minimizing stresses. The yellowing grows out and is mowed off in a week or so.
Stage 2 damage maybe capable of regrowth but also may benefit from some overseeding to re-stablish a thick sward of grass.
Stage 3 damage, on most sports fields, will require re-sodding before return to play, or seeding with at least 2 months to re-establish adequate and mature grass cover.
Go into your event logs to add in these zones of damage into your event notes. This information may prove useful if the event returns to your field or to a fellow field manager who may be facing the event in the near future.
Back on the field, a vacuuming and/or sweeping type treatment is usually best first to remove any small debris and to help stand up some of the laid-over and matted grass from the event elements. This may also help with gaseous exchange between air and soil, re-balancing oxygen in the soil.
With a clean field, you may need to irrigate the droughty turf. After large events that can affect the field for a week or more (like a concert), the turf usually has wildly different irrigation needs depending on the area. As such, hose watering by hand or portable cannons is usually best for the first drink of water. Don’t feel the need to over-water. This may aggravate any lack of oxygen issues in the soil.
Stick some metal in the compacted and damaged ground. Surface compaction from non-sporting field events can “seal-off” the surface and reduce soil oxygen needed for recovery. See last month’s Tips from the Pros blog for a review of these types of cultivation techniques. Overseeding and any topdressing are usually done after the field cultivation phase.
Resources of the Month
Summer means turfgrass disease pressure and North Carolina State University Turffiles has a good quick reference guide to get you going on a turfgrass disease diagnosis.
The heat will be here soon, if not already in all parts of North America. Get educated on heat related illness at the Kory Stringer Institute.
"So we are pretty convinced we don’t want to play huge stadiums unless we can play them well". – Jerry Garcia