A Dynamic Differentiator

Using synthetic turf to minimize dark days and maximize facility usage

It’s no secret that northern climates impose challenges to practice and game time for outdoor sports like soccer, football, and baseball. While southern states enjoy the outdoors, their northern neighbors endure drastic conditions, from blizzards and ice to rain, winds, and floods—often cutting several weeks from the season and limiting off-season practices.

From community centers to college campuses, northern athletes lose valuable spring and fall training and competition time, braving the elements to practice and play the game they love. This likely explains why 68 percent of baseball players drafted since 1989 hail from 16 warmer-climate states.

It’s bad enough when weather affects player performance but even worse when a shorter season affects revenue, due to fewer tournaments, fewer ticket sales, and fewer fans.

Fortunately, northern athletes can not only survive but can thrive with facilities and programming that can control the impact of climate challenges, promising consistency throughout athletic training and competitions.

From integrating indoor and outdoor synthetic-turf fields in existing facilities to creating new spaces and amenities that reimagine community offerings, innovation is driving the most successful athletic facilities across the country. 

Innovating The Facility Model

Much like a five-tool baseball player who increases value to a team, facilities that support diverse needs and interests, without sacrificing operational efficiency, maximize community value by minimizing dark days.

Whether you’re looking to add months of on- and off-season practice or planning a facility for the future, synthetic turf can be a dynamic differentiator.

While natural-grass fields are difficult to clear of rain, snow, and ice, outdoor synthetic-turf fields are resilient and can be cleared expeditiously, offering advantages in water drainage and maintenance costs. With more control over the facility and its programming, indoor synthetic-turf facilities provide more opportunities for users to practice and play.

Gone are the days of plastic pebbles in players’ shoes. Today’s synthetic-turf products are highly advanced and customizable to location, cost, brand, and programming needs. Synthetic turf caters to the unique aspects of each activity for optimal performance. Unique features and specifications such as turf height, backing (or padding), yarn material, and material face-weight can affect and enhance performance and training experience indoors and outdoors.

Today’s products present various infill compositions of rubber, sand, cork, and wood, providing more consistent, playable surfaces and better cushion than fields of the past.

JLG recently explored synthetic-turf options in the design of the Sanford Sports Complex in Fargo, N.D., building a facility that will support programming of various sports and activities. A comparison matrix was developed to study synthetic-turf products by their backing, bind, infill options, and fiber type, height, and weight—all important factors to create a customized, high-performing synthetic-turf field.

Zero Dark Days

Starting from scratch, synthetic turf is certainly a player to consider on a versatile roster built through a sophisticated, modern approach to how a space will be used.

As Ryan Freeland, JLG’s Sports Studio Design Leader explains, “It starts with programming rooted in reason, utilizing data to understand the client or community’s needs. Understanding the current size of athletic and recreation program offerings, along with the average age of users, helps project the programmatic preferences, training, and recreation needs,” says Freeland. “This allows you to right-size the facility’s configuration to the appropriate sports, without overbuilding. The most sustainable facilities from an operational standpoint are being used daily with the goal of zero dark days.”

Through customized design, dark days can be illuminated with everything from graduations and concerts to tradeshows and community events.

This innovative approach to athletic-facility design not only supports a community’s revenue stream by maximizing facility usage, but also supports the diverse needs and interests of its users. Enhanced offerings allow for placemaking—a collaborative process in which public spaces are inspired by the community to promote happiness, health, and wellness.

Leveraging public space starts with defining neighborhoods within community facilities. Thoughtful design creates a building with activity zones that support diverse community needs, offering a flexible and engaging user experience.

According to JLG’s Sports Studio Principal Director Tom Betti, “Athletic facilities these days often boast multi-use amenities for people of all ages; placemaking allows for all users to practice, train, or play in an environment that suits their needs.”

The magic of synthetic turf is the variety of programming it can support. Off-season practice can be hosted on an indoor turf field, as well as dry-land and performance training, rehabilitation, and more. This flexibility opens doors for facility operators—more services without the need for additional types of spaces. Synthetic turf is a strategic investment for the future.

From Dream To Reality

As athletic facilities advance programming offerings, it is crucial to consider right-sizing space for long-term success.

While planning for efficiency and future proofing of a facility, focus on the following:  

  • Safety. The safety and security of users at a facility cannot be overlooked. The size and width of the overruns outside a playing surface, as well as wall materials and finishes, must be carefully analyzed and determined based on the intended use. Proper maintenance is the best way to keep users out of harm’s way.
  • Maintenance and durability. Regular facility check-ups will increase longevity and decrease emergency repairs. Durability and proper maintenance ensure the highest standards for the state of a facility and the training and performance levels of its users, generating revenue and usage for years to come.
  • Programming options. Consider all of the ways an athletic facility can support sports/recreation and community needs. Future-proofing a facility with the right programming mix will keep diverse user groups satisfied and help to reach zero dark days.
  • Sustainability. Attention to sustainable products and building features can reduce the costs in the long run without sacrificing environmental impact. With advancements in facilities and surface materials, it is easier to incorporate organic elements for a thoughtful, environmentally friendly facility.

Synthetic Success

Synthetic-turf facilities check all of the above boxes—keeping players safe through a more controlled training and performance surface.

Synthetic turf will also reduce the need for mowing, watering, drying, or striping. The days of hauling 50-pound bags of lime around a ballfield are over.  

Due to advancements in technology, synthetic turf offers 100-percent organic infills as well as cork infills, providing 100-percent odor-free, non-toxic playing surfaces. The industry also offers portable synthetic-turf systems to fit every facility’s operational needs. Non-fill synthetic turf also presents opportunities to enhance dry-land and performance training, with a closer resemblance to natural grass.

Overall, synthetic-turf surfaces offer a more controlled playing surface—no longer leaving programming and activation at the mercy of weather, especially in northern states.

When done right, an athletic facility can build economic opportunity through sports tourism. Events hosted on this type of turf bring more people through a facility’s doors, and the doors of adjacent community businesses. Today, well-programmed synthetic-turf facilities mean the grass is always greener—growing economic development, operational efficiency, player performance, and year-round revenue.