Concerts on Baseball Fields

Sports turf Field Managers have full-time demands managing top-notch turf throughout a regular-season schedule. Add in youth tournaments, charity events, wrestling, weddings, and the (dreaded) music concert and the scale and scope of responsibility can become a true challenge. However, concerts on baseball fields have become increasingly common in recent years and Field Managers and grounds crews absolutely must be equipped to host at least one per season. With the right baseball field maintenance equipment and planning, concerts can be turned from a night of terror and chaos into an enjoyable, gratifying challenge to really showcase a crews skills.

Element One: Pre-planning for Concert Day

When a concert date is set, an abundance of pre-planning can begin. Managing details in advance is the only way for a Field Manager to keep his/her sanity with all of the moving parts on a concert day. The pre-planning process begins by establishing communication with the General Manager of the organization and the department of Operations and Media Relations. An especially helpful tactic is to look to past events as a reference. Research the artist to determine what type and size of crowd is expected. Take special note of the type of music, which will directly impact what type of baseball field maintenance equipment is required. Rap concerts require more speakers but typically no instruments (generally an auxiliary cord is plugged into a laptop to play the music). In contrast, rock and pop concerts require grounds crew to assist in transporting equipment and instruments back and forth to the buses. Determine stage size and placement with a rough sketch for a layout of the concert. Do not overlook or undervalue the front office staff’s previous experiences; they may have prior drawings and records that will provide an excellent template to submit to the production company.

Element Two: Budget Management

Working with a minimal budget is a challenge every minor league Field Manager faces. These limited budgets simply do not allow for full-field coverage with plastic flooring, and re-sodding deposits are just not possible for smaller events. Spending roughly $80,000 dollars every 5-7 years to get a new playing surface installed can be a stretch. So how can a Field Manager handle the inevitable wear and tear of hosting a concert? How does he/she protect a plant from getting killed for a night of loud music? A Head Groundskeeper in such a position must be willing to a) ask for assistance and b) be smart with bartering.

Typically, production companies have money set aside in their budget to cover rentals that can be charged to the concert. Renting baseball field maintenance equipment like a soil air injector to pump air back down to the roots after the grass is covered for days can do wonders. The air injector can be used before and after in all turf areas that will be impacted during a concert. Preventative as well as post-concert spraying programs are also available which can also be charged directly to the production company. If the stadium has a positive connection with their city, use that relationship to an advantage. Trading for tickets is something that is very common in MiLB and is an ideal bartering chip when managing concerts or similar events. Tickets or specials on food and drink could be exchanged for: an extra forklift, plywood to make the road to the stage, or a bike rack to corral all the fans. Local golf courses can serve as another excellent resource. If a Field Manager is truly stumped with how to overcome a specific difficulty, he/she should bear in mind the plethora of other Field Managers around the country that are willing to give advice.

Element Three: Field Considerations

Weeks prior to an actual concert date, the management of the baseball field maintenance program for spraying and granular applications is crucial. Planning ahead to slow down the growth of the grass before the event is a usual routine for the Field Manager. Sod farms are a resource in case of an emergency and they need to be full of healthy grass to plan for the worst. Field Managers need to have additional protective measures set in place. For example, geofabrics (turf reinforcement mats) can be a cost-effective way to prevent ruts from heavy generator cables and damage from stage footings. The geofabrics will give some breathing room between the grass and any items placed on the turf for an extended period of time. Insulative, permeable fabrics are also a strong alternative to putting down a barrier right before concerts begin to deal with foot traffic and possible damage to the turf. Look for medium weight UV protected fabric that allows for the grass to breathe. The fabric provides an excellent side-benefit: crews can hugely speed up the cleaning process by rolling all the trash up inside the fabric post-concert.

Element Four: Stage Installation

The stage for a concert will usually arrive at the ballpark one day prior to the show. A Field Manager should pull his/her crew aside and express specific concerns, answer questions, and provide detailed rules and expectations. Each member of the crew needs to internalize the risks: the field being able to recover quickly and be playable is key to the very livelihood of the players, the program, and the grounds crew. All specifics should be detailed, including layout, transportation, waste management, and irrigation (turn off all relevant irrigation well before the stage arrives in order to avoid a gigantic and very expensive problem). Transporting the stage should be done over plywood or stage flooring to distribute the weight more evenly. Overlapping is key with the plywood to avoid large ridges in the soil caused by such extreme weight. All irrigation heads should be marked for reference to prevent accidents, and any items left on the turf at the end of the evening must be removed to prevent further damage caused by hours of overnight pressure.

Element Five: Concert Day

Concert day is when the magic happens and begins bright and early around 6am. Grounds crew members will be overseeing turf operations as well as transporting items from tour buses to the stage. Basic overwatch to protect the field and checking for hot spots is key. For areas experiencing drought, hand watering can help keep these areas from dying. Approximately two hours before gates open, all items that will need to be on the playing surface are brought on; this is a choreographed set up with help of the front office staff using the layout planned ahead of time. When the gates are open, the grounds crew will work in shifts on the field to walk the perimeter to monitor trash cans, check on barriers, and ensure roped off areas are still secure.

Element Six: Post-concert

Post-concert is when the field crew has the most work. As concertgoers exit, assess for any clean up around the field such as trash left behind by guests and areas of special concern for turf health. Each crew member should have a detailed understanding of his/her responsibilities including waste disposal and removing fencing. Fluffing of the grass in order to stand it back up with backpack blowers can be done at this time. Standing the blades back up vertically allows the grass to dry out after being compressed to prevent damaging it further. Running an aerator, or soil air injector unit at this time will assist with healing of the grass by getting air down to the roots. Continuing to manage the stagehands from damaging the surface is imperative at this point. They will be rushing to leave and so will the rest of the staff. When all items are removed from the field, wait until the following day to assess the damage further.

Seeing everything in the daylight the following day, or in some cases just a few hours later, can show what damage has been done. Discolorations in the turf are an indication of damage and will determine what steps must be taken to repair the damage. Re-sodding areas in exceptionally bad shape, fixing edges, adjusting uneven areas of the soil have to be done before finally putting some water down. The date of the next game will be charted out and based on that timeframe, the Field Manager will implement the appropriate turf management practices. Spare green turf paint should be kept in supply in case the damage needs to be covered up for a few days as the turf heals and returns to its pre-concert form.

Coordinating and executing quality baseball field maintenance for such a major event can be challenging. However, with sufficient pre-planning, good communication, and committed hard-working staff, a Field Manager can be confident about protecting his/her pride and joy: a playable surface.