Synthetic v. Grass: The Numbers

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Recently there have been several high-ranking officials/ executives in soccer making statements about synthetic being the “cheaper alternative” to natural grass.  So it is becoming the overall belief that synthetic is cheaper than natural grass….

THAT ABSOLUTELY IS NOT TRUE.  

Yes, it is no secret where this blog stands on the issue of natural grass v. synthetic turf. Specialized sports field managers around the world are creating new ways for natural grass fields to sustain increased traffic almost every day. And we continue to stand by the idea that in 5 years, natural grass will provide a high traffic option to match synthetic turf.

But at no point has the blog made statements that are not based in fact, nor have we denied that synthetic turf IS an excellent tool for extremely high traffic situations (over 1000 hours in the north, over 1500 hours in the south), for situations w/ space demands (high schools, inner cities, etc) , or for indoors.  Synthetic turf sometimes is recommended.

But w/ conceding that synthetic is a tool for extremely high traffic, the mis-information about synthetic is cheaper than grass “because it doesn’t require maintenance” must be corrected.  Ultimately, those statements are biased and un-informed.  Let’s look at the facts when it comes to grass v. synthetic turf:

Total Over 10 Years For 1 Grass Field v 1 Synthetic Field: 
(There is a complete breakdown of costs below)

Synthetic Professional:  $1,900,000

Synthetic Practice/ Tournament:  $1,700,000

Natural Grass, Professional:  $1,750,000

Natural Grass, Practice/Tournament:  $1,100,000

Natural Grass, Youth:  $650,000

Thoughts:  

At the professional level, the break even cost of grass v synthetic over 10 years is nearly equal.  Certainly much debate is around synthetic being able to sustain higher amounts of concerts, monster trucks, etc.  But with these multiple events, synthetic fields are failing at higher rates as well. And their replacement cost is much higher than grass field replacement costs.  Things like heat and grow lights increase grass costs, but extra padding and heat for frozen synthetic adds equal costs.  So ultimately, the comparison is even.

However, for grass fields, the cost numbers for maintenance decreases exponentially when additional fields are added.  Even just 1, full time/ skilled Sports Field Manager can maintain multiple fields.  The equipment fleet for 1 field can maintain multiple fields as well.  Thus these numbers drop quickly when more fields are added.  So for a professional stadium w/ a practice facility having staff and equipment that are shared, the cost drops quickly.

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In regard to youth soccer….  recently a high ranking and fantastic soccer executive publicly stated that “we don’t have the resources to have grounds crews fixing fields through all these clubs, so it (synthetic) becomes an easy option.”  

Yet clubs have $1.7 million to invest over 10 years to convert an already existing field to synthetic??

A “grounds crew fixing fields” could do ALOT with $170,000/ year!!  The maintenance budget for a professional level sports field comes in at only $115,000 for labor and supplies for a single field.  A well paid grounds crew of 2 could maintain 3-5 fields at a higher level than they are currently being maintained with that $170,000.  And ultimately, cheaply built/ native soil fields are being compared to million dollar synthetic fields.  Not an equal comparison.

March 25: Results of Recycling Dressing Following Dragging

As we look at the facts, synthetic v. grass is not a debate about money.  It ultimately is about high traffic and space.  Synthetic turf is an excellent tool for high traffic situations, it absolutely is needed.  But synthetic is NOT the “future of soccer” as recently stated even by a National Team coach.  Clubs are businesses 1st, and grass is the more efficient $$ answer.  Especially when a specialized Sports Field Manager is involved working diligently to save the club money and produce the best grass fields possible for the lowest cost.

(Breakdown of Costs Below….Let the Debate Continue!)  

1)  How Am I Educated to Address This So Directly & Boldly?
I, Jerad Minnick, (the author of this post) am one of a handful of sports field managers in the world that have built from the ground up and maintained both grass and synthetic fields.  I have, and I will continue, to make recommendations and consultations on the need for both grass and synthetic fields in situations that warrant.  These numbers are conservative & factual.

2) Construction Costs

Synthetic Professional:  $1,000,000 (Professionally built, no shortcuts on base construction, fibers, infills, etc)

Synthetic, Practice/ Tournament:  $850,000 (Shortcuts on base construction, fibers, infill, etc.. still a good field)

Natural Grass Professional*:  $600,000 (Professionally built, no shortcuts)
*: 10″ sand profile, drainage, irrigation, sodded.
*: Creates a field that is rain-out proof

Natural Grass Practice/ Tournament*:  $350,000
*: Practice/ Tournament:  6″ sand profile, drainage, irrigation, sodded
*: Creates a field that is rain-out proof

Natural Grass Youth Field*: $150,000
*: Field using native soil, graded level, irrigation, no drainage#
#: Fact: This is the majority of all Parks/ Youth grass fields in the USA

3) Maintenance Costs:
Synthetic (Either construction):  $10,000/ year*
*: equipment for grooming, infill, minor repairs, etc.  Maintenance is simple.

Natural Grass Professional:  $40,000/ year*
*: Average over for equipment, supplies (fertilizer, seed, etc), water, etc

Natural Grass Practice/ Tournament:  $30,000/ year*
*: Average over for equipment, supplies (fertilizer, seed, etc), water, etc

Natural Grass Youth Field:  $30,000/ year*
*: Average for paying landscape contractor to mow, seed, fertilizer, etc

4) Labor Costs:  

Synthetic Professional:  $30,000*
*: Non-skilled, full time to deal with clean up/ set up/ grooming/ etc

Synthetic Practice/ Tournament:  $20,000/ year*
*: Non-skilled, part time to deal with clean up/ set up/ grooming/ etc

Natural Grass Professional:  $75,000*
*: 1 full time, skilled, 1 part time skilled person for growing natural grass on 1 field (or up to 3 fields)

Natural Grass Practice/ Tournament:  $45,000*
*: 1 full time, skilled person for growing natural grass on 1 field (or up to 2 fields)

Natural Grass Youth Field: $20,000*
*: Part time, non skilled labor for clean up, set up, etc.

5) Replacement Costs:

Synthetic:  $500,000 after 8-10 years

Natural Grass:  No need from “regular” use*
*:  concerts, monster trucks, etc not “regular use”

Total Over 10 Years: 

Synthetic Professional:  $1,900,000

Synthetic Practice/ Tournament:  $1,700,000

Natural Grass, Professional:  $1,750,000

Natural Grass, Practice/Tournament:  $1,100,000

Natural Grass, Youth:  $650,000

6) Extras/ Outliers *These Will Bring the Most Debate*: 

Synthetic:

Overall Costs:  Vary*
*: Storm Water Management:  Up to $300,000 (Some States deem synthetic as an “impervious surface”, like a parking lot, & need engineering to reclaim water )

*: Construction Cost Savings:  Can be up to $200,000 (Some states have cheaper labor/ stable soils that reduce costs.  BUT that would be for grass & synthetic)

*: Relationship w/ Vendor:  Different synthetic vendors will make “deals” with different clubs, teams, etc to get their product in.  It is a very competitive market, but w/ few very high quality products (those are much higher quality than the others)

Extra padding to soften synthetic:  $500,000*

*:  Average:  Different companies work different deals.  The “best” synthetic field in America is public to admit they have added nearly $1,000,000 extra

Replacing fields more often than 8-10 years:  $500,000*

*: High profile, multiple event professional synthetic fields are being replaced in shorter intervals than the 8-10 years that fields being used for sports only last

– Irrigation System for Heat Reduction:  $40,000*
*: Piping, heads, booster pump to shoot water long distance

Grass:
Seeding/ Sprigging v. Sodding:  Reduces cost up to $100,000*
*: Seeding/ sprigging grass fields in allowed windows saves money

–  Glycol heating for sand:  $800,000 (plus operating costs)

Forced air heating for sand:  $400,000 (plus operating costs)

Grow Lights:  $100,000 per lighting unit (5 most in USA for soccer)

Re-sodding even without heavy traffic:  $150,000 (has, and does, happen)

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2 thoughts on “Synthetic v. Grass: The Numbers

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. When you factor in the costs of synthetic grass versus the costs of natural grass, synthetic is not much cheaper, if at all. And the benefits of natural grass also need to be considered as well.

  2. Pingback: FIFA is WRONG: 5 reasons synthetic turf is not the future | Growing Green Grass

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