Communication is Key to Field Equipment Innovation
As the need for multi-use and stand-alone athletic venues increases, so does the awareness of the unique issues associated with modern sports facilities. For some venue managers, there’s a need for portable equipment that can withstand regular mobility. For others, it’s the desire for increased safety netting without impacting the sight lines for fans in the stands. Others just need their everyday equipment to function a little better. There’s room for new innovations in this ever-growing industry, but without active communication between end users and manufacturers, it can be difficult to determine next steps; communication is key to innovations in the field.
In the early 2000s, conversations about purchasing football goal posts started with a handshake and plans for installation and were followed months later with a call from venue managers with missing roll pins and out-of-plumb uprights. This common issue was often the result of regular exposure to high winds that vibrate the pins from position. Correcting the problem was cumbersome, dangerous, and required attention from several personnel.
For David Moxley, Director of Sports Construction Sales at Sportsfield Specialties (SSI), his many conversations with facilities managers felt like an opportunity. “I took that feedback and shared it with our designers to find a solution.” Listening to customers led to the company’s 2006 release of their patented AdjustRight® Football Goal Posts. The new design incorporated a rotating internal sleeve with an upright stub on the crossbar (where the upright attaches), which could be loosened, adjusted, and then tightened into position with no roll pins to worry about. Also, the innovation made it possible for only one person to adjust the equipment safely.
Increased safety has become a priority for institutions and athletic organizations. Perhaps one of the most high-profile cases of this was the call to action from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in 2015, who recommended that stadiums increase protective netting beyond the backstop.
The public response was mixed – some embraced the increased safety measures, but others balked at the potentially ruined viewing experience. “There were valid concerns from both parties,” said Kevin DeVantier, Director of Sales; Team Accounts, “ballparks wanted to keep fans safe, and fans wanted the open-air feel without an obstructed view.” Those types of concerns fueled a revolution that led to advances in protective netting, which include a 1.2mm low profile braided / knotless design. It also inspired netting manufacturers to use a special green coating to camouflage the net against the playing field, a solution which DeVantier describes as “simple, but very effective.”
Sometimes a simple fix can make a big impact. For example, at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the city’s parks and recreation department struggled with the durability of soccer goal wheel kits at their high-traffic community venue. “It’s probably one of the busiest soccer fields in the country,” explained Alex Fletcher a Sales Manager at Sportsfield Specialties. He explained that the goals were being moved several times a day to meet the needs of players of all levels.
When San Francisco Parks and Rec reached out to SSI for a solution, they were looking for an alternative to the norm. At the time, SSI only offered wheel kits, but as Fletcher said, “We listened, and more importantly, heard their request and met with designers to come up with ideas.” What came next was a simple, yet highly effective (and popular) solution, soccer goals with aluminum skids welded to the base. “We wouldn’t have added the skiddable feature if the customer didn’t express their needs.”
For companies changing the face of sports venue equipment, communication is a crucial piece to their creative process. Providing feedback and collaborative brainstorming fuels innovation, ultimately making venues safer and easier to manage for end users.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 CEFMA newsletter