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By: Karen Lopez on October 7th, 2021

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What Makes Sports Facility Construction So Challenging

Operating Insights

There are nearly 10,000 sports complexes in the United States and together, they earned $1 billion in 2019. Over 33,000 people are employed in the running and upkeep of these sports complexes.

The industry saw annual growth of 4.1% between 2014 and 2019, proving how popular and profitable it can be. 

However, constructing a sports facility comes with its own set of challenges. Designing a state-of-the-art facility is a complex process and contractors should keep several factors in mind. 

When the cost of building a local outdoor sports facility could be anywhere between $12 million and $20 million, it is not a simple undertaking. It makes sense to choose a contractor who has experience with sports facilities.

Challenges Unique to Sports Facility Construction

Most large construction projects are challenging in one way or another but a sports facility entails a few unique challenges:

1. Strict Deadlines

Organized sports are played during particular seasons i.e. a time of the year when regulated games are in session.

For instance, Major League Baseball is played between March end to September end. Association football and basketball are played between August to May.

Thus, the construction of a sports facility should be done keeping these periods of the year in mind. Work should be completed within set deadlines because the start of a season cannot be delayed.

It is particularly challenging when a sports facility is meant to host more than one sport. Not only will each sport have different requirements but these requirements will vary depending on the age groups of the teams being served.

2. Environmental Challenges

When a multi-sport facility is being constructed, the design should keep in mind several considerations. 

Lighting should be able to accommodate all the sports the facility intends to serve. Soccer, tennis, and basketball are often played at night because it’s cooler.

Sufficient lighting should be factored in to prevent games from being prematurely stopped due to lack of light. Even if night games are not played, lighting is required for the security of the property.

Lights should also be turned on only when needed and allowed enough time to cool down before the next use. In addition, maintenance staff will require adequate lighting to do their tasks.

Games like hockey require that the stadium does not become too hot during the day so that night games can be comfortably played. HVAC systems should be flexible enough to handle the demands of various sports. 

Usually, LED floodlights are used in sports facilities because they reduce electricity costs, don’t generate as much heat as traditional light bulbs, and last longer than regular light bulbs.

Since commercial LED lighting does not heat up as much as regular lighting, players are protected from overheating and the facility does not have to invest heavily in cooling equipment.  

3. Space Constraints

Not all sports facilities are built on large plots of land. Often, local teams have to contend with building on a smaller footprint of land—perhaps in the middle of a city or town—that is surrounded by restaurants and other commercial establishments. Thus, the design of the sports facility has to balance the needs of the sports team(s) and that of the space in which the facility is to be located.

Local building regulations also have to be kept in mind when drawing up the plan for the sports facility. The plan should have approval from the local municipality and its zoning department before construction begins to avoid any legal issues and delays later.

An indoor sports complex has considerations of lighting, plumbing, electricity, occupancy, ADA compliance, and other factors. It’s typically more complex than outdoor facilities, hence more time should be invested in getting the building plan right.

4. Design Challenges

One of the major design challenges in a sports facility is that of visibility. Spectators should be able to see the full field, no matter where they are seated. They should feel they’re close to the action.

Premium seating arrangements also need to be accommodated strategically to be worthy of the ticket price. People should also have a clear view of all the facilities on offer at the sports complex so that they are more frequently used. In this age of television and streaming platforms, sports facilities should be attractive enough to keep visitors coming back.

Shade structures can be constructed for outdoor facilities to shelter athletes and spectators during hot summer months. Athletes can cool off in the shade between games and spectators can watch the games comfortably.

5. Turf Selection

Many sports like football, baseball, and lacrosse use turf areas and it is crucial to choose the right turf.

There are two options—natural grass or artificial turf.

Natural Grass

Natural grass is often preferred because it is a softer, more yielding surface and more forgiving to an athlete’s knees and joints. It does not heat up as quickly as artificial turf.

However, natural grass needs ongoing maintenance to make it suitable for games. A few considerations for natural grass are planting dates, planting rates, use of fertilizers and herbicides, tillage, rolling, watering, and mowing.

In bad weather, fields with natural grass tend to get muddy and slippery increasing the likelihood of injuries. Irrigation and draining are a big concern in natural grass fields. If the water content in the grass falls below 60%, turf can become weak and die or become dormant.

When there’s not enough rainfall, natural turf has to be supplemented with extra water to help it handle stress from games being played and harsh environmental conditions. Turf should get 1-2 inches of water per week during the growing season.

Factors like humidity, temperature, wind, sunlight, and rainfall determine how much irrigation is required. Historical weather data can help contractors determine irrigation needs and suitable irrigation systems.

Artificial Turf

Artificial turf is made of polyethylene blades and crumb rubber. It is preferred over other artificial turf options like nylon turf and polypropylene turf because it is softer and resembles natural grass the most.

There are no maintenance costs to worry about and it doesn’t require much raking. Draining is ably handled by its irrigation systems so there is no fear of waterlogging. Thus, it’s an environmentally friendly way to cover a sports field.

However, it is more expensive than other types of turf and it heats up very quickly. The surface temperature can rise to 120 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot day, making it difficult to play on.

Certain types of bacteria can live on the plastic blades of the turf for over 90 days. Thus, if the turf is not cleaned regularly, it can lead to skin infections. 

6. Weather Safety

Contractors must factor in the weather conditions of the location in which the sports facility is being built. Severe weather can damage complexes and even harm players and spectators!

Lightning is a common and dangerous occurrence. A thunderstorm and lightning detection system based on either acoustics, optical signs, or electric fields can provide early warnings and help sports managers plan games safely.

Lightning horns that track storms in real time, alert with an outdoor warning siren and provide a countdown clock to resume operations work well. 

7. Parking Spaces

Planning for parking may seem like an afterthought, but it is one of the most crucial aspects of building a sports facility. Spectators should find it convenient to come to the facility and watch their favorite teams play. If it is a hassle to find parking spots, visitors may not return.

A sports facility should have around 50-100 parking spots. This will enable it to host community events and tournaments that bring in a larger volume of people.

If the available space allows it, parking spots should be closer to the field and facilities for spectators so that they don’t have to walk long distances to access their seats. Some parking spaces should also be exclusive to differently-abled people. The perception of ease and convenience will pull in more visitors.

An important consideration in designing a parking lot is that vehicles should not get damaged by balls or other sports equipment. Thus, nets or other protective barriers have to be put up to prevent damage to parked cars. 

Final Thoughts

A large-scale construction project like a sports facility demands a high level of coordination and logistics to carry it to completion.

It is necessary to have sound knowledge of sports facility architecture design to plan and build a structure that will be useful to both athletes and spectators. The facility should stand out to users and compel them to return to it every season.

Karen Lopez is a freelance content writer at Marketing Digest. She likes sharing her knowledge in a wide range of domains ranging from home renovation to industrial and commercial lighting suppliers like LED Lighting Supply. Her work has been featured in a couple of leading magazines such as Constructor Magazine, Electrical News, and many others. In her free time, she enjoys listening to Jazz music and watching Netflix. Connect with her on LinkedIn.