Synthetic Turf: The New Snake Oil

More and more school districts are choosing synthetic turf sports fields. In another blog series we provided a detailed cost comparison of natural grass vs synthetic turf sports fields helping prove that synthetic turf fields are never cheaper than natural grass and exposing the lies about the costs of turf. Even Forbes reported that taxpayers are being fooled on the cost of synthetic turf. We also provided reasons for choosing one type of sports field over the other. When choosing how to spend their construction dollars, today's sports field decision makers need to have the right information in order to compare available options and ultimately make an informed decision.

Photo by Scukrov/iStock / Getty Images

Many decision makers involved in spending money on athletic facilities are convinced they need a new synthetic turf field because they believe their grass field just doesn't work for them any longer. On the surface, why would they think anything different? We've been doing business with school districts for over thirty years. We know the challenges involved with taking care of natural grass sports fields. Owners/organizations can grow tired of coaches and parents complaining about the poor shape of their old football field. No doubt they've heard all the complaints about the lack of maintenance of the field and/or how the coaches want to practice on the field all the time so maintenance never has the ability to properly take care of the field. Complaint after complaint. Headache after headache. Season after season...

Enter the synthetic turf sales and marketing professionals. Similar to the fraudulent tactics of "snake oil" salesmen of the late 19th century selling "patent medicines", turf salesmen swoop in claiming the only way owners can rid themselves of problems involving their natural grass field is to remove it and go with synthetic turf. Fancy presentations are created, numbers are presented, meetings are set, dinners are bought, decisions are made, millions are spent. Lies are also told: Would you like your field to "pay for itself"? Go synthetic. Support this notion of "going green"? Go synthetic. Tired of maintaining your sports fields? Go synthetic! Want to abuse a field by playing on it all the time without any negative side effects? Go synthetic!! In far too many situations, that's exactly what happened.

"The fact is that choosing natural grass over synthetic turf will save millions over time."

Even worse, synthetic turf companies have been known to actually coach their prospective customers to purposefully destroy their existing grass field, making it unsafe, unplayable and unsightly in order to help justify the purchase of an incredibly expensive synthetic turf field. Tactics such as letting more groups like marching bands and other local youth sports organizations use their natural grass field whenever they want help ensure the grass field doesn't have a chance at surviving. Other dishonest tactics such as strategically cutting down on irrigation run times on the field as well as stopping any sort of fertilizer applications or cultural practices that might have been planned all help to support the synthetic turf sales narrative that the existing grass field simply can't keep up with the traffic demands of a busy school district, city or county.

Money Miracle or Mirage?

synthetic turf dollars

It's amazing when you stop to think about it. For years school districts and organizations claimed they never had the money needed to spend on any of their old natural grass fields for proper, regular maintenance - such as regular fertilization, weed and pest control, topdressing, various scheduled cultural practices, etc. All of a sudden these same school districts found a million dollars to spend on a single football field playing surface. In addition, these organizations also somehow discovered the new ability to set aside large sums of money each year in order to regularly resurface the new synthetic turf field (every 8 to 10 years...forever). Doing the math, if resurfacing a turf field costs ~$400,000, that means a school district needs to set aside no less than $40,000 per budget year until the end of time to continually pay for that resurfacing effort. Long term liability? Try perpetual liability with a cost that only goes up with time (so far, turf resurfacing continues to become more expensive each year). It takes some very special mathematical slights of hand to fashion numbers and present a case for cost savings on a sports field when exactly the opposite is true.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this spending frenzy on synthetic turf by school districts is that it's been occurring during the worst American economy since the Great Depression. At a time when school district budgets are being squeezed (many districts are faced with cutting programs or, at worst, reductions in school staff), these incredibly expensive synthetic turf fields seemingly get funded without a second thought.

The real question is this: In light of all the available information proving that synthetic turf sports fields cost significantly more than a properly built natural grass field, why would an organization's decision makers choose the more expensive option? The answer is simple. They just want it. All the other excuses, reasons, phony math etc are just lies to justify the fact that owners simply want that shiny new plastic field.

Have The Right Information, Save Millions

Be informed. When school districts or other organizations look to upgrade their athletic facilities and synthetic turf is mentioned, remember this: Don't believe the lies. There is a choice. A synthetic turf field will always be FAR MORE EXPENSIVE than natural grass. The individuals in charge of spending sports field construction dollars should be truthful about their reasons for choosing synthetic turf. Taxpayers on the hook for paying for capital improvements (in the form of bond elections, school board votes, etc) should protect against unnecessary expenditures. The fact is that choosing natural grass over synthetic turf will save millions over time.

Considering Building a New Sports Field or Renovating an Existing One?

Contact TMC today at 1-800-292-1214.