A Field Of Dreams
GRAND RAPIDS — Movies, books and television have largely portrayed the world of sports as a field of dreams, using romantic visions of hallowed grounds and marvelous achievements to tug at hearts.
But in the business of sports, a playing surface usually contains more reality than fantasy. Whether an Iowa cornfield or a city arena, it can be a field of cash that does its share of tugging at a firm’s core, too — namely, its bottom line.
When DP Fox Sports and Entertainment began laying out its plan five years ago to debut the Grand Rapids Rampage, an Arena Football League franchise that would call the Van Andel Arena its home, the firm was under the initial impression that its field wouldn’t be all that expensive.
“Initially we bought a team in Massachusetts, called the Mass Marauders, and as part of the purchase we bought their field equipment. So we thought we were going to be all taken care of,” said Scott Gorsline, DP Fox COO. “But we wanted to put on a first-class show and all the equipment we purchased with the team was pretty beaten up.”
So DP Fox decided to buy new turf, pads and nets, as only the goalposts could be salvaged from the original purchase. But after talking with four companies, a serious case of sticker shock set in.
“We were surprised,” said Gorsline. “I would have guessed that the turf would have been $25,000 to $50,000, without knowing any better.”
Well, that wasn’t the price. Not even close. The half-inch-high, nylon yarn turf, with an inch-thick pad, cost $48.83 a square yard — hardly a price found at Carpetland USA.
The turf was state-of-the-art when DP Fox bought it. D.D. Martin, a firm started by former Astro Turf company employees, made it. DP Fox purchased the 66-yard-long and-28.3-yard-wide field from Sportexe in Fonthill, Ontario, for $91,213.
Also, portions of the field had to be painted. The white out-of-bounds lines and yard markers were sewn into the turf. But the hash marks and the yard-line numbers had to be painted on the field, as did the Rampage and sponsor logos. Supplies and labor for painting cost $4,850.
At this point, DP Fox already had about $96,000 — roughly twice its highest estimate — in the turf alone. And the firm still had to buy dasher pads and rebound nets, and account for the goalposts cost.
The dasher pads, which are set up along the sidelines and in the end zones, contain about three inches of high-density foam rubber and stand 48 inches high. The pads are stuck to the hockey boards with Velcro straps that are connected to a Velcro strip on the backside of a board. The dasher pads ran DP Fox $13,753. The nets that are hung in each end zone are 30 feet wide and 32 feet high. A pair cost DP Fox $1,131.
The metal goalposts are nine feet wide with a 15-foot-high aluminum crossbar. The pair DP Fox bought were used, and made by Rohnz Inc. of Coralville, Iowa. The firm paid $5,000 for the posts and spent another $2,700 for supplies and labor to paint the pair.
All totaled, DP Fox invested $118,647 in the field of cash.
But the company’s cost isn’t the only one that needs to be considered. The arena had its expenses for setting the field up, taking it down and making repairs to it.
Arena operations manager Todd Johnson said he uses five supervisors and 25 part-time employees to set up the field, a job that can take up to nine hours depending on what else is playing at the building. Just laying the turf takes from three to five hours. His crew started doing that last Wednesday afternoon for Saturday’s preseason game with Toronto, and did the rest, such as painting and putting up the goalposts and nets, on Thursday.
“For football, it’s basically a progression of events that have to take place. First, the corners have to get squared-off, and then piece-by-piece the field goes down,” said Johnson. “When we’re setting up a hockey game, we can have the 25 guys doing things all over the arena.”
Johnson told the Business Journal that the toughest part is squaring the corners.
“The hockey rink has corners that are round and the football field is square. So to try to level that area where there is no ice is just about impossible,” he said.
Johnson explained that the turf is on 16 rolls and is rolled out in strips that are about 15 yards wide and 85 feet long, which is the width of the field. The field is 66 yards long, 50 yards of playing surface and two eight-foot-long end zones. Velcro is used to fasten the strips together and the turf is just laid on the arena floor without any adhesive. But early in the AFL season, the turf has a tendency to curl up because the floor is still cold from the ice, meaning an extra effort is needed to level the playing field for the first few Rampage games.
Much of the supplies and labor required to do the job came to $18,453 over the first three years. When that amount was added to the cost of the equipment, the total exceeded $137,000.
But DP Fox has sold the field and gotten most of its money back. A clause in the initial five-year lease the franchise signed with the Downtown Development Authority had the landlord reimbursing the firm for the turf, pads, goalposts and nets over three years. The Rampage is in the last year of that lease.
The Convention and Arena Authority, which replaced the DDA as owner of the building two years ago, agreed last month to buy the field for $116,500 and pay the building expenses. The payment was due last week.
So dreams may still emerge from the Van Andel field. But those visions aren’t strictly romantic. Nor is the ground that hallowed. And more cash is needed than the movies let on.