There is no question, backstop netting can improve sightlines and safety. When you’re looking to replace a chain link backstop or build a protective netting system for a brand new field, there are four primary areas of consideration.
1. Netting coverage.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to netting coverage. Level of play, available space, and adjacent surroundings are some of the most important considerations. The distance and speed a ball travels and potential impact points (spectator areas, buildings, and vehicle routes) should be biggest influences when considering your coverage area.
Keep in mind, the height of your netting will be the main driver of cost. The higher the net, the larger your support structure needs to be to accommodate wind load. Your backstop should cover a minimum of 30′ above field grade. Some situations may require you to go even higher. Height is the most difficult part of your netting system to change later; altering an existing system to go higher is often a challenging and costly endeavor.
In contrast, extending your netting further down the foul lines is a fairly straight-forward upgrade.
While budget is always an important consideration, getting a netting system right the first time is most important. In all likelihood, you’ll have one opportunity to fund a netting project, so getting the right coverage should be your main focus.
2. Tie-back or in-line netting systems?
Both systems can provide outstanding sight lines depending upon the location of spectator seating. While the main difference is in the placement of the corner support poles, both systems do also allow the wing poles to be located at the far ends of the dugouts, thereby minimizing foundational conflicts, simplifying installation, and improving the overall fan experience.
TIE-BACK SYSTEMS. Extremely fan-friendly and most compatible with existing structures. The key is the two corner poles are offset behind seating areas, virtually eliminating any visual obstructions. While tie-back systems often have greater structural requirements, the additional material costs are typically offset by the flexibility they bring to the integration with existing structures. This flexibility minimizes the difficulty of incorporating a tie-back design with existing features such as walls, lighting poles, dugouts and seating areas. It also provides installation equipment with easier accessibility.
IN-LINE SYSTEMS. The most economical option for new construction. However, they can create challenges if you are integrating them with existing site features, such as dugouts and backstop walls, due to foundational conflicts. With the corner support poles in line with the netting and backstop wall, in-line systems can create visual obstructions for spectators and make them less visually appealing than tie-back systems.
3. About the backstop wall.
The most effective netting systems typically integrate with a durable wall structure, such as concrete, block, wood, or even chain link fence. However, it is critical that the wall be able to withstand the loading transferred to it by the netting system above. Block walls lacking filled cores and proper structural support will not be able to handle the pressure applied to mounting brackets and may become a safety risk if they loosen or dislodge.
Most backstop walls are covered with protective padding, so what the actual wall looks like from the field may not be an important factor. While poured concrete can look great, its higher cost may mean sacrifices elsewhere in your project making it a less practical choice. On the flip side, you may find a short chain link backstop fence can provide adequate structural integrity at a lower cost. This may allow you to add the extra netting coverage you need to truly improve fan safety.
Extending backstop netting all the way to the ground is not recommended. Maintenance equipment and animals can quickly damage your netting and create significant safety issues. A well designed backstop wall system like Beacon’s Modular Backstop Wall featuring wood-less padding can give you the best of everything — an affordable, fully-integrated, aesthetically pleasing wall and netting combination that is also maintenance friendly.
4. Design, engineering and installation.
Experience matters. Even a perfectly designed netting system will look terrible and have safety issues if it is not properly installed. Be sure you are working with knowledgeable partners who can provide references.
Experienced suppliers will ask a lot of questions to gain a full understanding of your situation. Beware of contractors who may cut corners or make decisions without consulting the netting expert and design engineers.
Working with partners who have ballpark experience will prove invaluable as decisions are made in areas such as structural specifications, pole mounting methods, netting materials, logistical timelines, and deployment methodology.