The Real Cost of Sports Field Maintenance Products

As the person in charge of buying your sports field maintenance products, you are probably naturally drawn toward selecting the lowest-priced product available. After all, who doesn’t love a deal? I get that. We’re all on limited budgets. But, it’s also important to look at the down-the-road impact those decisions may have on your sports fields.

It’s easy to think you’re making a sound financial decision when you purchase the cheapest product, but that’s because you’re only considering the short term cost. The impact a low-cost product can have on your grounds crew or on your field is eye opening. Often, when people see a big upfront cost, they shut down that product from further consideration — without doing their due diligence to see if it’s worth the price in the long haul. That’s a mistake, and I’ll show you why.

Let me give some real world examples from our experience at our three-field Little League complex in Madison, Wisconsin.

EXAMPLE 1 — Mound Clay

beaconOf the three fields at our complex, one is a 90′ diamond used by youth aged 13 – 16 years old, all of whom wear metal cleats. Games are played 7 days a week (2-to-3 games/weeknight and 5-to-7 games/weekend), 20 weeks per year and only one opportunity per day to maintain the mound and batter’s boxes. We have used standard bagged mound clay for years and usually blew through one half to one bag of clay per day. The mounds are kept sufficiently moist and are covered whenever not in use to maintain moisture content. The standard mound clay performed satisfactorily, and I never received any complaints except from my crew repairing them. This year we decided to try professional grade clay with higher clay content and the most expensive of all mound clays on our field where metal cleats are used. The results were astounding. The amount of damage to the clay areas each night decreased by more than 70%!! The amount of clay required to repair the mound and plate also plummeted by approximately the same amount as well. In addition, we saved tremendously with labor due to the reduction of repair needed. In the end, we had less labor costs in repairing the clay areas because of the reduced wear and we needed far less clay to repair when we did. We anticipate that we can reduce our clay consumption by at least 50% for next year. These savings far outpaced the increase in cost for the product AND we actually provided a better and more stable playing surface for the player!

EXAMPLE 2 — Pitching Rubbers

Pitching rubbers and home plates in recent decades have had their rubber ingredients tweaked as costs for raw materials have increased during that time. The result is product that just doesn’t last or perform like those from a few decades back, and need to be replaced more often. Sure, they are cheap or more affordable but they wear, bubble or deform much more quickly. The problem is that it’s not always easy to do a quick change of either of these on a ball diamond. Especially if one doesn’t do it frequently or has never done it before. So labor hours are sacrificed in order to change them out each time. Compare that to the high quality Bulldog home plates and pitching rubbers that are thicker rubber and structurally more sound. People shy away from them due to their cost, but their longevity and performance far outweigh the upfront cost of the product. Plus, you also save considerably on labor since replacement is needed less frequently. To me, it’s a no-brainer.

EXAMPLE 3 — Dry Line Markers (chalkers) 

There are many chalkers options, ranging from inexpensive and more expensive. Again, it’s very tempting to just look at the price tag and never consider performance or even potential savings. The Streamliner field chalkers are amongst the more expensive dry line markers on the market, yet you can actually save big money with this machine despite its initial price tag. Thanks to the Streamliner’s “variable flow adjustment”, you can control how much chalk you are applying to the field. Most chalkers are either open or closed and offer no adjustments. Because of the Streamliner’s ability to control chalk flow, customers routinely report a 30% to 50% reduction of chalk, resulting in huge savings in chalk purchases over the life of a Streamliner. In addition, the quality of the line applied is unparalleled in the industry. Again the extra dollars on the initial investment amounts to huge savings in the long haul, with all the benefits of performance (see our chalker comparison Field Tests for more).


These are just a few select examples of what I’ve seen during my time as a groundskeeper. The moral of the story is one you’ve heard before — you really do get what you pay for. Do your due diligence when considering ALL of your equipment and material purchases. It is your job and obligation as the field manager to truly manage your budgets in the most efficient way possible, resulting in the best return on investment for your organization. Do the math, do the research, collect and analyze the data, and THEN make the purchase. The most expensive product is not always the solution and won’t always fit your application. There are times that a moderately- or low-priced product absolutely makes more sense than a higher priced or higher quality product. This is where your research and data will help you determine the right choice.

Money is a terrible thing to waste… do your best avoid costly mistakes by finding the best fit the first time.

Paul Zwaska (contributor)

A former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Paul has been a frequent contributor to Beacon’s Ballfield Blog and other resources and products. Among other contributions to Beacon, he authored Groundskeeper University, the pioneering online ballfield maintenance training venue.

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