Fixtures Fixation

What to consider when outfitting sports facilities

By Daniela Bloch

Lucky cricket, you finally have your dream facility. With a fantastic smile stretched from ear to ear and the key to your dream space snug in your palm, you step inside that realm of possibilities. The fresh smell of vacancy brings a gleam of excitement into your eyes. It's all yours—you control everything down to the doorknobs. We'll give you a few minutes to revel in the moment.

O.K., time's up. Now what are you going to do? What facility fixtures do you need to accessorize your space? What equipment is needed? How can you make the space compliant to different forms of activity? How can it be aesthetically pleasing and functional at the same time? And how about avoiding burning a big a hole in your pocket?

Ah yes, the beads of sweat trickle down your temple. No need for perspiratory distress: With a little research, some basic guidelines and useful expert advice, we'll help you get the right bling for your buck, with an added shot of Zen.

Prior priorities

For the first step of smart outfitting, think goal-setting. Your main concerns are bound to differ from those of other facilities, depending on your specific layout or programming, but seek solace in both common sense as well as the advice of some experts in the field.

Think about what it is you want to make a main priority for your facility. Matt Colagiovanni, director of facilities and events at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., for example, focuses his efforts on scheduling and maintenance.

"Scheduling is an especially important priority in a shared facility," he says, "and it is definitely the hardest one. But you also have to keep the equipment up to date, perform general maintenance checks, make sure the equipment still works, that the lines are down for the courts, standards are good for volleyball, score tables are working, lights are lit, P.A. and sound systems are functioning, then do a scoreboard check, make sure the outdoor fields are lined, regroup all the goals that were used by summer camps on the fields. We do a lot of this at this time of the year [summer] right before sports are starting back at school."

Jack Ebel, director of athletics at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., boils it down to the basics.

"You need a good playing field surface, enough space on which to play the games you will be doing, lights are good, good fences, good structure," he says.

Also keep in mind sturdy surfaces, safe, practical and manageable equipment, and affordability.

Bottom line: Establish your own goals and set them for yourself before you get to work. There are numerous critical components to success but recognize which ones are of greatest relevance to you. Focusing on a few key issues is more organized and less overwhelming than multitasking 75 different ideas.

Looking good

As with anything, appearances are in and of themselves a priority, for a facility as much as for Miss Universe. Yet while beauty may be its own excuse for being (sorry Emerson), it is not enough to keep a facility on top.

"Our facility is very functional but aesthetically pleasing, too," Ebel says. "We are a multipurpose facility. For being visually pleasing, our architects drew all that up; we have plenty of open space, lots of windows, brick that adds to the look, that kind of thing."

Consider how best to make the best of the space you have. Windows, colors, landscaping and already existing unique surfaces or designs—such as the brick wall at Transylvania University—add a singular sensation to the recreation experience at your facility.

Details are key as well.

"We paint our storage units red, like our school colors, because it looks better," Rutger's Colagiovanni says. "It's better than having the standard, unattractive aluminum containers."

Once you've figured out how to maximize the beauty quota, remember that looking good is hard work. Make sure you have a competent maintenance team with trustworthy and knowledgeable collaborators.

"We have our own internal facility staff with our own electricians and mechanics that report directly to us," Colagiovanni adds.

Bottom line: Combine form with function for a good looking, practical place.


"We offer many of our sports in shared facilities."

Sound familiar? Of course it does, or at least it should.These are the ubiquitous words of the recreation management business's Everyman and with good reason—they make sense. Facilities everywhere recognize the strengths in multipurpose surfaces, buildings and equipment and astutely take advantage of the perks. And why not? Multipurpose applies to various aspects of facility life including field use, storage and equipment. And it reduces costs while maximizing play opportunities.

"In our football and soccer stadiums we try to use different areas for storing equipment," Colagiovanni says. "If the stadium is not being used once the season is over, we use it for storage, but we try and keep it organized and we add the school logos to the containers as well."

So take note and make the best of your time: If you have an off-season, use transition periods for sports to maintain and upkeep the fields, instead of doing it during ongoing programs or at the last minute. If at all possible, use that in-between time for other activities as well.

Colagiovanni also notes that the rec centers on campus combine different sports under the same roof—and we're pretty sure this happens everywhere. From synthetic turf surfaces to shared workout mats, fields and equipment rarely should be limited to just one single athletic purpose. So when configuring the facility, consider a sports surface that caters to soccer and baseball, or invest in storage units that hold both baseball bats and hockey helmets.

Bottom line: Think integration, not segregation. Try to efficiently overlap field and equipment usage without impeding activity.

The Eight-Fold Path to Facility Perfection

1. RECOGNIZE WHO YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE. If the facility you own caters to professional teams, raise the quality bar. If it's the local crowd of youth games and intramural teams you're bringing in, buying highest-quality equipment might be superfluous. Know who you'll be working with.

2. SET A BUDGET. It's important to know just how much you are able or willing to spend before you start buying. So keep in mind the sports you will offer and the clientele that will play there and set a limit on how much you can spend.

3. SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF. When outfitting your facility, the last thing you want to do is skimp on the details—they'll be what makes the facility stand out. Think about adding hair dryers to the women's locker rooms and buying smaller-sized soccer balls for younger youth teams.

4. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. With growing ingenuity in the industry, unconventional sports are gaining ground in the recreation business, so stay open-minded. Archery and kayaking might not fit the traditional mold, but they indicate a change in athletic activities that you need to stay up to date with.

5. REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE. Remember what natural environment you are working with, and use it to your advantage. It might not make much sense or be financially responsible to add equipment that won't work with the climate.

6. DO YOUR RESEARCH. No one likes to be taken for a ride, so before you meet with or purchase from suppliers know what they are talking about. Look up price and quality information, be in-the-know with competitors and don't settle for anything less than what you want.

7. DON'T BE A SCROOGE. For both lackluster and dazzling sports facilities, buying the right accessories proves crucial to overall recreational success and customer contentment. It's better to spend big once and never again than to consistently purchase shoddy, low-cost equipment. For accessorizing success then, think realistically about budget, facility users and desired quality.

8. SAVE WHERE YOU CAN. Cheap products are never the perennial solution—duct tape, safety pins and history prove that. But they are seemingly irresistible, so try to save where you can. For example, can price be alleviated by purchasing from a local manufacturer? Look into it. Can you minimize needed staff by keeping an open-space environment? If so, money saved could be invested in equipment and other facility needs.

Cutting costs

Calling Scrooge management: It's time to count pennies. The costs of opening, renovating or maintaining an athletic facility and all its fixins add up, but don't discourage too soon. Instead, think of ways to cut corners without losing your edge.

First suggestion: analyze the material world.

"By making the right choices on materials used you can keep cost in line," Ebel says.

So consider the surfaces and equipment types used—do any of them have a similar but less expensive option? How about synthetic vs. natural? Are there any materials you absolutely need, and if so, which ones can you omit without ruining the quality of the services you offer?

Think about maintenance as well. A surface or equipment type might cost little to buy, but consider the upkeep in the total package—is it still the best deal then?

On another note, keep track of what works and what does not work in your facility.

"Taking good notes from the year before is the first thing," says Colagiovanni about alleviating expenses. "You have to learn from your mistakes."

So keep a log, mental or tangible, that reminds you what treadmill broke, what wooden floor cracked and what flotation device was the biggest hit in the splash pool. That way, when it comes down to outfitting again, you won't be feeling deja vu come repair time.

Final advice about easing expenses: work from the inside and when necessary, do it yourself.

"We have our own mechanics," Colagiovanni says. "It's a lot easier this way than having to go through another department."

Keeping an internal work force eliminates added stress, cost and time from repairing, fixing or adding to a facility. With a dedicated team, the best quality and dedication will result.

"Prevention is important for cutting costs—we try to do as many internal things as we can," Colagiovanni says. "To save money, once, I remember, I had to paint the lines on the floor surfaces myself. But keep other things in mind, like making the goals portable, or if we have leftover paint colors, use them for summer camps."

Bottom line: Find that balance between your needs, your resources and your budget.

Lock it up

All that equipment and nowhere to put it, eh? Storage keeps a facility looking sharp and functioning smoothly, so invest in it and stay organized. Even here, think affordable, visually pleasing and functional.

"We got our storage containers from a local place," Colagiovanni says. Sometimes keeping things local reduces costs, especially for shipping and handling.

And once again, think multipurpose.

"We keep storage off to the side during practices," he says. "In our football and soccer stadiums, we have different areas for storing equipment, and once the season is over, we use the space for storage. We put our logos on them and we use storage pods for our summer camps."

Make the best of the spaces offered by fields, stadiums, gyms and locker rooms. Research sizes, costs and manufacturers.Think bright colors and possible logos and purchase well-researched, quality products.

Storage is absolutely essential to the success of any facility so it goes without saying that this is certainly one imperative place to invest wisely in, so invest.

Bottom line: Invest, organize, decorate and then revel in an organized bliss that won't have your facility operating poorly or looking shoddy.

Preventative measures

A big part of outfitting any facility involves safety. When it comes to safety of fixtures and equipment, be compulsive.

"Utilize preventative maintenance," Colagiovanni says. "Check the fields to make sure there are no holes or divots, check the lighting, ensure rails and seats are secure, that there are no spills. For the basketball goals, make sure they are sturdy so that when students are dunking, the backboards don't just snap off. Make sure there are no broken bleacher pieces for students to trip on. And signage is important too—warn people ahead of time with rules for athletic areas."

An unsafe facility is an empty facility, so consider all potential dangers or accidents. Brainstorm with a group about regular maintenance checks, what safety equipment to buy for athletic programs, first-aid kits and emergency contacts to use, how to handle emergencies, and the underlying need to make sure the facility and all equipment is clean, safe and user-friendly.

Bottom line: Check, check and check again. Do everything in your power to make your facility as inviting and secure as possible.

The avant-garde

The recreation industry likes to stay en vogue, so keep up with new sports, design ideas, cutting-edge equipment, flashy features, easy-on-the-eyes accessories, and user likes and dislikes. Consider vibrant colors, engaging design, open-space environments, reducing clutter and visual appeal when selecting fixtures—basically anything and everything to improve the facility on all levels for all parties involved.

The people that enter the facility are as different as the colors in a box of crayons, so keep that in mind. Clearly there is no way to cater perfectly to every individual's demands, but think outside the cookie-cutter box and try to offer new things in new ways.

Case in point: the Pinelands Sports Center in Southampton, N.J. The standard problem combated by this facility—dangerously dangling light fixtures, both accident-prone and unattractive. Problem solved with innovative lighting design.

"Indirect lighting from the sides is great," says Alex Samuelian, co-owner of the center, "because in the playing area you don't have to worry about the ball hitting the lights on the ceiling."

Alas, no need for a nostalgic reminisce of poorly organized dodgeball games in high school gym class. Instead, indirect lighting (thankfully) prevents those memories and results in a much more attractive facility.

Bottom line: Don't settle. Spice things up, ask users what they'd like to see in the future and make it a point to give them what they want. The customer is always right, no?

Never say never

Finally, experts agree: Never close yourself off to suggestions.

"It's important to be as customer-friendly as you can be," Colagiovanni says. "And ask and take their feedback. Sometimes you get crazy ideas but you have to listen to them. You're promoting more than just yourself here."

Keep facility users in mind when changing, adding or renovating fixtures and equipment. It's all for them, so what they want, think and need just might be important.

Bottom line: "Talk to lots of people that work there, get their input and go from there," Ebel says.

Well on your way

All this advice in no way covers every facet of facility life. Besides the aforementioned, there are numerous details to keep in mind, like, for example, actual equipment: basketball rims, goal posts, protective padding, batting cages, etc. Stay poised and organize thoroughly what it is your facility will need. So plan wisely, brainstorm collaboratively and invest intelligently.

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