Erwin explains: why we should keep the pitch heating going

Erwin Beltman was the head groundsman for stadium De Kuip in the Netherlands between 2013 and 2022. In that period, the field was elected voted the best stadium field in the Dutch Eredivisie eight times in a row. These days, he works as a consultant and shares his experiences about achieving good turf pitches on Sportsfields.info. Today discusses why, despite these financially difficult times financially challenges, it is unwise to cut back on pitch heating.

Erwin Beltman

I sincerely hope that stadium managers who are considering turning their pitch heating off this winter, reconsider that idea. Of course, I am aware of the high energy prices we are dealing with at present. I also realize that many stadiums have not yet completely recovered from the Corona restrictions and revenue lost during that period. However, the stadium field remains the most valuable investment, even when the occasional hosting of non-sporting events appears to be more lucrative. It is precisely that green stage that connects fans to the stadium and makes them return again and again. It is an economic maxim that a loyal customer is the best customer. Therefore, the aim should be to please the regular visiting (sports) fans the most.

Soil frost prevention

Deciding not to use the pitch heating this winter is bound to lead to problems at a later stage. Grass thrives at a soil temperature of about 12 degrees. In recent years, the pitch heating was turned on at the end of September to easily maintain that temperature throughout the winter. If you have to achieve that temperature from ‘standstill’ when the frost rears its ugly head, this will lead to an enormous consumption peak during the start-up period. It takes at least three days to bring the entire system up to temperature. With a little bad luck, this can cause damage to the system or bring up the consequences of poor maintenance. As a result, part of the intended savings will immediately be cancelled out. And if the soil has been frozen even once during the previous period, this will have affected all your soil life. If you want your fertilization to be effective next spring, you must first prevent frost from getting a hold on the field in the first place.

Be ready for the resumption

I also advise against not using the pitch heating in view of the remaining competition program. As soon as this will continue in January or, in some leagues as early as mid-December, pressure will be placed on the pitch immediately. Some stadium fields will even run a double schedule in January and February to ensure a full program will be finished before the summer break. Clubs playing in the top leagues will still have to play at least 20 games, and this doesn’t even include matches played in cup competitions or the promotion/relegation matches to be played at the end of the season. If the field is not immediately in good condition in January, you will a lost battle for the remainder of the season. In a worst-case scenario, games will have to be postponed, cancelled or moved to a different venue. In that case, any energy savings during the winter are not in proportion to the fine the FA will issue or the lost revenue at the stadium and the dented image towards the fans.

Smart use of technology

There are smart techniques that will make the field heating more profitable. I recommend that, if you haven’t yet, you definitely consider investing in it next summer break. They cost only a fraction of the three hundred and fifty thousand euros Dutch clubs with stadium fields that have passed at least two out of the three compulsory tests, can collect from the Dutch league organisers at the end of the season. An investment in a fleece or special blanket also helps to absorb the heat in the soil. These types of covers can also be used to capture heat when grow lights are used to supplement light to the turf. By only letting those grow lights work during off-peak hours, any heat from the sun and the heat retained in the soil can limit the energy required for the extra heat.

Better field spread

Many coaches use this period to play test matches while recovery trainers and physiotherapists also use this time of the year to prepare players by having them build up extra strength through exercises on the field. These are opportunities milked to the max by players who didn’t play in World Cup. Instead of doing so on a windy practice field, the less exposed conditions of a stadium field are why coaches and players prefer to play on the stadium pitch. With fields being extra vulnerable during this time of the year. They’ll need all the support they can get to recover from the damages.

Make things negotiable

Although I strongly advocate using the pitch heating, smart maintenance or the way the field is being used can also help achieve significant achievements.

For example, I recommend applying the KNVB pitch protection map any day, but particularly during this time of the year. The map is designed to relieve the most important areas of the field the most. It also spreads the load over the entire field. I suggest bringing this and the vulnerability of the field to the trainer’s attention. Often, it is something they haven’t considered. In my experience, if they understand that serious damage to the field caused this time of the year will have ramifications as far as in April or May, they are willing to make some adjustments to their program.

Final remarks

I am very happy with the decision to only allow grass and hybrid fields in the Dutch Eredivisie from 2025. However, this will force a number of clubs to also start investing (extra) in training facilities. In an ideal situation, the training site will have at least three fields available for the main teams. If the main field will be a hybrid field, please consider installing the infrastructure for the field heating even when it will not be connected (yet). A hybrid field lasts for at least 20 years, meaning that it would be a waste of money if it was decided at a later moment, to still install field heating underneath this field as this would mean that the entire hybrid surface will have to be removed to allow the pitch heating technology to be installed.

Erwin Beltman is a former groundsman of Stadium De Kuip in Rotterdam. Between 2013 and 2022, the stadium field was voted the best stadium field in the Dutch Eredivisie eight times in a row. Today, he is director of Master in Grass and consults and advises fellow groundsmen.

The views or information he shares in his articles are not necessarily the views of the publisher.

Next month

In January, I’ll take a look at the World Cup pitches and discuss the ins and outs of both the training and stadium fields.

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