An invitation by LaLiga for ideas for making Spanish football clubs more sustainable received over 40 entries. Eight of them recently got the opportunity to pitch their ideas to representatives of the various clubs in the highest Spanish football leagues.
While Spanish football clubs, players and coaches have become difficult to beat on their home turf, in terms of sustainability, they still have a long way to go. The sustainability challenge has also been recognised by the organisers of many other leagues, “but LaLiga saw the value immediately and wanted to be the first to start engaging the industry to become more familiar with possible solutions,” Arno Hermans of Sports + Vitality claimed. Sports + Vitality had organised both the challenge as well as the event where those selected were allowed to pitch their solution.
From transport to turf
The invitation was extended only to companies from Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, and saw solutions ranging from an app to reduce CO2 emissions by having fans sharing a vehicle when travelling to a game, to smart reusable plastic cups fitted with an electronic tag that automatically refunds the buyer of the beverage once the cup is returned, to a solution to transform wet waste from kitchens and sales points into gas for a software dashboard that provides more insights based on collected data. More importantly, half of the solutions presented revolved around the turf. It is likely that the clubs can gain the most by further improving the quality of the field. “We are very strict on the quality, and anything that will affect the broadcaster delivering a good picture on TV might have implications for the club or stadium,” Íñigo González Íñigo of LaLiga pointed out.
Away with gas-fed boilers
The solutions included the Collector Field, a Dutch innovation where water in small tubes extracts heat from a synthetic turf pitch and acts like a heat exchanger that, ultimately, can substitute or even replace (gas-fed) boilers. The concept is explained in this article. “Although all stadium fields in LaLiga are natural grass surfaces, all clubs have at least one synthetic turf field at their training centre. Such a field would be ideal to heat the offices and to provide warm water to the showers in the dressing rooms,” Teun Wouters of Topgrass explained, while pitching his solution. Trials at several clubs and sites in the Netherlands have confirmed that one football-sized Collector Field can replace gas-fed boilers for at least 200 households. It certainly caught the attention of Enrique Puértolas of RC Celta de Vigo, who had just pointed out that “We are a football club but exist because of society.”
It goes without saying that any solution that maximizes water, water storage and water usage was well-received by the audience. While three Spanish clubs were attending the event in person, close to 30 other clubs were present by monitoring the live-stream.
Their appetite was wetted by Draintalent, an innovative solution that always maintains the correct moisture level in the soil. It can also ‘push’ oxygen directly to the grass roots. “It ensures an even water distribution to the field which serves the grass plant and limits the possibility of diseases settling in. All in all, it can save you up to 35% of the water you need for irrigating the field,” Rudolf Molenaar of Draintalent noted. He revealed that for the coming season, in addition to Sparta Rotterdam, Utrecht FC and GO Ahead Eagles will use the technology to maintain their stadium surface.
Ron van Raam of Permavoid presented a lightweight solution to store water underneath the pitch. Real Madrid FC has already adopted the concept. “Historically, a linear approach was followed in terms of water management. These days, it is important to become more circular by also recycling water that can be used for irrigating the pitch or cooling offices by means of a heat exchanger,” he explained. In addition to storing water, he also showed a solution that extracts the water and feeds it directly to the grass roots.
According to Rocio Torres of Atletico Madrid FC, “reclaiming water that drains through the pitch prevents nutrients that are being washed out going to waste.”
Knowledge is key
Most presentations showed a lot of statistics or data. However, “Unless you know how to interpret it and understand the value of your datapoints, it will be very difficult to maximise the knowledge,” argued Christian Theil of Turfcoach. He presented a solution to map the pitch as well as the software that will visualize the collected data. “We can have up to 18,000 datapoints that one can use to make improvements.” To put it in layman terms, he said that 91% of the injuries players experience throughout the season are directly related to the turf. According to his analysis, this translates to a EUR 56 million revenue loss due to injuries. “The software we use is intuitive and will guide the groundsman or grounds team to make improvements.” As resurfacing the field can cost up to EUR 150,000 per replacement, improving the pitch conditions can go a long way.
The Internet of Grass
An innovation clubs in many leagues including LaLiga have already embraced is the use of light supplementing technology. A next generation solution is currently being installed at the Estadio Bernabeu, home to Real Madrid FC. Asked for a comment on what technology can do to make stadiums and clubs more sustainable, Arnoud Fiolet of Rhenac Sports LED points out that “We are only at the start of things. Technology and the need for data is coming in at rapid speed. Soon we’ll have the Internet of Grass contributing to grass pitch management. Our LED grass grow light will supplement the light quantity and intensity according to what the grass plant needs. Based on the data collected, we can make the grass grow in length, increase biomass or stimulate root growth. Once you integrate your water and oxygen supplementing technologies in the dashboard, and, perhaps, add liquid fertilizing technology to our units, your savings can become massive, especially when data from weather stations, historical analysis and digital coaches is used to help prevent or reduce the likelihood of disease infestations. While our LED technology already achieves significant savings in terms of energy usage, compared to the HPS technology that is being used, integrating more data collectors and digital knowledge in the dashboard will also help saving on water, fertilizers, man hours used or required as well as revenue loss due to injured players.”
More than just a league
“LaLiga is more than a league: it is an industry,” the league’s innovation lead, Ana Rosa Victoria, stated. The 42 clubs in the Primera Division, combined with LaLiga2, generate approximately 185,000 direct and indirect jobs. “We contribute 1.37 to the Spanish GDP.” She explained that the league is very keen on getting to know both start-ups and established companies. “They have creative ways of solving challenges and certainly have a lot of knowledge.”
The event was all about pitching ideas instead of selecting a winner. “They are all winners, as they had the opportunity to introduce their solution to LaLiga,” Arno Hermans explained.