Are turf managers finally getting the recognition they deserve?

Last year brought somewhat of a revolution for the turf industry as the outside world started to acknowledge and appreciate the grueling and significant role field maintenance professionals play in the world of professional sports. A well-deserved television ad from Papa John’s featuring Denver Bronco’s Turf Manager, Chris Hathaway, with Peyton Manning, prompted the growing interest in the job; but it all came to a head when Erik Harlow, Field Coordinator at Lucas Oil Stadium, stepped onto the field during the Big Ten Title game to repair a spot of synthetic turf in an end zone that had split apart.

When the world turned to social media to celebrate these turf professionals, it seemed that turf managers were finally getting the recognition they deserved. But what exactly lead to the rise in popularity of the turf guy? Does the world have a real understanding of what a field manager does? And what can we do to raise awareness of the contribution turf managers make to industry? To tackle these questions we connected with Erik Harlow, who gave us an inside look at the challenges he faces every single day, and how he managed the chaos after the Big Ten Title game.

Whether they’ve worked their way through the ranks, moved over from the world of golf, or sought formal education, turf professionals are often sport lovers who are passionate about their work and happy to go unnoticed behind the scenes. In fact, many believe that going unnoticed and flying under the radar is a sign of a job well done…but even the least engaged fan has to wonder about the monstrous effort that goes into readying a field for game day.

“There’s a lack of knowledge as to exactly what we do and the number of hours it takes. To be a turf manager you have to have the perfect combination of a lot of different skills,” comments Harlow. “It’s labor intensive, you have to manage equipment, and then there’s the intellectual aspect, the science behind turfgrass management. It really is more than being on the field.”

When the social media chaos hit following Erik’s high-profile turf repair, and he received inquiries and comments about how to get into the career, he recognized the importance of publicizing what goes into the job itself. Erik adds, “Many are fascinated by the high-profile nature of the work, but they don’t have any access to it; how are they supposed to learn what goes into a career in turf management?”

To give the world a deeper understanding of the work of a turf professional, some in the industry are turning to social media to raise awareness and offer an inside look. We see it all the time in the golf course industry and slowly turf professionals are starting to join the bandwagon with day-in-the-life videos, a trend in part due to Chris Hathaway’s continued dedication to showcasing his work. So, what can the industry as a whole do to support these initiatives?

Industry support

Harlow suggests a more hands-on approach to building awareness: “Videos are great, and we should be doing more of them as industry professionals, but we should also provide opportunities for the younger generation to familiarize themselves with the industry early on. Whether that’s hosting field days or supporting programs that get high school kids to visit during a non-game day to see what goes on behind the scenes and see what we do first-hand.”

From working the field and managing equipment to scheduling crews, working with vendors and clients, all while trying to keep morale up during long hours and late nights, turf managers often have to wear many hats. And while the occasional ad spot and viral video have made an impact on the industry, it’s time to really shine the spotlight on what it takes to be a successful field manager.

At Profile Products we recognize and support teams at the high school and college levels, in part through our Field Maintenance Awards in conjunction with the American Baseball Coaches Association, and professional teams have their internal accolades to celebrate the work of employees, but it’s important that the industry as whole takes the time to celebrate our colleagues’ successes. Moreover, we know that getting the buy-in and praise from our high-profile counterparts (e.g. Payton Manning thanking Chris for his hard work in the Papa John’s commercial) can go a long way in celebrating the work, dedication and focus that goes into turf management.

As we eagerly anticipate the next big hit for the ‘turf guy,’ the industry should come together to create opportunities that educate the world about the work of the ‘turf guy’ and what it really takes to manage a field.

Turface Athletics contributed this article.