5 takeaways from the ESSMA pitch management workshop in Sevilla

As part of our mission to unite the stadium industry, ESSMA organized a pitch management workshop in Sevilla on 21 & 22 November. 56 participants joined us from all over Europe for 2 days of best practices in pitch management and networking with their industry peers. The use of data in pitch management, pest disease control with biological agents and the role that a league can play in supporting its grounds managers where just a few of the hot topics that were discussed in Sevilla. 

These are 5 of our top takeaways from the event: 

1. “First tests with biological agents to treat pest and turf diseases are promising but more research is needed to provide statistical evidence” 

- Celia Borrero, University of Sevilla - Pest and disease control with biological agents

After the announcement from the EU of a future ban on the use of pesticides and herbicides in pitch management, grounds managers all over Europe are looking for alternative ways to deliver the same type of high-quality pitch as they can do with the use of chemicals. The use of authorised biological phytosanitary products for turfgrass is therefore a very interesting topic but one that is still lacking a substantial amount of research to consolidate its effectiveness.

The university of Sevilla has therefore carried out a series of laboratory tests that have compared some biological agents against their counterparts of chemical products. For the cases of treating brown spots, dollar spots; Pythium foliar blight and root rot, phytopathogen nematodes and anthracnose they have found biological agents that were (almost) as effective as the chemical treatments. While the results looked promising, Ms. Borrero of the University of Sevilla stressed that more testing would be needed to provide statistical evidence of the effectiveness of the biological treatment.

2. “Centralizing data from across the whole league helps us to make informed decisions and thereby raise the quality of our football”  

- Pedro Fernandez, LaLiga Agronomist – Performance Quality Standards

In 2016 LaLiga developed new TV broadcasting regulations to have uniformity I all their stadiums and thereby offer a better, more recognizable football product for LaLiga fans all around the world. These regulations included requirements concerning the safety, playability and aesthetics of the pitch. To help all the clubs in LaLiga to achieve these new standards, LaLiga created the position of LaLiga agronomist.

His roles included:

  • To avoid game suspensions and delays
  • To promote best practices among the clubs
  • To help improve the infrastructure for pitch management
  • To provide consultancy and monitoring for all clubs
  • To provide training, communication and coordination
  • To innovate pitch management around the league
  • To gather data from each club before each game

While the first 2-3 years after creating this new position, focused mostly on solving pre-existing issues, they have now reached a point where they can start to analyse a load of data and implement it in a way that it helps improve the quality of the pitches and the quality of the games (for example keeping the mowing length around 25mm to stimulate a faster gameplay).  

3. “You can’t bring your nematodes population to zero, but you can severely reduce the risk by tracking data and acting proactively”

- Deborah Cox, Lagan Valley Scientific – Nematodes

Nematodes are a problem that all grounds managers have to deal with it. While there are different types of nematodes (lesion nematodes, sheath nematodes, root knot nematodes…) the one thing that they have in common is that they can all cause damage to turfgrass. And while new treatments like steaming, beneficial microbes and biostimulants have proven successful in the lab, they are still to get consistent results under field conditions.

Data tracking and analysing biological patterns within the nematode population is therefore crucial to reduce the risk as much as possible, while realizing that getting the population to zero should not be the objective.

4. “Investing in sustainable ways of pitch maintenance has become a necessity not just an ideology” 

- Carlos Venegas, Head Grounds Manager Sevilla FC – Sustainable Pitch Maintenance

Sevilla FC have invested heavily over the past few years to make sure that heir infrastructure is on a top level! Not only have they renovated parts of their Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and part of their training center in 2016, they are currently also constructing a brand-new building on their training site for the first team and have invested heavily in sustainable ways of doing pitch management. According to their Head Grounds Manager, Carlos Venegas, sustainability has become a necessity over the past few years, not just an ideology.

They are currently doing this by investing in a better drainage system and by optimizing the use of water. They currently recycle 100% of the rainwater from the main roof of the Estadio Jesus Navas and a further 50% of rainwater. The club is also working with an intelligent pest management system with the use of organic fertilizers. The club plans to continue this approach and become even more sustainable in the future.

5. “Direct contact with and support from the sports director is crucial to get the buy-in from the club to bring your groundskeeper team to a higher level”

- Eddy Van Endert, Head Grounds Manager KRC Genk – Pitch Management on a small(er) budget

KRC Genk is one of the biggest clubs in Belgium and has recently undergone a big change in the staff working at the club. A new wave of young and motivated employees has entered the club and have brought with them a new way of thinking. This is also reflected in their grounds manager’s team as the current Head Grounds Manager (Mr. Eddy Van Endert) joined the club only 3 years ago, in a situation where they had very old machinery, the main training pitch had to be replaced, and they were often behind on innovations.

But, due to the new mentality, the grounds team was able to get the buy-in from the club and get direct communication with the director of football, which was important in their journey to professionalise the team and become one of the best in Belgium in what they do.

They now have a 6-person grounds manager’s team with up-to-date machinery and a data-driven, multi-year plan to deliver the best quality pitches. The grounds manager’s team have confirmed the trust and freedom given to them by the C-level staff by investing wisely in new technologies and solutions (including: Robotic line-markers, 02 pitches, modern pitch covers and data measuring tools) which have helped them deliver better quality pitches.

Want to discover more about our pitch management workshop in Sevilla? Go to our knowledge platform to discover all the presentations! 

Are you an ESSMA-member but don’t have a personal login for the ESSMA knowledge platform? Contact us at contact@essma.eu to get your personal login.