Turf Tips: Justifying Cost and Labor

Sports field managers are always staring down challenges to provide our exceptional playing surfaces.

Aside from the commonly discussed weather and overuse challenges, sport field managers are often left to defend their case when it comes to costs and labor. In this series, we invited SFMs to discuss the challenges they face when faced with budget talks, labor shortages and advocating for their bottom line.

In response to changes we could anticipate with Covid, we sat down with Abby McNeal, former president of STMA and field superintendent for the City of Denver. McNeal shared with us her best practices when justifying cost and labor. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re battling budget or having to justify costs, try utilizing one of McNeal’s tried and true turf tips.

Understand your audience

McNeal stresses the importance of knowing your audience before taking your budget concerns up the ladder. Understand that your audience has a lot on their plates as well, so be direct and to the point when discussing your needs. Understanding your audience will also help you speak their language. Is the decision maker someone who appreciates numbers or do they want to see how this cost will impact the city as a whole?

Focus on needs opposed to wants

In times of uncertainty or budget cuts, you must focus on absolute needs opposed to what you may want in order to have any chance at being successful. McNeal stated that her crew “focuses on best practices and the necessities when budget or situations require them to pull back.” Certain situations may force you to hit pause on your wish list and return to turf best practices in order to maintain your fields for playability and safety.

Frame your ask strategically

McNeal recommends speaking in terms of investment when justifying cost and labor. Think strategically by explaining how the cost will impact the organization one, three, five years down the line. McNeal is successful when she is able to effectively remind the decision maker of past investments that they don’t want to lose money on. For example, her organization recently invested 500 thousand dollars into their baseball/softball fields. She used this past investment as a justification for her crew to spend time and budget on maintaining the fields even during the pandemic so the organization wouldn’t lose money already spent. It’s also important to frame the justification in terms of deliverables. For sports turf professionals, that’s healthy, playable and safe fields.

Be creative

Do your research upfront and be prepared for any question higher-ups may throw your way and come up with creative ways to justify the cost. Express the versatility of the equipment or cost you’re in need of. Explain how your crew can get the most out of the ask and again frame in terms of investment. “If we make this spend today, here’s how it will help build out our program.” “Here’s how our organization will improve with the purchase of this equipment or addition of a staff member.” Build out the whole picture and pair that with a trackable timeline.


McNeal stated that in recent years she has had to adapt to using data in her messaging when justifying cost and labor. She utilizes daily tracking to aid as supportive documents. McNeal and crew track their daily tasks, the daily usage of their fields and facilities and reviews from user groups as valuable data points. McNeal said that “capturing usage in numbers helps frame the impact of the cost or labor you’re asking for. We show how many people are touching our fields whether that be rec sports or our maintenance department. We also reach out to user groups for their feedback and their notes help justify improvements we may have made in the past or plan to make.”

Lastly, McNeal suggested that you should always be forecasting your needs. “Be looking at now and five years down the road at all times. Always be thinking about what may need replaced or repaired so that when the unknown pops up, you can adjust priorities but still be conscious of your bottom line.”

Next we followed up with Ryan DeMay, owner of Field Source Ohio.

DeMay’s consulting firm was designed to advise clients on planning, construction and the daily management of safe, playable natural grass and synthetic turf fields. DeMay often works with STM’s to help them advocate for their position and needs. Some of DeMay’s main focuses align with what McNeal stated being successful for her.

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For more information on how you can effectively justify your bottom line watch or listen along to our Groundskeeper Chat series:

Watch the full Groundskeeper Chat with Abby McNeal

Watch Ryan DeMay’s full Groundskeeper Chat

Watch Brad Finn’s Groundskeeper for project renovation, timelines and costs