Stadium Maintenance: Would Better Field Upkeep Have Kept The Rams In St. Louis?

By Paul Lachance

As the Rams’ move to Los Angeles is finalized, it’s clear that a fire on the field and a torn ACL were the final nails in the coffin for the NFL team’s 20-year stint in St. Louis.stadium

In accordance with their lease, Rams owner Stanley Kroenke and his team had clearance to leave for another city if the Edward Jones Dome dropped out of the top tier of NFL arenas. And for two decades, the stadium slowly deteriorated to force the hand of the NFL and the city of St. Louis: either provide taxpayer dollars to build a new stadium in St. Louis or let Kroenke slip away to revive the Los Angeles market.

But, what would have happened had preventive or predictive maintenance been a part of the plan all along? Proper facility maintenance can significantly impact the success of professional sports franchises and in turn, their demands on the taxpayer. In light of the Levi’s Stadium recent turf overhaul ahead Super Bowl 50 this weekend, sports facilities should recognize the serious ROI that can result from maintenance best practices.

Prioritize Maintenance
Too often, franchises (or really any large organization) maintain facilities with a corrective, run-to-failure approach — one that simply allows the stadiums to run their course. These organizations see maintenance as an inevitable afterthought, rather than an integral part of their organization’s success.

With this mindset, small, preventable nuisances begin to occur. The air conditioning malfunctions. The Jumbotron stops working. These issues then require technicians to correct the problem after the fact, which is costly and strains the organization’s relationship with fans and staff. This is what happened in St. Louis. The facility experienced several years of consistent issues, creating a negative reputation for the stadium and the franchise.

Edward Jones Dome, former home of NFL St. Louis Rams, after a 2010 renovation

If properly maintained, Edward Jones Dome could still be in good shape today and many of its issues could have been prevented. But, it would have required a fundamental shift in the way the franchise handled maintenance. Forward-thinking organizations prioritize maintenance by investing in the right technology and working with the right partners to maximize the lifespans of their facilities.

Prevent. Predict.
A proper approach to maintenance starts with prevention. The most basic way to manage facility maintenance is by using historical data to understand the typical lifespan of certain assets and systems throughout the stadium, and upgrading or fixing parts before they malfunction. This approach saves money, time and headaches. Rather than dealing with an air conditioning failure on an 80 degree September day, a preventive strategy would have called for parts of the system to be replaced before it broke down.

But, there’s an even more modern approach to maintenance that involves digitally tracking assets in real time. Predictive maintenance, which is often used to supplement a preventive strategy, uses sensors to feed data into a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) that can predict when a maintenance problem is developing and automatically generate a work order. These systems can track metrics like temperature, air filter levels, or water pressure in real time and alert technicians when issues might occur. While a calendar-based approach can also anticipate many of these problems, unforeseen complications are unfortunately all too common.

Any organization with a new building should take the idea of predictive maintenance seriously to maximize the facility’s lifespan — even older buildings can be retroactively fit with these types of technologies. Had the Rams franchise taken a more preventive and predictive approach, the Edward Jones Dome could have lasted much longer than 20 years.

Benefits For Facility Management
A properly maintained facility is vital to the success of a franchise. Fans attend sporting events for the experience and part of that experience is their interaction with the facility. If a bathroom sink is overflowing or if the temperature isn’t regulated properly, fans will remember and spread the word.

A maintenance-first mindset not only keeps staff and fans happy, but it also cuts costs. With fewer repairs and major maintenance issues, you’ll get more use out of your assets, systems will run more effectively and the building will last longer. A well-maintained facility can lead to serious ROI and long-term savings.

Safety is also an issue closely tied to maintenance. A quality system will track maintenance staff and require each of these individuals to complete the proper training and certification. They’ll have to sign off on all requirements before completing any maintenance tasks. This approach not only ensures that the facilities staff remain safe, but it also reduces liability and insurance rates.

Overall, a poorly-maintained facility is bad for morale and the bottom line. Organizations like the Rams could have maintained a loyal fan base in St. Louis by providing a better experience with a quality facility. Instead, they let the stadium run its course and spent enormous amounts of money on reactive maintenance that eroded the experience for all who visited the facility.stadium

Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group, Inc., producer of the award-winning cloud-based Bigfoot CMMS. Lachance has been developing and perfecting CMMS for the maintenance professional for more than 20 years.