A Brit in Australia, Martin Sheppard has close to 40 years’ experience in the sport and recreation industry. Managing his own consultancy for the past 17 years, Martin works closely with sports facility owners, government organisations and sports governing bodies to advise, support and bring their projects to life. Through planning, management, business development, procurement and project delivery, Martin’s experience helps hundreds of sports projects come to fruition each year across Australia. Martin is also responsible for the creation and delivery of the National Sports Convention, Australia’s largest community sports conference and exhibition, which is supported by all the key sports and recreation bodies in Australia and New Zealand.
Intelligent Play asked Martin to share his thoughts and experiences on using technology to manage sports fields and about the changes he has seen over the years for sports facility design, construction and management.
“When I started working in the sports facilities industry four decades ago, technology was limited and the management of sports fields was seen as an art rather than a science. The technology that was available tended to be used for operational activities around irrigation, nutrient testing and other natural turf requirements.
Since I moved to Australia in 1997, the country has seen a population increase of over 30% with many people choosing to live in inner cities where there are limited natural playing field development opportunities. Local governments therefore needed to become smarter with how they manage, program and maintain their fields. To add another challenge, drought has hit Australia hard over the past 20 years with an expectation that next year will be no different, so sports fields will become more stressed and deliver a sustained challenge to local government owners.
These challenges drive the requirement and use of new technologies through the need to balance usage, asset management and life expectancy of a sports field. Previously this would have been split between three parts of an organisation but technology helps to bring this together so that everyone involved in managing sports fields is singing from the same hymn book and has evidence to support management decisions.
Technology has therefore moved on from only being useful for operational tasks and systems are now available for on and off-field monitoring of many different aspects from grounds management to usage status. Increased usage opportunities can be created by embracing natural turf technologies to reduce stress on the grass to optimise playing hours and management-focused technologies are available to assist with planning and programming of fields to balance usage with maintenance and ensure life cycle achievement is reached and ideally exceeded. Technology which used to only be available to major stadiums and elite sport facilities is now available to local government fields.
From simple technologies through to management software and smart phone usage, we are now looking at the next generation of field management technology with the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence for this industry.
I was fortunate to have had a very pragmatic mentor during my early years in the industry and to have worked closely throughout my career with various sports governing bodies and sports management institutions. I have always strived to look for and keep up to date with changing and new technologies to ensure I can advise and support my clients from a pragmatic management perspective and my philosophy remains similar today with regard to the approach I take when developing strategies and planning.
This is why I think that Intelligent Play is so good as it gives facility managers evidence to base their decision making on. The innovative and unique use of artificial intelligence for field management means that Intelligent Play is able to provide evidence of usage and programming and to automatically align this with pre-agreed benchmarks for maintenance. It can smartly allow facility owners to review programming and revenue targets, balanced with targeted maintenance to ensure the life expectancy of the asset is maximised.
It provides the balance between art and science.
Technology is continually developing but it is only through education and support that our industry will recognise the solutions that it can provide for the challenges we are facing.