Offer your clients a piece of the game
For landscape contractors looking for something different to offer their clients, Stadium Associates has just the thing for sports fans: game-used sod from the field of their favorite baseball or football team.
Stadium Associates is a Cranbury, N.J.-based company that serves as a licensee for authentic sod from the fields of Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Football League (NFL) teams. The company obtains game-used sod and offers it in either freeze-dried form or in its natural state for planting, in both cases accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
Sports fans have a special connection to the sod on which their team plays, says David Andres, president of Stadium Associates.
“People refer to it as ‘hallowed ground’ or ‘field of dreams.’ They love the fields that the games are played on,” he says. “Our purpose is to connect sports fans to their team through grass.”
Andres had been a consultant for Rick DeLea, president and owner of DeLea Sod Farms, the oldest active sod farm in the United States. DeLea has grown sod for the New York Yankees for many years.
“He was doing an 18-month custom grow for the new Yankees stadium, and I was standing out in the field with him one day on this sod and said, ‘Rick, we should try to trademark this.’” Andres did so after pitching the idea to MLB representatives, who approved.
Stadium Associates began by offering MLB sod, particularly New York Yankees sod, in early 2009 when the company sold more than 3 acres through various Home Depot stores throughout the New York metropolitan area.
Since January, the company has expanded its offerings to sell game-used sod that comes from all 30 MLB baseball teams, Bowl Championship Series from the Rose Bowl Stadium, Super Bowl XLIV from Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.
Stadium Associates is licensed to sell both game-used sod from the playing field and authentic collection team sod grown by the same sod farms that supply teams with their playing surface.
Sod replacement schedules vary from team to team. Teams like the San Francisco Giants replace their grass every year because they have non-baseball events in the stadium that affect the quality of the grass, Andres says. Stadium Associates will harvest and transplant sod that is no longer needed by a team in undisclosed sod locations either to freeze-dry it or sell it as sections. It is sold either directly to clients or to landscape contractors.
Andres acknowledges that not every landscape contractor will be able to offer their clients sports sod, as it may cost a few thousand dollars to cover a backyard with game-used sod.
“You have to be a very avid fan that who wants to pay a little bit more money to know they’ve got the same grass as the stadium of their team,” he says. “Obviously, landscape contractors are challenged by the economy, they don’t want to pay premium prices for sod. However, if a landscape contractor has a client who wants it, they now have a place to get it.
“A lot of landscape contractors probably know the sod farms that are growing New York Yankees sod or Philadelphia Phillies sod and they probably buy their grass from that same sod farm for their client from time to time,” he adds. “We’re not suggesting a replacement of that business transaction. This is an opportunity to please their clients who are going to hear that they can get game-used Phillies sod for their yard.”
When harvesting the sod from sports fields, an authenticator is on hand to tag every roll, and the numbered rolls are tracked when they are transplanted.
“When we harvest that collectible for either freeze-drying or as a patch of sod to be used elsewhere, the authenticator is there as well,” Andres says. “When the client gets their product, they can see it is authentic.”
To address potential concerns, Stadium Associates has put together an advisory council of industry experts. The advisory council is headed up by Murray Cook, MLB’s lead field consultant and president of Sports Turf Services, and also includes DeLea; Frank Rossi, an associate professor at Cornell University and lead field consultant for the New York Yankees; Danny Cunningham, head groundskeeper for the New York Yankees; and Ed Lee, president and co-owner of Summit Seed.
Andres says he believes the interest in owning game-used sod is growing, especially among suite owners, season ticket holders and sports fans in higher income brackets. During a recent visit to the Phillies’ stadium, Andres had more than two dozen people approach him at a table where he was displaying live, game-used sod.
Another service Stadium Associates is working on in conjunction with the Philadelphia Phillies is to have someone from the grounds crew visit a client’s home and cut the team pattern into their yard for a special occasion, such as a party.
“It’s a neat way to connect the fan’s home with the team and the landscape contractor is right in the middle of all of that,” Andres says.
Sometime in the future, Andres plans to certify landscape contractors in different regions.
“We’re not talking about exclusivity where we will certify one landscaper in a region and not another,” he says. “We just think it will lend valuable credibility to the landscape contractor and gives the assurance to the fan that they’re getting the real deal and it’s going to be maintained.”
Carol Brzozowski is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for numerous trade journals for more than a decade. She resides in Coral Springs, Fla.