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Two Organizations Now Speak for the Synthetic Turf Industry

Does the synthetic turf industry's proverbial playing field need the backing of two trade associations?

Does the synthetic turf industry's proverbial playing field need the backing of two trade associations?

The Synthetic Turf Association (STA), formed in February, is vowing to do what the eight-year-old Synthetic Turf Council (STC) has claimed to do since its inception - educate, promote, and influence regulation and legislation. The STC and its members banded together to battle potentially ruinous public perception of synthetic turf safety a few years ago, and now manufacturers, suppliers and other industry professionals have a choice of two organizations through which to make their voices heard.

Darren Gill, vice president of global marketing for FieldTurf, says that while the worst of the field-safety crisis might be over, the flat industry performance of recent years is of ongoing concern.

"Has the industry recovered? I would say absolutely not," says Gill, whose company was a charter member of the STC and is now a charter member of the STA. "On a daily basis, I still have customers calling and asking questions because of quote-unquote safety issues, coupled with a poor economy."

Gill's primary criticism is that the STC has not focused enough on growing the industry.

"We thought the STC focused more of its time on infighting or policing its own, rather than trying to grow business for everybody," says Gill. "That was always our objective. In 2008, the industry was extremely strong, and really growing the business wasn't necessarily at the forefront of everyone's mind. We needed an association out there talking about the positives of artificial turf instead of trying to set its own internal standards. We felt like the STC wasn't representing the industry as well as it should. We felt that FieldTurf was taking a leadership position and the STC was almost following us."

STC President Rick Doyle says the proof of his organization's strength is in its membership numbers and its guidance of the industry during the darkest days of the lead-contamination and safety scares.

"When I joined four and half years ago, we had 56 members; we now have 196," says Doyle. "In 2008, when this industry was under siege by the media, questioning the safety of synthetic turf, we produced all sorts of data on synthetic turf, and we met with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Environmental Protection Agency. It didn't take long for the CPSC to conduct its own research, supplemented by our own, and then issue a statement that young children are not at risk from exposure to lead in these fields. There was a great deal of concern, and the industry breathed a huge sigh of relief and was grateful for the STC's efforts on behalf of the industry to address that crisis. That negative situation brought the synthetic turf industry together as never before - and over the past few years, the STC has continued to unify the industry through proactive education, community outreach and advocacy efforts."

The STA, meanwhile, looks to build on a membership base that numbered a mere dozen as of early June. It comes as little surprise that FieldTurf has shifted its primary allegiance, considering that STA chief Hank Steinbrecher has been a FieldTurf consultant for a decade. Steinbrecher, a former collegiate soccer player and coach, became a convert to synthetic turf as head of the U.S. Soccer Federation in the 1990s, when a FieldTurf field impressed him during a U.S. men's soccer team workout at Civic Stadium (now Jeld-Wen Field) in Portland, Ore.

Steinbrecher says the STA's purpose - similar to the STC's - is to improve business by targeting government, consumers and the industry itself. He wants to increase the use of synthetic turf in landscaping, in golf, and as borders to airport runways to discourage birds from gathering. His high-profile past with Gatorade (he guided the brand for Quaker Oats in the 1980s) and U.S. Soccer should come in handy when the STA approaches legislators, but Steinbrecher insists that aiming at the influential is only part of the STA's mission.

"We don't want to be seen as purely a lobbying group, but it helps when people making laws are better informed," he says.

Steinbrecher has just faint praise for the STC - "They have a nice website. . .they have a number of members" - but he insists, as does Gill, that the STA is not a foe of the STC.

"We're here for the industry," Steinbrecher says. "It needs an articulate voice. The louder the voice, the better."

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