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Syngenta describes how Primo MAXX has helped the turf at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium to overcome the challenges of a retractable roof
Gavin Darby, arena manager at Melbourne’s multipurpose Etihad Stadium, has steadily helped to change the image of the playing surface at the retractable-roof venue due to his innovative turf management practices. The surface at Australia’s only completely enclosed 50,000-plus premier multi-use sports complex was the subject of constant public scrutiny, as a series of arena managers grappled with among other things, large shadow patterns caused by the stadium’s unique configuration.
The venue is home to up to 50 Australian Football League (AFL) fixtures a year, regularly attracting attendances of 40,000-50,000, from February through to September. AFL is Australia’s most popular domestic sport, bringing with it hundreds of thousands of fanatical supporters plus a voracious media, which scrutinises every element of the game, both on and off the field. The advent of a new multimillion-dollar stadium in 2000 with turf growing issues presented the local media with a field day. The scrutiny began to wane only when Darby instituted a different turf growth and maintenance regime. In recognition of the grass growth problems associated with retractable roof stadia – lack of sunlight and air circulation – and to meet the stadium owner’s increasing demands for more revenue generating events, Darby turned to Syngenta.
Dr Henk Smith, turf technical manager for Syngenta Australia, built a turf management programme incorporating the company’s Primo MAXX grass growth regulator. Darby says that this has transformed the field in the two years since being introduced. No longer is he considering regular costly pitch replacements. Nowadays the turf surface is performing well and able to withstand the wear and tear of a packed event calendar – 81 events were staged at Etihad Stadium in 2008. The venue also fixtures a number of A-League football events and regularly hosts rugby and rugby league internationals. The stadium has also hosted cricket, concerts and high-profile events such as Sensation – billed as ‘the world’s biggest dance party’ and featuring circus performers, fireworks, lightshows and DJs, not to mention 40,000 revellers in the stands and on the pitch.
The stadium was also the first in Australia to introduce the European-developed Stadium Grow Light Concept. Darby also attributes much of the success of the turf to the introduction of the new lights.
It’s another busy year at the stadium, but Darby is more relaxed about the impact of the heavy event schedule on the field. Since meeting with Smith in 2007, turf improvements have been made year on year. “He gave us some really good advice. We made a lot of changes to the turf management practices needed to go to another level,” says Darby. “In the last two years, we have really mastered it.”
The Syngenta turf-grass expert recommended some suitable Primo MAXX application rates to evaluate the response from the grass. Darby has now fine-tuned what amounts he sprays year-round as part of his tightly controlled turf management regime. Application rates are 1 litre per hectare every fortnight through the summer months, and about 150ml per hectare every fortnight in the winter. The product has also become an essential part of reseeding work, Darby says, because it enhances the development of young seedlings.
Darby also credits Primo MAXX with offsetting the turf growth problems caused by the extensive shade conditions in the challenging microclimate of the stadium. The product works by slowing cell elongation of the grass plant, with the energy instead diverted down into the roots, boosting cell structure and increased tillering to create a dense healthy turf. The strengthened root structure should offer better drought tolerance and greater stress resistance and ensure the grass is able to recover quickly from intensive use through the long AFL season; it also means the pitch can be maintained in top condition for other sports and entertainment events. “It’s almost like taking the roof off; the turf plant now reacts similar to how it would in an outdoor environment,” says Darby.
The results of Primo MAXX have also impressed the stadium’s management team and owners, who are continually finding new ways to maximise stadium use to grow revenues. Just around the corner is a series of concerts, including the New Year’s Eve Sensation event. But Darby isn’t worrying, even though there’ll be a myriad of paraphernalia on the field for the event, and afterwards he’s responsible for getting the pitch back into premier condition for a sequence of four sports events, all within 21 days. Then AC/DC is scheduled to play three concerts in mid-February. The experience of last year’s Sensation ensures Darby will hold his nerve – a football match was played at the stadium just 12 hours after the event concluded. “Primo MAXX has been part of our improved event management to the effect that we are expanding our non-sports events,” Darby explains. “It’s given us a lot more confidence.”