Before Booking your Sports Facility Installation (and why some bids are lower)
+The 4 types of installers you’ll encounter in your search
Sports facility design & installation can be a tricky business. It’s a highly specialized service, so typically local crews with the necessary experience & technical skills aren’t available in your own back-yard.
You truly get what you pay for in this business – if you’re okay with a DIY appearance, there are certainly local construction crews who can handle a drill, and will accept the work. And while they may have good intentions, they don’t know what they don’t know.
The fact is, there are only a handful of qualified crews nationwide capable of properly completing a batting cage & practice facility installation, from floor to ceiling. We know because we’ve worked with the good, the bad & the ugly.
If you’re shopping around for competitive quotes, as you should, here is a list of key questions to ask your prospective installer, which will make you seem more “in the know”, and ensure you truly know what you’re paying for.
Because a bid titled “labor for installation” is about as general as it gets, and there are even some well-known companies that may seem qualified on the surface – but the people behind the curtain in our industry know all about the shortcuts used to save money & appear like the lowest-cost-option. And after reading this, so will you.
Onto the questions….
1) What type of Headers / Anchor Brackets do you use?
These are absolutely critical to the success of a quality netting installation. Without solid headers, your support cables can NOT handle maximum tension, without risk of damaging the walls or pulling the anchor point out of the wall.
Without high tension, the cable lines will sag, and so will your netting. To make matters worse, if sliding is required this will become a huge headache. Maybe not immediately but over time it will cause the pulley rollers to rub, and eventually act like a brake on your lines. The opposite effect you need.
See a video demonstrating this here.
High quality headers DO NOT flex when put under pressure, and allow the turnbuckles to do their jobs -> put tension on the lines, allowing netting to hang with minimal sag.
Why do I need Headers, when I have block or metal framed walls?
Here’s the technical specs.
Your cable lines require approximately 10 lbs of tension per foot. This means for a 100 ft span, you need 1,000 lbs of tension on each line. Considering 1 line every 6-8 ft across the width, you will use 3 lines per single lane cage.
This can result in thousands of lbs of tension on your wall. And unless your structure was built to withstand the load of a large boat, most buildings were not designed for several thousand lbs of lateral load on the wall supports.
Our Wall Headers & Brackets properly distribute that tension across multiple blocks / girts / studs. Applying pressure to a single anchor point (such as eye-bolt) is NOT a viable anchor solution. This will result in cable sag, which = netting sag.
Why does sag matter?
Saggy netting means obstructed air-space, causing batted balls to be knocked down sooner, and potentially even back-swing obstruction. Longer ball-flight allows for instant coaching feedback, helping players develop. Plus, a saggy net just looks terrible compared to a nice clean pro finish. It all helps with the image of your facility in your customer’s eyes.
2) What type of Pulleys / Roller Wheels will be used? How many per line?
Pulley Rollers are key for netting mobility. Most all multi-sport facilities require netting to slide, offering quick conversion for other sports & activities. From sliding batting cages, to track & trolley kits, and shell cages with sliding curtains – netting that slides is essential for a modern training facility.
Why are rollers so important?
Think of it like tires for your car. Without rollers, you would be dragging steel carabiners on steel cable. And just like driving car rims on concrete .. while it may work for a quick high-speed car chase, it’s obviously not recommended for x-country trips.
What type of pulley rollers should I use?
There are a wide variety of pulleys on the market, and they are in no way all created equal.
The highest-maintenance option —> Split Bracket Pulleys (Nylon)
Why? Because they AREN’T steel. It’s essentially a plastic material, dragging on steel cable.
Back to the car tire analogy – now instead of driving your rims on concrete, you just upgraded to PLASTIC TIRES! And while some companies may say “they work just fine” – to that you should respond, “for how long?”
Yes Nylon pulleys will work for a period of time, but eventually they will rub, they will warp, and they will fail. No one can argue with physics. Cheap Bushing / Ball Bearing + Plastic on steel + friction = worn out plastic.
And you will be left with the task of identifying the “problem pulleys”, like a needle in a haystack – since not all will wear evenly (highest working pulleys will wear faster) – and you will find yourself on a ladder or lift, re-installing something you paid your installer a lot money to do right the first time.
This is not only an inconvenience, but a big expense to you – in terms of replacement parts, your time or hired labor, and your facility down-time.
And it can’t be predicted, so don’t expect to have the luxury of replacing these integral parts in the off-season. Murphy’s Law usually takes over, and the day you need your netting to work the hardest – with 10 teams booked – your lines will lock up.
The 2nd highest-maintenance option –> Low Quality Steel Pulleys, with cheap bushings.
These will seize up after time, creating a BRAKE on your cable lines — like this.
Is size the only thing that matters?
No, it’s NOT all in the wheel diameter, as you may think. For example, a 2″ diameter wheel pulley can range in price from $1.50 – $13.50. It goes without saying there is a huge difference in quality between the bottom & top.
It’s not just about Quality – Quantity matters too!
Find out exactly how many will be used, and on which lines. The more used, the easier your netting will slide. The alternative is dragging your nets on the carabiner snaps, which is metal on metal contact – not good for long-term use.
Apples to Oranges Comparison
Here’s a side by side comparison showing the effects of a high quality vs low quality pulley being used for the wrong application.
The Proof is in the Pulley
This makes sense, but show me some hard evidence!
You got it. Here’s a video demonstration of the effects of a bad pulley in a real world training facility.
It’s disappointing to see high-end $100K+ facilities have low-end products installed, simply because the vendor didn’t educate them on the options. We’ve encountered many facilities during our travels using these inferior split-bracket pulleys.
We were even hired to fix this multi-sports facility, who had the incorrect pulleys installed. And this was not a hole-in-the-wall facility. This was easily a $1,000,000 training center.
The owner told us he contacted the installer and they “were not willing to help”.
Unwilling to send a crew to do something right the 2nd time is bad enough, but unwilling to even offer suggestions on a fix is ridiculous; and proves there are unfortunately companies that simply don’t know any better.
This is no different than a used car salesman telling a customer exactly what they want to hear, and the owner finding out 10,000 miles later they need a new transmission.
Why would legitimate companies do this?
Simply to be the low bidder and win more jobs. In a competitive industry, several hundred pulleys with a difference of over $10 ea can become a $2,000 – $3,000 difference. This is enough for most owners to select the lower bid, since both bids list “pulleys” – they must be equal just like other hardware such as “cable” or “bolts” – right?
To the untrained purchaser, this looks like an equal quote. Little do they know, they just purchased Plastic Tires for their $100,000 Performance Race Car.
If only they realized how vital this was to the success of their facility. When you consider it’s analogous to using Racing Tires on a Race Car – people are happy to spend 2-3% more to ensure their facility is as low-maintenance as possible.
3) How Long will the Installation take to Complete?
Will the crew work the 9 – 5 shift, take hour lunches, and casually stroll around the job-site?
Or will they work the 7 am – Midnight shift like Practice Sports? Our crews are notorious for being incredibly hard working, with the best work ethic you have ever seen from a contractor, hands-down. It’s not uncommon for our crew to pull all-nighters, simply because they are passionate about their jobs, and want to get out of the owner’s way.
Total duration of project from inception to completion matters, and directly affects when you OPEN your doors to start bringing revenue IN!
4) How Long is the Warranty for Labor & Materials?
How long will your installer guarantee proper functionality of your equipment? Will the netting still slide back & forth smoothly in 3 months or 3 years? Or will they blame the pulley and tell you materials aren’t covered by the installation warranty. Then what is covered, exactly?
Our installation warranty period for all cable & track suspended systems, & turf, is 1 year from completion of the job. Occasionally a part goes bad, we don’t claim to be perfect or use materials that are 100% defect-proof. But, what we will guarantee is that we use the highest quality materials possible, to greatly reduce the chance that a piece of hardware will fail.
Our crew-chief’s saying is “it’s not worth saving $2 bucks up-front to possibly have to travel cross-country to fix a $10 part.” We want your facility to be maintenance-free as much as you do. It’s amazing to us that some nation-wide installers will use such low-quality parts. For us, it’s all about our reputation and positive word-of-mouth. We aren’t out to get rich on a single job – we realize the success will come over the long-haul of hundreds of projects, done the right way.
5) Who will be Performing the Installation?
Will the crew who shows up have a laser focus giving your project the highest priority, treating you & your property with top respect & professionalism? Or will they be more concerned with smoke breaks and clocking out each day, prolonging the job so they log more hours on the job?
Will a crew show up in their 1988 Ford Ranger, with a truck full of loose parts & tools? No disrespect to Henry Ford, the father of the assembly line, but we just aren’t a cookie-cutter company.
Or will they have a legitimate work-truck with lodging, cargo space & workshop to fabricate on-site as needed?
This seems apparent to us, but most people don’t realize that most of the ‘volume batting cage installers’ have dozens of different installers around the country. They will use any individual with experience turning a wrench. And while they may be qualified to fix a leaky pipe, there is no telling if they are fully qualified to handle your most important investment. What this means is just because a company can show you pictures of “their work”, is no guarantee the same installers will be assigned to YOUR job.
Being in this business for 15 years, unfortunately we have continued to see labor rates plunge, getting more & more cut-throat & competitive. This does not bode well for the end user, and simply means cheaper laborers are being used to maintain profits.
When working with Practice Sports, you can be assured you will get the highest skilled technicians available. We employ a small network of very qualified installers, and only use certain personnel with over 10 years of installation experience to ensure our quality is maintained.
Ask to see the specific installers personal installation portfolio, and ask if they will guarantee in writing your facility will look the exact same.
The 4 main species on the planet of sports facility installers
The end product you receive completely depends on the type of installer you select.
A) Walmart Quality
All about volume, yet good product selection. These installers are all about churn & burn. Most likely the lowest bid you will receive – not a good sign.
B) Target Quality
A step up from Walmart, but still a discount chain overall. The quality looks pretty good on the surface, but once you dive in and ask pointed questions like we outlined above, you begin to find the holes in their game, and it becomes easy to tell why they are cheaper.
C) Home Depot / Lowes Pros
Local contractors mean well, and are probably excellent handymen DIYers. They simply lack the thousands of hours of installation experience it takes to be great.
D) Skilled Tradesmen (and women)
Just like a skilled ‘Journeyman’, This group has thousands of hours of experience installing everything a quality training facility needs – from turf to wall padding & netting. It’s the experience that makes the difference between Average and Great. Think of them like a local plumber, electrician, or foundation repair company – all wrapped into one group.
Very specialized and talented in their trades, but you would never consider hiring the electrician to handle your foundation work.
The reason there aren’t more skilled all-around sports facility installers in your backyard, is because there are only a few training facilities in your area. There just isn’t enough work locally, so there isn’t the demand to cause people to seek out this trade. The result is bringing in crews from across the country, and paying a premium price for their premium skills. In the end, it’s well worth it in terms of overall equipment functionality, safety, and pro appearance for your customer base.
The fact is, people today expect to be wow’ed when they walk in a facility. This is what imprints memories, and keeps them coming back and talking about your business on social media and to their teammates.
Our crews can do it all!
We sincerely hope this installation article was entertaining & educational. The aim of this review wasn’t to criticize other installers – everyone has to start somewhere, and most installers have good intentions. We accept that we won’t get every job, and don’t want every job – which allows us to maintain our quality control. We are even happy to provide tech support to your local crew as needed.
But it is important for future sports facility owners to know what they’re getting into, especially when their livelihood and personal investment is on the line.