In recent years, several critical injuries associated with batted balls hitting fans in the stands has motivated ballparks across the U.S. to increase protective netting systems. While some fans feel that the netting hinders the viewing experience, most embrace the changes. This is, in part, due to the advances made in netting technology that prioritize exceptional safety and see-through visibility.
So, what has changed at ballparks that has influenced teams to increase their safety standards? First, stadiums have been redesigned with more seating closer to the action. Second, the physicality of athletes and optimization of equipment means balls are being hit with more force than ever. Lastly, for better or worse, fans are connected to their smart devices, which means more distractions. Bloomberg News released an article in 2014 citing 1,750 injuries caused by foul balls and broken bats, and in December 2015, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made a public recommendation to extend netting systems to the dugouts – This was the beginning of a netting revolution.
Prior to Manfred’s recommendation, ball parks typically used 1.8mm knotted and twisted backstop netting systems to protect fans in the most vulnerable seats. The product is certainly effective in protecting spectators but is also bulky and obstructs the view of the field.
In 2015, manufacturers at NET (Nor’eastern Trawl) Systems and Promats Athletics teamed up to challenge convention when they released Ultra Cross® Dyneema® Baseball Netting, a 1.2mm braided and knotless net. The braided and knotless design is the strongest configuration available and allowed manufacturers to decrease the twine gauge without compromising strength. Also, the absence of knots increases the open area, giving fans optimum visibility from the stands.
Cincinnati Reds fan Matt Strauss of Clermontville, Ohio described his experiences watching the game behind the low-profile knotless netting, “[It’s] so good you never even notice it – which is exactly how I want it. The only time it becomes part of the game is for safety.”
The most recent advances to baseball protective netting are related to color. In the fall of 2017 an independent consulting firm, commissioned by MLB, conducted a study to see if green-colored netting would improve the viewing experience for fans in the stands. The green hue was determined by its ability to blend into stadium elements such as grass, dirt, seating, signage, and scoreboards. This color advancement came on the heels of many MLB, MiLB, and collegiate teams committing to extending their netting systems down the foul lines.
Fans of baseball are increasingly acclimating to the extensive netting systems at their favorite ballparks. Much of that has to do with a desire for safety, but also the sports equipment industry’s commitment to making netting that’s nearly invisible. With new technologies being developed constantly, chances are this is just the beginning of what is possible in the realm of fan protection.
Originally Published by CEFMA in their February 2018 Newsletter.