Sports Facilities | 6 min read

Covering Outdoor Courts: The Definitive Guide (2019)

Indoor Tennis Structures

There are three popular ways of covering outdoor courts and pitches:

Air Domes, Multi-Use Games Area Covers (or MUGA Covers for short) and fabric sports buildings.

Today we’ll cover the pros and cons of each of these methods.

So whether you’re covering outdoor tennis courts or a football pitch, this post can help you decide which method is right for you.

Ready? Let’s begin.

For quick navigation, use the links below:


Air Domes For Covering Outdoor Courts And Pitches

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What Is An Air Dome?

You might hear them referred to as inflatable sports domes, single skin bubbles, air-supported structures or even tennis domes.

These names all give a pretty good idea of how air domes work.

Essentially, an air dome is a large area covered by a fabric sheet.

This sheet has been anchored to the ground and filled with pressurised air.

Air Dome Covering Outdoor Pitch

Here’s an internal shot:

Inside an Air Dome

How Much Does An Air Dome Cost?

Air domes are a popular choice for covering outdoor tennis courts and football pitches because they’re (relatively) cheap to purchase and fast to install.

In fact, air domes are typically half as expensive to buy as equivalent fabric sports buildings.

But what about running costs?

Air domes need at least one blower unit operating 24/7 to stay inflated.

As you can imagine, the costs of running that unit can quickly add up.

That said, there are both pros and cons to choosing an air dome to cover your outdoor courts.

We’ve summarised these below.

Pros And Cons Of Air Domes For Covering Outdoor Courts

Pros Of Air Domes

  • They’re relatively inexpensive to purchase
  • If you have an existing outdoor sports surface, air domes can be erected with minimal damage
  • Because they don’t need groundworks, air domes can be installed faster than MUGA covers and fabric structures
  • Air domes can be taken down in summer and re-erected in winter
  • They’re fairly easy to relocate
  • If the dome is single skin, you’ll get some energy savings from natural light filtering through

Cons Of Air Domes

  • Air supported structures need blower unit(s) operating 24/7, increasing running costs
  • They also have high maintenance costs as they need regular checks on air pressure
  • Air domes, especially single skin versions, have a shorter lifespan than MUGA covers and fabric structures
  • They can be vulnerable to high winds and snow loads
  • You might need a heating system to prevent snow building up on the surface
  • Because air domes are limited in design, getting planning permission can be a challenge
  • Project costs often exceed client expectations as air domes still need surveys, designs and planning permission
Key takeaway: Although air domes are initially cheaper to purchase and install, the cost of maintaining the structure could offset any initial savings

Multi-Use Games Area Covers For Outdoor Courts And Pitches

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What Is A Multi-Use Games Area Cover (Or MUGA Cover)?

A Multi-Use Games Area Cover is an open-sided structure with a roof.

MUGA cover covering an outdoor court

They’re designed to cover outdoor courts and pitches, providing a self-contained playing area.

Inside a MUGA cover

Because they’re open-sided, buyers immediately save on the cost of four walls.

Here are the other pros and cons of MUGA covers:

Pros And Cons Of MUGA Covers For Covering Outdoor Courts

Pros Of MUGA Covers

  • MUGA covers are around 20-25% cheaper to purchase than a full fabric sports building
  • Because of the open sides, users get an indoor-outdoor experience
  • No ventilation system required
  • With a stable steel support structure, there’s no risk of collapse
  • MUGA covers have a long life: up to 50 years, if the fabric roof is replaced after 30-35 years

Cons Of MUGA Covers

  • Although they’re less expensive to buy than a fabric sports building, MUGA covers are also extremely limited in use by comparison
  • Because they’re open sided, users aren’t protected from wind and driving rain
  • Poor weather protection means these structures are less likely to be used in winter
  • Like ‘full’ buildings, MUGA covers need surveys, designs, planning permission and foundations
  • Because rain and leaves will gather around the perimeter, non-porous sports surfaces such as acrylic and PU aren’t suitable
  • These sports flooring limits also limit the sports that can be played under a MUGA cover
Key takeaway: MUGA covers have lower running costs than air domes but they’re limited when it comes to year-round use

Fabric Sports Structures For Covering Outdoor Courts And Pitches

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What Is A Fabric Sports Structure?

Fabric sports structures are like MUGA covers but, instead of open sides, they’re fully enclosed and often steel clad around the bottom two metres.

Inside a fabric sports structure

In fact, some fabric sports structures look just like ‘traditional’ sports halls:

Covering Outdoor Courts: Air Dome, MUGA Cover Or Fabric Structure?

Many people choose air domes and MUGA covers because they seem like the simple and cost-effective choice.

In some ways, they are.

Strictly speaking, you can’t cover existing courts with a fabric sports building.

Because of the groundworks required, you’d likely need to put in a new sports surface, thus incurring additional costs.

Not to mention the cost of the building itself which, by virtue of being a fully enclosed building rather than a bubble or canopy, is higher than for an air dome or MUGA cover.

But does that automatically make air domes and MUGA covers better options for providing indoor courts?

Let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros and Cons of Fabric Sports Structures For Covering Outdoor Courts

Pros Of Fabric Sports Structures

  • Fabric sports structures are fully enclosed, giving users year-round protection from wind and rain
  • If designed correctly (with a stable steel superstructure), there’s no risk of collapse
  • Various options for ventilation and environmental control
  • The fabric roof lets natural light filter through, reducing energy bills
  • There’s a wide range of cladding and finish options to choose from
  • You get the benefits of a traditional brick-and-mortar sports hall, for a lower price
  • Fabric structures are faster to install than traditional buildings
  • They also have a long design life: 50+ years if the fabric is replaced after 30-35 years

Cons Of Fabric Sports Structures

  • Fabric structures are more expensive to purchase than air domes and MUGA covers
  • They can’t be erected on an existing sports surface
  • There’s some risk of condensation if the building isn’t ventilated properly
  • Like air domes and MUGA covers, single-skin fabric structures aren’t insulated—this usually isn’t a problem as sports players generate their own heat, and single-skin structures can hold an ambient temperature, but double-skinned versions are available
Key takeaway: Fabric sports structures are more expensive to buy than air domes and MUGA covers but pay off in year-round usage, longevity and user satisfaction

Conclusion

There are pros and cons to all three methods for covering outdoor courts and pitches.

If you’re looking for a temporary solution, an air dome may be your best bet based on lower initial costs.

On the other hand, if you need something more permanent, a MUGA cover could be the answer.

But if you’re looking for a structure you can use year-round, a fabric sports structure is your best bet.

Considering a fabric sports structure to bring your courts or pitches indoors?

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