Bank of America Stadium switching from natural grass to artificial turf

5240 fans will be allowed inside Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
5240 fans will be allowed inside Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.(Carolina Panthers)
Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 4:54 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - More change is coming to Bank of America Stadium.

The Carolina Panthers announced Wednesday that the field will be switching from natural grass to artificial turf. The new field is expected to be in place by the summer.

The stadium will use FieldTurf, which is used in five other NFL stadiums (Atlanta, Detroit, New England, Seattle and New York Giants/Jets) and 11 other NFL practice facilities (those six teams plus Green Bay, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington).

The decision was reached in large part due to the increase in events with the introduction of a full MLS season in 2022. Up to 30 professional games a year will be played in the stadium, in addition to the concerts, college football games and other events Bank of America Stadium is planning to host. Panthers and Charlotte FC owner David Tepper has made it clear that he wants the stadium to host a variety of events and for it to be a space used all year long.

“(David Tepper’s) vision is for the building to be a community asset,” Tepper Sports & Entertainment vice president and chief operating officer Mark Hart said in a statement. “With two major professional sports franchises using Bank of America Stadium, and more events upcoming, having a natural grass surface is going to be a heavy lift. We believe a synthetic surface provides the best solution.”

In total, 17 NFL teams play on some degree of natural surface, with 15 teams on artificial turf (including the shared stadiums in New York and Los Angeles). Only five MLS teams play on artificial surfaces (Atlanta, New England, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver) and three of those franchises (Atlanta, New England and Seattle) share a stadium with NFL teams.

There are solutions to NFL stadiums hosting a variety of entertainment events while maintaining natural grass. The Arizona Cardinals, for example, play at State Farm Stadium, which features a retractable natural grass playing surface that allows the venue to host concerts, international soccer matches, college and high school sporting events, in addition to NFL games.

Tepper Sports & Entertainment (TSE) said in news release that Bank of America Stadium isn’t built to accommodate such a roll-out grass system, nor is there enough space at the corner of Mint and Morehead in Uptown Charlotte to store a large patch of grass when not in use.

The NFL Players Association has historically been opposed to artificial surfaces for health and safety reasons. NFLPA President JC Tretter wrote last year that the players’ union would prefer that every team switch to natural surfaces.

“Whenever I practiced on an artificial field surface, my joints felt noticeably stiffer the next day,” wrote Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns. “The unforgiving nature of artificial turf compounds the grind on the body we already bear from playing a contact sport.”

The turf-versus-grass debate has been a longstanding subject in the soccer world, as well. High-profile former players, such as David Beckham and Abby Wambach, expressed strong opposition to playing on artificial turf during their careers. Grass pitches are standard in international leagues such as the English Premier League despite the cost-cutting benefits of turf.

TSE points to the difficulty in maintaining playing fields for both an MLS and NFL franchise in the same space. In a news release, the organization stated that workers would have to continuously have to resod the grass and that the bench areas on the NFL field, where it’s hard to keep grass growing, are in the field of play for MLS.

“When they get to the time of year when the schedules overlap, that’s difficult to maintain,” the release said.

The ownership group is in the process of renovating the 25-year-old stadium with soccer-related enhancements ahead of the MLS expansion team’s debut in the league in 2022. Those stadium changes include adding a center tunnel, a new home locker room for Charlotte FC and two new food and beverage bar areas in the concourse behind the future supporters section. The changes are expected to cost $50 million, with Tepper Sports covering slightly more than half and the rest coming from Charlotte City Council-approved funding, Hart told The Observer earlier this month.

Hart said in a release that TSE reached out to players from both the Panthers and Charlotte FC before the decision to switch to turf was announced to update them on the change, and promised to “maintain this field at a level consistent with the highest standards.”

Team ownership said that the plan is to use the same artificial turf product, FieldTurf, on the planned artificial surfaces at the Panthers new practice facility in Rock Hill, which will feature three full-size grass fields outdoors, one outdoor artificial turf surface and one full-size indoor artificial field. The Rock Hill facility is scheduled to open in 2023.

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