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New fans watching National Football League games are apt to wonder why the surface of the playing field does not look the same for each contest. These fans soon after learn that NFL fields are either real grass, or artificial turf. Is fake grass installed in most NFL stadiums, and if so, why?
Through the 2023 season, slightly less than half of NFL fields have a turf surface. Among the 30 stadiums, 14 of them keep artificial grass on the stadium field. However, because 2 stadiums host a couple of teams each, the number of NFL teams with turf and grass on the home field is equal, at 16.
Single stadiums in New York and Los Angeles host 2 teams each. Through the 2022 season,
MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, had a grass field. Therefore up to that point, grass was the field surface of choice for a majority of teams and stadiums.
However, starting with the 2023 season, MetLife Stadium planned to install artificial grass. With the flip, the result is exactly half the NFL teams will play on turf in their home stadium.
In terms of the 30 stadiums used by the NFL, slightly less than half will have fake grass (turf) fields.
(Starting 2023 NFL season)
- Atlanta Falcons (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
- Buffalo Bills (Highmark Stadium)
- Carolina Panthers (Bank of America Stadium)
- Cincinnati Bengals (Paycor Stadium)
- Dallas Cowboys (AT&T Stadium)
- Detroit Lions (Ford Field)
- Houston Texans (NRG Stadium)
- Indianapolis Colts (Lucas Oil Stadium)
- Los Angeles Chargers (SoFi Stadium)*
- Los Angeles Rams (SoFi Stadium)*
- Minnesota Vikings (U.S. Bank Stadium)
- New England Patriots (Gillette Stadium)
- New Orleans Saints (Caesars Superdome)
- New York Giants (MetLife Stadium)*
- New York Jets (MetLife Stadium)*
- Seattle Seahawks (Lumen Field)
(14 fields for 16 teams)
* Shared stadium
- State Farm Stadium | Arizona Cardinals
- M&T Bank Stadium | Baltimore Ravens
- Soldier Field | Chicago Bears
- FirstEnergy Stadium | Cleveland Browns
- Empower Field at Mile High | Denver Broncos
- Lambeau Field | Green Bay Packers
- TIAA Bank Field | Jacksonville Jaguars
- GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium | Kansas City Chiefs
- Allegiant Stadium | Las Vegas Raiders
- Hard Rock Stadium | Miami Dolphins
- Lincoln Financial Field | Philadelphia Eagles
- Acrisure Stadium | Pittsburgh Steelers
- Levi’s Stadium | San Francisco 49ers
- Raymond James Stadium | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Nissan Stadium | Tennessee Titans
- FedExField | Washington Commanders
(16 fields, 16 teams)
Artificial grass became a phenomenon when it was invented and installed in 1966 on the field at the new, fully enclosed Astrodome ~ where they actually tried to plant grass but it wouldn’t grow (surprise!) with a domed roof over the top.
The Oilers moved their American Football League team indoors and onto fake grass for the first time that season. Games there would test whether artificial grass was an acceptable surface for football. (Houston’s Major League Baseball team also would serve as that sports’ guinea pigs for turf, also inside the Astrodome).
It wasn’t long before franchises bought into the fake grass dream of lower costs for maintenance. Artificial turf, after all, did not require constant watering, or mowing, among other ongoing maintenance tasks.
Plus, because plastic turf is easier to re-line and reconfigure into surfaces for other sports, and is better than natural grass for large events like concerts, sports franchises actually designed and constructed stadiums for multiple uses.
All of these “multi-use” stadiums were similar: enclosed in a tall circle of stands was a dull green plastic playing surface. They quickly popped up in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Cincinnati ~ and were shared by teams of the NFL and MLB.
These shared stadiums were pursued by cities trying to keep their teams in town, during the beginning of a new era of sports franchise movement. Multi-use stadiums eliminated the need to construct 2 new stadiums, 1 for each sport.
The problem? Football as a game is brutal on grass turf. The cleats are longer and thicker, heels dig in deeper, and elbow, knees and helmets dig out divots and ruts upon collision with soil.
Many stadiums went with artificial turf to avoid football damages to the playing surface of a baseball field, where divots can make balls bounce oddly and ankles turn. In the beginning, clubs saw more of the advantages of fake grass, and less of the drawbacks.
Old Problems with Artificial Grass on Football Fields
It took quite a few years, but NFL clubs eventually came to the realization that the fake grass fields were hurting their biggest investments ~ the players on the field who made up the “product” that clubs sold.
Football players collide hard with the ground often during play. Natural grass, with its soft and permeable soil underneath, creates a naturally padded surface for these landing spots.
Not so for the original AstroTurf, which originally had a thin layer (usually ½- or ¾-inch thick) under the plastic grass for cushioning.
The thinner cushioning for many years was just an annoyance, as football players came to appreciate the ability to have surer footing beneath them to prevent slips. Offensive players loved the ability for sneaker-like cleats to grip the turf for fast moves. Into the 1980s, turf fields became commonplace.
But over time, the old-style AstroTurf proved that top-level football play on top of it actually flattened the padding underneath. And not all clubs were quick to replace the old turf, or even the padding.
So many NFL artificial turf fields became similar to playing football directly on concrete ~ the fields were so hard, the plastic covering basically glued right onto concrete.
Not only were more players getting hurt from falling onto the turf; they also were seriously injuring toes, ankles, and knees, by getting entangled in seams where large squares of fake grass came together.
With time these seams loosened, or even began to peel away (and up), creating hazards on old-style plastic turf. Many NFL veterans also claimed their careers were shortened playing on rock-hard fields for too many seasons.
What started as voiced concerns in the 1980s became a roar into the 1990s, and stadiums and clubs began to convert back to the natural surface for fields. At the same time, innovation introduced a sort-of happy medium.
Grass fields slowly began to come back, in both sports, football and baseball. In fact, the switch to grass through the end of the 20th century was nearly universal. But the conversion has not occurred quickly.
Remember, the first artificial turfs were much less soft than grass. They call this condition “unforgiving” to players, meaning the fake turf does not bend or “give in” upon impact. It doesn’t help the player to avoid injury from impact.
About the same time, fans began to criticize the “feel” of artificial turf ~ the synthetic appearance, the lack of smell, the fact that fake grass does not naturally cool the surrounding area. Many fans began to detest fake grass fields.
In baseball this had much to do with tradition and aesthetics, as well as the fact that hard turf changed how the game was played, because of how the ball bounced harder and rolled much faster on turf.
In football, of course, the concerns were about injuries, from skin “rug burns” from sliding hard on turf, to the joint and toe woes mentioned above.
While grass fields resurfaced in NFL stadiums, at the same time major advancements in the technology of producing artificial sports surfaces emerged. Two new improvements were significant:
- Adding silica sand, or small granulated rubber crumbs (from recycled tires) were included with the plastic base and fake blades, to emulate the natural soft soil underneath grass.
- New turf fields were much better drained, so pools of water did not form which slowed deterioration of old turf fields.
These new synthetic surfaces proved to emulate the feel of grass much better than the old AstroTurf. In fact, watch games real closely and you might see what looks like black sand popping out of the “grass” where players’ feet dig in or bodies land.
These tiny silica or rubber crumbs work together like wet dirt, squishing together in unison to provide players with a cushioned landing.
In fact, the fake grass technology has advanced to the point where it is not uncommon to find artificial grass on golf putting greens, or even on household front yards. Ski runs have been created out of surfaces filled with tiny rubber modules.
Soccer on a global scale has become more amenable to use of synthetic turfs. Some even believe the new synthetic surfaces are better for the human body than natural grass.
And that’s where we are in the first couple of decades into the 2000s, a blend of grass fields with fields covered with the newfangled, softer and better artificial turf.
It’s difficult to imagine the NFL turning completely to turf fields. It’s not that NFL clubs are traditional in the way baseball clubs are with the look and feel at live games.
It’s just that in some locations, particularly where it is very cold or very windy, or both, grass just does not grow well, or last. Additionally, in some regions, surfaces left to grass get extremely hard in prolonged cold conditions ~ even harder than fake grass turfs.
Question: Did football and baseball teams ever share a grass field in the same stadium?
Answer: Yes, most recently in Oakland up until 2019, when the Raiders played in what now is called RingCentral Coliseum. The original Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum hosted the Raiders from 1966 to 1981, and again from 1995 to 2019; while the Oakland Athletics have played home games there since 1968.
Many old NFL fans might recall seeing the remnants of a dirt infield embedded into the gridiron, when early-season Raiders games fell too close to the end of A’s contests. Those football games made playing baseball afterward on the same surface an adventure.
There were several other examples, such as the Dolphins and Marlins sharing the old Joe Robbie Stadium, now called Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins have hosted NFL games there since 1987, while the then-Florida Marlins shared it from 1994 to 2011.
Q.: When was AstroTurf invented?
A.: It was patented in 1965, with an original sales name of ChemGrass. It was renamed AstroTurf once its first, very well-publicized, installation into a huge sports venue, the Houston AstroDome.