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Fans new to the sport of football may watch several games, and begin to wonder about the fields they see on television. They can all look so different on the tube, with varying colors or shades of the turf, weird shadows, and lighting.
There is much to know about NFL fields, but then again, there really isn’t. In this article we explain, and provide insight.
Let’s begin with typical questions from new NFL fans:
What are the different types of NFL fields?
When fans ask this they are almost always talking about the surface of the field, or the turf, whether it’s made of real grass, or synthetic turf intended to look like grass.
Basically, you can divide NFL stadiums into 2 categories: those with real grass, and those with fake grass. In fact, the number of stadiums with each is almost equal in the NFL. (They will be completely equal by 2026 when a new stadium is opened for the Buffalo Bills ~ with a real grass playing surface).
Of course, some detail-oriented folks might divide them into the type of natural grass, or the brand or style of synthetic grass. Here’s a quick breakdown:
10 stadiums – have Bermuda grass
3 – have Kentucky bluegrass
2 – have Desso Grassmaster
1 stadium – has a mix of different grass types
Of the current 14 NFL stadiums with artificial turf, most utilize a FieldTurf line ~ but a lot of stadiums have playing surfaces made by other brands. A breakdown:
5 – FieldTurf (2 stadiums use FieldTurf CORE; 2 use FieldTurf Revolution 360; and a single stadium uses FieldTurf Classic HD)
4 – (Tie) 4 use Hellas Matrix Turf; and 4 apply UBU Speed Series S5-M turf
1 – has A-Turf Titan
1 – has Shaw Sports Momentum Pro
Believe it or not, some NFL fields are heated, usually by a series of underground pipes where hot water is piped through during game play to, basically, make the playing surface not as cold.
This is done either for the comfort and safety of players who must fall and land hard on the surface, or in an effort to keep the playing surface decently playable during harsh conditions like freezes or heavy rain.
The field of play is the same for every NFL stadium, 120 yards long by 53⅓ yards wide. How much out-of-bounds space there is depends on the stadium.
In the old days, large, spread-out multi-use stadiums like the Los Angeles Coliseum (for the Rams, and for a few years, the Raiders), or the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (for the Raiders) had plenty of “extra” grass or grounds outside the field of play. The old Oakland coliseum probably has the most “unplayable” surface at the bottom of the facility.
Modern NFL stadiums are built specifically for football play and spectating, and the seating is arranged as close to the sidelines and end lines as possible. We are unsure if anyone has measured the exact square footage of every NFL stadium out-of-bounds area, including for tunnels. If you found this information, we’d be happy to hear from you!
However, many fans when they ask about the smallest NFL field, are referring to the size of the stadium. Stadiums are judged by the number of seats they have, so in this vein, Soldier Field in Chicago has a capacity of 61,500. Not far ahead is State Farm Stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, seating 63,400.
Believe it or not, most (17 stadiums) have less than 70,000 seats! There are 8 with capacities between 70,000 and 80,000 people ~ and 5 can hold 80,000 spectators or more.
All NFL fields are the same size, the dimensions noted above, as indicated carefully in the rules. As noted above, when new fans ask this question, most often they are referring to the size of the stadium.
There are 2 ways to measure capacity: number of seats, and how many spectators can be legally allowed to watch the action. Here are the winners:
- AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, has a peak capacity of more than 100,000 spectators.
- MetLife Stadium in New York, home of the Giants and Jets, has the largest listed seating capacity, at 82,500 seats.
Not a lot. The length and width are the same, as well as the 10-yard depth of the end zones. What’s different is where the hash marks are laid. Those little short lines running parallel the length of the field, between the goal lines.
For new fans, perhaps it’s better explained like this: those little dashes between all the full wide lines 5 yards apart that run the length of the regular football field (and make it look like a gridiron). You know, the dots in the middle marking every single yard.
The hash marks denote 1-yard separations between all the 5-yard lines that run sideline to sideline. They are there simply to help referees with placing (spotting) the ball in between plays.
In the NFL hash marks are purposely set as close to the middle of the field as possible. They are basically placed at the same distances as the goal posts, or 18 feet, 6 inches apart.
College goal posts are the same, but they set the hash marks 40 feet apart. So when looking at a field, notice if the hash marks are really split apart, or hardly. Note when watching field goals in college how much of an angle the kicker must overcome.
The NFL did not use hash marks until a 1932 playoff game, and for the start of the 1933 season. They were introduced to boost scoring, and previously balls would be spotted exactly where the previous play ended ~ even if that meant right up against the sideline!
Back then, offenses could get quite cornered if they had to start with an imbalanced line squished against a sideline marking out of bounds. So there were fewer 1st downs and a lot more punting. The centered hash marks help give the offense more breathing room, so to speak, to maneuver and roam around.
There tends to be much more passing the ball in pro football, which is assisted by ball placement in the middle. College ball features more running plays, in which offenses can take advantage of the “big side” of the field ~ or the opposite direction from the hash mark where the ball is placed.
No. It’s the same matter as noted above between the NFL and college fields ~ the width, length, and end zone sizes are exactly the same. The difference is that high school fields have hash marks the furthest apart, at 53 feet, 4 inches in between.
They basically divide the field into 3rds, length-wise. So they are equidistant from the sidelines.
Of course, NFL stadiums are much larger than high school stadiums, which mostly are made of metal bleachers, where the size of the stadium is only dependent upon how many rows the facility can stack ~ and maybe whether or not there are stands behind each end zone.
A lot of new fans might look at a football field and think, “I wonder if that’s an acre or not.” The answer is, they are not exactly an acre, but relatively close. In terms of how many NFL football fields could fit into an acre, the answer is, 1 with change.
American football fields are bigger than 1 acre. They are 1.32 acres in surface size.
It should be noted that games for the Canadian Football League (CFL) are larger than fields seen in the NFL, and America’s schools. Canadian pro football fields are 110 yards between the goal lines, which with the end zones gives the fields a length of 130 yards. They are wider than NFL fields, too, at 65 yards in width.
The CFL games have 12 players to a team, compared with the traditional 11 players each for American football. Their fields have hash marks 9 yards apart, or 27 feet, compared with the 18.5 feet width of NFL hash marks.
Question: Have hash marks been a part of American football fields since the beginning?
Answer: No. For the first 12 regular seasons of the NFL, 1920 to 1932, there were none. The ball was spotted where the previous play ended (even for point-after-touchdown kicks!). The NFL tried hash marks 30 feet from each sideline for a 1932 playoff game played indoors. The first ones, 30 feet from each sideline, were adopted for the start of the 1933 NFL season.
Q.: Which NFL stadium playing field uses a mix of natural grass types?
A.: Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers, applies a mixture of Bermuda grass and Perennial Ryegrass.
Q.: How big are individual hash marks?
A.: 24 inches long by 4 inches wide, set between each full line marking 5 yards apart. They might look small, but they are a full 2 feet wide!
Q.: How much more space do Canadian Football League teams have on the sides of their fields?
A.: Their fields are 11 meters wider, or a little more than 12 yards. So, visualize pushing each sideline outward about 6 yards.