Ever since FieldTurf was installed instead of grass at Lumen Field — despite what was promised in Referendum 48, which funded its construction — there has been some consternation. While football interests have consistently called for grass, the reality of multiple tenants and uses has simply made a synthetic surface more practical.
In the more than 20 years since the games began to be played there, an uneasy truce has practically been achieved. Soccer fans have learned to live with FieldTurf, and stadium operators First and Goal have agreed to replace it regularly and install temporary grass when needed.
One party that has been largely taken for granted in all of this is the Seattle Seahawks, who hold virtually all the power in the relationship.
It was then-Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren who wanted FieldTurf to begin, and since then it has been assumed to be the team’s preferred surface. Whether this is really the case or not, attitudes seem to be changing now.
Current Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll turned heads Wednesday when he told reporters that he openly questions the safety of artificial surfaces following DK Metcalf’s injury at SoFi Stadium.
Pete Carroll says the NFL needs to take a longer, harder look this offseason at artificial turf fields, all the injuries, whether all stadiums need to be grass. He says he had to look into the studies “to see who’s paying for them.” Above all, the league must do right by the players, he says
– Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) 26 October 2022
This is due to NFL players requiring all surfaces to be grass, citing a study that reported a 28% increase in injuries on grass.
While there is no reason to believe that Lumen Field will have a permanent natural grass playing surface in the near future, it is noteworthy that officials involved in the World Cup bid announced that the grass will be used throughout 2026 – before, during and after games. in Seattle.
But could there be enough momentum to make the change faster and is it even more sustainable? It’s hard to say, but the challenges are worth considering.
The rumors are true – we tend to get quite a bit of rain in Seattle. But it’s not so much the amount of rain, but the lack of sunny days. When Lumen Field was built, this was a real problem. But grow light technology has advanced so much since then that almost everyone I’ve talked to says it’s no longer a problem.
This leaves the challenge of how athletes running on a rainy field can affect the quality of the field, but it can be mitigated with good drainage. Much progress has been made there as well, as modern systems effectively work like a vacuum, absorbing moisture and preventing it from accumulating.
From the beginning, Lumen Field was envisioned not only as the home of the Seahawks, but also as the future home of the football team, as well as a concert venue and a place where people could watch other events. That was part of the promise of the jump, and since the stadium is technically publicly owned, I doubt it always will be.
Currently, the Sounders play 20-25 games there annually, the Seahawks 8-12, and the OL Reign are now registered to play 14-16. There are years when up to four concerts are held there, as well as a few other events, such as SuperCross. Together, we’re looking at something close to 60 days of use, not including training days or other non-public events.
There’s also the wear and tear of field changes and the reality that grass needs some time under grow lights, and you can see how putting it all together can be a challenge.
Some stadiums have solved this problem by making the grass field retractable. This is what they do at Tottenham, Real Madrid and several NFL arenas. I don’t think that’s possible here because it would require essentially tearing down and rebuilding a large part of the stadium.
I suspect some of that non-sporting use might have to be curtailed if grass were installed. This is probably a non-starter if the Sounders, Reign, and Seahawks don’t all fit, but everything else should be up for discussion.
Of course, none of this can happen overnight. The best I can tell is that the new grass would probably need about three months to fully establish. That would likely make Lumen Field off-limits in February-April. Not the end of the world for the Sounders, but they do happen to be the first three months of the season, which means they’ll likely have to start the season on a long road trip.
Most other problems can be solved as long as a budget is allocated for them. State-of-the-art growing and drying technology? It will cost money. Limiting non-sporting events? It also eats the bottom line.
I suspect all of this would cost at least tens of millions of dollars. But as long as the various power brokers in the Lumen Field can spend the money to get this right, it seems possible.
There aren’t many great comparisons around the world – venues that host multiple teams in different sports but are also open to other events on grass pitches – but one I could find was Bristol’s Ashton Gate, located in a city with a fairly similar climate to Seattle. The venue, which uses a hybrid grass surface, hosts the Bristol City of England Championship, the Bristol Bears in England’s top rugby league, as well as concerts and other events. All told, that’s a similar number of events to what Lumen is likely to host, and they seem to maintain a pretty flawless grip throughout.
All of this is to say that I think this is possible. If there’s the will, if there’s the commitment, and if there’s the money, there’s no reason we can’t eat grass at Lumen Field. Will it happen before 2026 and will it last longer than that? I don’t know, but we can dream.