After 26 years of playing home games on grass, the Carolina Panthers are making the switch to artificial turf.
The Panthers announced on Wednesday that they're pulling up the Bermuda grass at Bank of America Stadium and switching to FieldTurf, an artificial turf used in five other NFL stadiums. The reason? The stadium has a new full-time tenant.
Panthers cite Charlotte's new MLS team
MLS awarded Charlotte its 30th franchise in 2019. The Charlotte Football Club, which is owned by Panthers owner David Tepper, will start play in 2022. The Panthers don't believe that the natural turf was up to the added wear and tear of two teams' worth of home games.
"To keep grass, they'd have to re-sod continuously," the Panthers announcement reads.
High traffic on Panthers' home field
MLS teams play 17 regular-season home games plus preseason games, adding to the 10-plus NFL home games (eight regular season, two preseason) played at NFL stadiums. Bank of America Stadium also hosts occasional college games including the ACC championship and Duke's Mayo Bowl in addition to concerts and other events.
Will artificial field increase injury risk?
The switch is likely to create rancor in football and soccer circles. Natural grass is widely believed to be better for athletes' bodies and is preferred by the NFLPA. While artificial turf has come a long way from the early days of Astroturf blamed for ending careers, players would largely still prefer to play on a more forgiving natural surface.
Cleveland Browns guard and NFLPA president J.C. Tretter wrote an essay in 2020 calling for all NFL stadiums to employ natural grass on their playing fields.
"Professional football players put extremely high levels of force and rotation onto the playing surface," Tretter wrote. "Grass will eventually give, which often releases the cleat prior to reaching an injurious load. On synthetic surfaces, there is less give, meaning our feet, ankles and knees absorb the force, which makes injury more likely to follow."
Soccer players have long derided artificial turf
Artificial turf is also widely condemned in soccer circles. The USWNT included playing surfaces as part of its equal pay push, arguing that it should have equal access to natural turf fields as men instead of playing a significant portion of its games on artificial turf, increasing injury risk.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced that he would not play regular-season games on artificial turf when he joined the L.A. Galaxy from the Premier League in 2018. No Premier League fields use artificial turf.
The Panthers acknowledged these concerns in their announcement, even linking to Tretter's essay arguing for natural grass. The team states that it consulted Panthers and Charlotte FC players before making the decision.
Tepper Sports & Entertainment vice president Mark Hart vowed to maintain field quality.
"We have conveyed our commitment to the players to maintain this field at a level consistent with the highest standards," Hart said, per the statement.
The Panthers plan to start work on the new turf in the coming days in order to have it ready for upcoming NFL season. Charlotte FC will debut next spring.
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