The business case for turf

The business case for turf
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Tepper Sports & Entertainment sent shockwaves from Mint Street last week with an announcement last week that they’ll soon shift from natural grass to artificial turf at Bank of America Stadium.

Why it matters: The decision stems from the fact that they’ll be using the stadium for a whole lot more than football moving forward. Re-sodding is expensive, so switching to a synthetic product called FieldTurf saves a substantial amount in labor and material costs.

What’s happening: Charlotte FC, the city’s new Major League Soccer team, begins playing at Bank of America Stadium next spring. That means there could be up to 30 professional games a year at the stadium, the Panthers said in a statement.

  • On top of that, the stadium is hosting college football games like the ACC Championship and Duke’s Mayo Bowl, plus a number of big concerts like Garth Brooks. Tepper Sports expects the entertainment lineup to be back “in full swing” after the pandemic.
  • The wear-and-tear from those revenue-generating events takes a toll on natural grass and requires frequent re-sodding. Tepper Sports says the new turf will ensure consistency and versatility.

Jonathan Jensen, a professor of sports administration at UNC Chapel Hill, calls the switch to artificial turf “low-hanging fruit” from a financial perspective. In other words, it’s a way for David Tepper, a hedge fund owner with a net worth of nearly $13 billion, to start to get a return on his investments.

  • Tepper paid $2.275 billion for the Panthers in 2018, and an estimated expansion fee of about $325 million for Charlotte FC the following year. Both were league records.

“The quickest and easiest way to start to get a return on his investment of this club is look at the assets of this club and utilize them better,” Jensen tells Axios. “The turf is part of that whole puzzle.”

As The Athletic reported, Tepper is following the lead of NFL owners Arthur Blank, Robert Kraft and Jody Allen. They all also have MLS teams that share the stadium and play on artificial turf.

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  • Stadiums with natural grass have a “life” of about five NFL games, and a full re-sod can cost about $200,000, per reporting from CBS Sports.
  • It costs around $800,000-$900,000 to install artificial turf, Jensen says. Artificial turf fields have a life span of five to seven years, and requires less maintenance.

The turf decision in line with Tepper’s goal of making the stadium “a community asset, Tepper Sports COO 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,” Hart added.

Yes, but: Many argue that playing on artificial turf can lead to higher rates of injuries. Last fall, the NFL Players Association formally called on team owners to switch from artificial turf to natural grass because of the risk of injury.

  • Per data from the NFLPA, players have a 28% higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries when they play on artificial turf.

“Turf is a far worse surface for soccer than it is for football. This is a huge negative for Charlotte FC,” tweeted Paul Tenorio, a soccer reporter for The Athletic.

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