Are you looking forward to the Super Bowl? Have you mortgaged your house yet to get tickets? While it is too early in the season to say which teams are going to make it – although it’s pretty obvious which ones aren’t – there is one thing that is absolutely certain. The game is going to be played at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and it’s going to be played on artificial turf.
In fact, this is the second year in a row that the Super Bowl is being played on plastic. Last year, the Ravens and the 49ers battled it out in the Superdome in New Orleans, and – to be precise – that has UBU Intensity Series SR M Synthetic Turf. The MetLife Stadium has UBU Sports Speed Series S5 M Synthetic Turf – so for the uninitiated, that’s just about the same thing. The point is that this is bound to reignite the debate about whether natural grass or artificial turf is better.
Actually, the split in the NFL is pretty even. Of the 31 NFL stadiums – in case you were wondering, the Giants and the Jets both play at MetLife Stadium – 15 have natural grass and 16 have artificial turf. The trend is definitely to rip out old artificial turf, which was not the greatest surface to play on, but a lot of that is being replaced with more modern artificial turf, not grass.
There are a huge number of different grass species – over 10,000 – but only six of these are used for sports fields. In fact, these six species are further divided into two groups – those that are suitable for cold seasons, and those that are suited for the heat. However, no matter what type of grass is selected, the problem is that it is easily damaged and requires a lot of maintenance. On the other hand, it provides excellent grip for players wearing standard cleats – exactly what is needed when you’re trying to find a hole in the defense.
On the other hand, synthetic turf stands up to high traffic and harsh weather much better, but the grip just isn’t there. In fact, players need to wear special shoes to play on artificial turf, which can change the characteristic of the game. In fact, there are some claims that because of the lack of resistance, players tend to run faster and collide harder on artificial turf – which seems pretty relevant when you think about the recent discussion about the long-term impact of concussions on NFL players.
In some ways, the artificial versus natural grass question in football is very similar to the hardwood surfaces and artificial surfaces available for basketball courts. While artificial surfaces have not been adopted in the NBA yet, their popularity is improving, as is their quality, so you have to wonder how long it will be before they start showing up. Perhaps basketball needs take a leaf out of the NFL’s playbook and give artificial surfaces a try – although turfing a basketball court probably isn’t a good idea.