Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Installing Turf Makes Financial Sense For Chicago; Soldier Field Needs To Force Bears To Make Change

In the ongoing raging debate regarding the surface of Soldier Field, it is starting to become clear that the Chicago Bears need to change their mindset.  If they won't change, then I believe that the city of Chicago or even the NFL should force them to do so.

Their current grass surface is heavily criticized (especially the weather turns rough) by Bears players and opponents alike.  Some players want to convert to the FieldTurf, some to a type of turf known as DD GrassMaster (a hybrid of natural grass weaved together with millions of synthetic fibers), and some simply want a higher grade of grass sodded on the field.

What Does Each Field Cost?
Current grass (re-sodded each year): $500,000 every year
FieldTurf (sodded once and can last for up to three years) - $750,000
DD GrassMaster (same as FieldTurf although might last less time): $400,000

Over a ten-year span, the grass field costs Soldier Field a total of $5 million, whereas FieldTurf (sodded three times during that span) would cost $2.25 million.  That's less than half of the grass field. Even if it's sodded four times in that ten-year span, the total cost is still only $3 million.

Add that to the fact that with a higher quality surface that can hold up to a lot more stress, Soldier Field could host even more events annually.  Considering that the Chicago Parks District actually owns the field, increasing revenue would be a good thing.  Soldier Field makes roughly $5 million in profit annually.  Add to that the savings of a cheaper field along with being able to host more events and Chicago could certainly benefit greatly from the switch.

Bears management has resisted switching from the current field, claiming a competitive advantage.  However, Pro Football Talk discussed today how the NFL has a stipulation in their Game Operations Manual that prohibits this very thing:

“Each home club is responsible for having the playing surface of its stadium well maintained and suitable for NFL play.  The League may require improvements to ensure compliance and such improvements will be at the Club’s expense.  Failure to maintain a playing field properly is considered a competitive issue and clubs that fail to do so may be subject to discipline.”

The Bears don't own Soldier Field, but as its biggest tenant they can select what field surface to use.  Soldier Field is currently home to a number of college and high school games throughout football season, as well as community events in the warmer months.  The field sees a lot of damage in the Fall, and has shown an inability to hold up to the extreme weather conditions.

The vast majority of outdoor stadiums are now using some sort of synthetic surface. Ten out of 12 Big Ten teams play on FieldTurf.  Hardly any other NFL team plays on grass anymore (the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers are the exception along with the Bears).

There just doesn't seem to be any good or valid reasons anymore for keeping the grass the way that it is.  Considering the increased cost for a sub-optimal playing surface, the Bears should do what's best for their players and their city and allow a synthetic field to be laid down.

1 comment:

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