CHARLOTTE - Bank of America Stadium's hosting another professional sports team soon. That requires some changes to the 26-year-old building, from the ground up.
With the addition of Charlotte Football Club, which will begin MLS play next spring, there could be up to 30 professional games a year played in the stadium.
Based on that increased activity, Tepper Sports & Entertainment vice president and chief operating officer Mark Hart acknowledged that the organization is making the switch to FieldTurf in order to provide a consistent playing surface.
In addition to a full slate of NFL and MLS games next year, there are more college football games (Appalachian State-ECU on Sept. 2 and Clemson-Georgia on Sept. 4 as well as the ACC Championship and Duke's Mayo Bowl) on the docket, along with the potential for high school football games, Charlotte FC Academy matches and plans for many more events. There are already holds for concert dates into 2022, when the music industry expects to be back in full swing after being shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are discussions about many other events (sports and otherwise) in the future as well, and the stadium has already been used for early voting, mass vaccination events, and festivals.
"[David Tepper's] vision is for the building to be a community asset," Hart said. "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. We believe a synthetic surface provides the best solution."
To keep grass, they'd have to re-sod continuously. For instance, the bench areas of an NFL field are hard to keep grass growing on, and those areas are in the field of play for MLS. When they get to the time of year when the schedules overlap, that's difficult to maintain.
The stadium's grass surface was consistently ranked among the top in the NFL in surveys done by the NFL Players Association. Historically, the players' union has been opposed to artificial surfaces.
NFLPA President JC Tretter wrote last year that the union would prefer that every team switch to natural surfaces, for health and safety reasons.
Of course, weather and geography make that difficult to maintain. Currently, 17 teams play on some degree of natural surface, with 15 teams on artificial turf (including the shared stadiums in New York and Los Angeles). The Panthers' divisional foes Atlanta and New Orleans both play on artificial turf.
The organization reached out to players from both the Panthers and Charlotte FC before the decision was announced to update them on the change.
"We have conveyed our commitment to the players to maintain this field at a level consistent with the highest standards," Hart said.
Even though some stadiums have figured out how to use both natural and artificial surfaces (such as Arizona and the new Tottenham stadium in London), 26-year-old Bank of America Stadium isn't built to accommodate such a "tray system" to roll in a second surface, nor is there enough real estate at the corner of Mint and Morehead to store a large patch of grass when it's not being used.
While some might not think it's an ideal decision, it's a practical one, giving them the ability to flip the facility for a high school game on Friday, a college game on Saturday, an NFL game on Sunday and a midweek soccer match. There have been calls for years for the stadium to be more accessible beyond NFL contests and a few college football games each year. There's also an aesthetic element, as an artificial surface eliminates the problems of painted lines on the field for different sports, meaning Charlotte FC won't have to play on top of faded Panthers logos or hashmarks in the middle of the field, and vice versa.
FieldTurf products are already used in five other NFL stadiums (Atlanta, Detroit, New England, Seattle, and New York Giants/Jets) and 11 other NFL practice facilities (those six teams plus Green Bay, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Washington).
Installing a FieldTurf product will also be consistent with what the Panthers practice on in the Atrium Health Dome behind the stadium.
The team still does most of its practicing on grass, and the new practice facility in Rock Hill (scheduled to open in 2023) will feature three full-size grass fields outdoors, one outdoor artificial turf surface, and one full-size indoor artificial field.
The plan is for all those artificial surfaces to be the same product, giving the Panthers a consistency from the game week to gameday. FieldTurf has also improved its product over the years, and the new Bank of America Stadium surface will feature the company's Vertex CORE turf and CoolPlay technology, which is designed to help keep the surface cooler than older artificial surfaces.
In MLS, Charlotte FC joins five other teams playing on artificial surfaces (Atlanta, New England, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver). The surface at Bank of America Stadium is FIFA Quality Pro certified, and four other MLS teams already play on FieldTurf, including Seattle, Atlanta, and New England, where the football and soccer teams share playing fields. There are also 13 practice facilities in MLS that feature FieldTurf.
By making the decision now, work will likely begin within days, and is expected to be completed by the summer.
While the life span of the FieldTurf surface could be up to 10 years, Hart said the plan is to replace the top layer every two or three years.