Ever since FieldTurf was installed instead of grass at Lumen Field — despite what was promised in Referendum 48 that funded its construction — there has been a certain amount of consternation. Although soccer interests have consistently called for grass, the reality of having multiple tenants and usage has made a synthetic surface simply more practical.
Over the 20 years since games first started being played there, an uneasy truce has effectively been struck. Soccer fans have learned to live with FieldTurf, and stadium operators First and Goal have agreed to regularly replace it while installing temporary grass whenever required.
One party that has largely been taken for granted in all of this is the Seattle Seahawks, who effectively hold all the power in the relationship.
It was Seahawks then-head coach Mike Holmgren who wanted FieldTurf to begin with and ever since then it’s been sort of assumed that it was the team’s preferred surface. Whether or not that’s really the case, attitudes now seem to be changing.
Current Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll turned some heads on Wednesday when he told reporters that he’s openly questioning the safety of artificial surfaces in the wake of an injury to DK Metcalf at SoFi Stadium.
Pete Carroll says the NFL needs to take a longer, harder look again this offseason at artificial-turf fields, all the injuries, whether all stadiums should be grass. He says he got to scrutinize studies “to see who pays for them.” Above all, the league has to do right by players, he says
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) October 26, 2022
This comes on the heels of NFL players calling for all surfaces to be grass, citing a study that reported a 28% increase in injuries on turf.
While there’s no reason to think Lumen Field will have a permanent natural grass playing surface in the immediate future, it is notable that officials involved in the World Cup bid indicated that grass will be used throughout 2026 — before, during and after the games are played in Seattle.
But might there be enough momentum to make the change sooner and have it be even longer lasting? That’s hard to say, but it’s worth considering the challenges.
The rumors are true — we tend to get a fair amount of rain in Seattle. But it’s not so much the amount of rain that’s the problem, it’s the lack of sunny days. Back when Lumen Field was being built, this was a real issue. But grow-light technology has advanced a ton since then, to the point that almost everyone I’ve talked to suggests it’s not really a problem anymore.
That does leave the challenge of how athletes running around on a rain-soaked field might affect the quality of that field, but that can be mitigated by good drainage. A ton of advancements have been made there, too, with the modern systems effectively working like vacuums to suck in moisture and keep it from pooling.
From the beginning, Lumen Field was imagined not just as a home for the Seahawks but for the future home of a soccer team, as well as a concert venue and someplace people could watch other events. That was part of the promise from jump, and since the stadium is technically publicly owned, I suspect that will always be the case.
As it is now, the Sounders will play 20-25 games there annually, the Seahawks will play 8-12 and OL Reign are now signed up to play 14-16. There are years where as many as four concerts are hosted there as well as a few other events like SuperCross. Combined, we’re looking at something close to 60 days of use, not including training days or any other non-public events.
There’s also wear and tear caused by changing over the field, plus the reality that the grass needs some time under those grow lights, and you can see how piecing it all together might be a challenge.
Some stadiums have solved this issue by making the grass pitch retractable. This is what they’re doing at Tottenham, Real Madrid and various NFL venues. I don’t think that’s feasible here since it would require essentially tearing down and rebuilding a big chunk of the stadium.
My suspicion is that some of that non-sporting use may have to be curtailed if grass were installed. This is probably a non-starter if the Sounders, Reign and Seahawks can’t all be accommodated, but everything else would have to be up for debate.
None of this can happen overnight, obviously. As best I can tell, new grass would probably need something like three months to fully settle in. That would most likely make Lumen Field off-limits from February-April. Not the end of the world for the Sounders, but those do happen to be the first three months of the season, meaning they’d likely need to start the season with a lengthy road trip.
For the most part, the other issues can be overcome as long as there is a budget to address them. State-of-the-art growing and drainage technology? That’s going to cost money. Limiting non-sporting events? That’s going to eat into the bottom line, too.
I suspect this would all cost at least tens of millions of dollars. But as long as the various power-brokers at Lumen Field are okay with spending the money to do this right, it seems feasible.
There aren’t a ton of great comparisons worldwide — venues that host multiple teams in various sports while also being open to other events on a grass pitch — but one I found was Bristol’s Ashton Gate, located in a city with a climate quite similar to Seattle. That venue, which uses a hybrid grass surface, hosts Bristol City of the English Championship, the Bristol Bears in England’s top rugby league, as well as concerts and other events. All together it’s a similar number of events as Lumen would likely host and they seem to maintain a pretty immaculate pitch throughout.
All of which is to say, I think this is possible. If there’s will, if there’s commitment and if there’s money, there’s no reason we can’t have grass at Lumen Field. Will it happen before 2026 and remain longer than that? I don’t know, but we can dream.