The new surface will enable Reliant Park to increase the level of event activity, thereby increasing revenue and economic impact through hosting numerous sporting and other events on a world-class playing field without sacrificing its existing natural grass surface.
Reliant Stadium features the NFL's first, retractable-roof football and rodeo stadium with a portable natural grass playing surface. The field is comprised of eight-foot square trays, which hold sections of grass that are pieced together for games. These trays are removed after Texans games to be properly exposed to sunlight, water, and fertilization.
However, to maintain the quality and performance of the portable natural grass turf system, the hosting of other non-NFL events at Reliant Stadium has been kept to a minimum.
"We're trying to save the natural grass field for the NFL so it will stay in better condition, and yet we're trying to generate new revenue," said Mark Miller, General Manager of SMG – Reliant Park. "Revenue from the synthetic turf system can recover the cost in very short order. Anything that is not the NFL, we will try to play it on the AstroTurf if the schedule allows. This would include high school and college football playoff games, the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, and others.
"AstroTurf was selected because of its flexibility--and particularly because of AstroTurf's root zone system, which guarantees a very uniform, predictable field of play," said Miller.
While the new AstroTurf field offers performance, durability, and aesthetic benefits, it will allow Reliant Park to create an innovative business model, which will generate income for the facility and provide Houston the economic benefit that comes with the ability to host more events.
With the flexibility that the artificial turf provides, SMG-Reliant Park plans to pursue hosting numerous additional events. One such event is the Texas high school football championships, an event not hosted in Houston since 2008. Currently, with the existing grass surface, multiple games cannot be held without extensive wear and tear to the natural grass.
"There are several factors in the process of deciding on a host city," said Dr. Mark Cousins, Athletic Director of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the governing body of high school sports in Texas. "First, we have to have the ability to control the climate. Second, we require a quality playing surface. Third, we have to have four suitable locker rooms. Any facility meeting those qualifications would be in the mix for the possibility of hosting the championships."
The addition of AstroTurf allows Reliant Stadium to meet all these qualifications for the events. It also provides leverage for hosting other events and bringing people to the area.
Reliant Stadium puts up significant attendance numbers at sporting events. Approximately 5.7 million people live within an hour of the stadium, and approximately 6.9 million people live within a two hour drive. San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas are within 300 miles, further increasing the number of potential event attendees.
Forty-six years ago, Houston, Texas turned the sports world on its ear when the Astrodome introduced a revolutionary concept to the world of sports—the first full-sized synthetic grass playing surface. And today, Reliant Stadium, successor to the Astrodome, has been outfitted with an innovative artificial turf playing field.
"We take great pride in being able to provide Reliant Stadium with the most technologically advanced and highest performing artificial surface in the world," said Bryan Peeples, President of AstroTurf. "But, we take more pride in contributing—through our innovative AstroTurf removable system—to the ability of Houston to provide more sports events and the growth of a vibrant economy."
The AstroTurf system being utilized is known as the AstroHopper system, similar to the one used by the Toronto Blue Jays. The system will utilize 59 separate sections of AstroTurf that are 15' wide to allow them to be able to be rolled up and stored in the Astrodome between events. Conversion to and from usage of the AstroTurf field takes approximately seven minutes per panel, with an overall conversion time of less than a day.
The AstroHopper system creates a better packaged roll and allows for more consistent and efficient conversions, maximizing storage capacity by eliminating wrinkles, bagging, or telescoping that can lead to increased product wear and tear or damage.
The system will feature an AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D60 Xtreme field. This surface contains the Horseshoe fiber, an Omega-shaped fiber that has better mechanical memory and remains upright longer, with a more grass-like ball roll, and offers the best aesthetics of any field. The Horseshoe fiber's shape also enables it to reflect light and heat away from the surface. That, in combination with AstroFlect heat reduction technology, can lower surface temperatures by as much as 18%. The Horseshoe monofilament is combined with the AstroTurf XP fiber. XP is a slit-film fiber that offers better infill encapsulation, resistance to wear, and pile density. The field also has a face weight of 60 ounces of fiber per square yard, one of the highest on the market. This adds to the durability provided by these fiber shapes. The 94,380 square foot field weighs approximately 351,000 pounds.
The Xtreme product also features a texturized nylon RootZone. The patented RootZone acts as a "thatch layer" that encapsulates the rubber infill to provide minimal rubber splash, uniform traction, and better shock absorbency.
Regarding safety, a study at Michigan State University, funded by NFL Charities, found that AstroTurf GameDay Grass systems had performance values more like natural grass than any other synthetic product measured, making it the safer option. Specifically, the study discovered that the greatest reduction in torque (the twisting force that contributes to lower limb injuries) was achieved with AstroTurf's RootZone. The researchers attributed this statistically significant finding to the fact that AstroTurf required less infill to stabilize the turf system. With less rubber, the AstroTurf system resisted infill compaction that could lead to cleats locking into the playing surface and exerting excessive torque on lower limbs.
The AstroTurf surface is backed with soy-based polymers, which are polyurethane polymers manufactured with a portion of the polyol derived from the soybean plant, a renewable resource. A typical AstroTurf field will use a significant amount of soybeans for its coating, which helps support the 600,000 soybean farmers in the United States.
In 2010, BASF did a study comparing AstroTurf fields to natural grass fields. In 11 environmental categories, AstroTurf had a lower environmental footprint than natural grass. Factors contributing to this include reduced maintenance and mowing, which cause a variety of emissions. Other factors include elimination of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as the need for water. Also, the use of soy-based polyols in the backing of products reduces dependence on foreign oil.
According to BASF's study, from an economic standpoint, projected over 20 years, AstroTurf fields are, on average, 15% less expensive than natural grass fields, even when the cost of turf replacement is considered.