NASHVILLE – Dating back to the early years of Nissan Stadium, the Titans explored a number of solutions to improve the natural playing surface. Nashville exists in a transition climate zone, which makes growing a consistent grass surface throughout the entire NFL season nearly impossible.
In more recent years, after player/coach concerns, an increase in injuries, and persistent issues with the undependable surface, the Titans amped up their research with data to determine the best, and safest, plan moving forward. Looking at statistics from the 2018-2021 NFL seasons, Nissan Stadium had higher lower extremity injuries than each of the monofilament synthetic turfs in the league.
The conclusion: Putting in a new, cutting-edge field turf that will be installed in time for the 2023 season.
The project – replacing the grass with monofilament, Matrix Helix Turf with organic infill – will provide players with a consistent playing experience year-round. This fall, Nissan Stadium will become the first NFL stadium with the technology of a synthetic turf system that incorporates organic infill.
"Ultimately we've landed on the decision, based on that data, to transition to a monofilament surface with an organic infill that mimics the natural feel of grass while getting the consistency and durability of field turf," Titans president and CEO Burke Nihill said.
The new playing field at Nissan Stadium will be similar to the surface and infill that is currently used inside the team's indoor practice facility at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park, and also used in other practice facilities across the NFL. Organic infill retains moisture better than rubber infill to mimic the feel and performance of natural grass, while the matrix helix design of the turf limits infill "splash" upon contact.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said the response from the players since that surface was installed prior to last season has been positive.
"There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our players," Vrabel said. "We've had a lot of issues (with the grass at Nissan Stadium) after a certain part of the season. It's hard to grow grass. It gets slick. We put new turf down, we try and put new sod down and it's slick, you see guys slipping. Those are real things that I've witnessed over my time here. Our grass surface is not on the level of some of the other grass surfaces (across the NFL). At the beginning of the year, summer, training camp, early season, I can see it being very consistent. But as the season wears on, and the weather changes, there is a noticeable difference in performance of the field.
"We added this product inside the bubble and … the response has been very positive, very favorable to that surface to the new technology that continues to come out. Just witnessing our practices inside and how they feel and how they respond on that product. … We're excited to be able to add this product to our stadium."
A number of factors went into the team's decision to switch from grass to monofilament turf.
Climate zone: Because Nashville is located in a transition climate zone, the ability to provide a consistent, durable playing surface has been a struggle since the Titans first started playing at Nissan Stadium in 1999. The team has regularly replaced the grass, and resodded, but the results have been less than ideal, and the playing surface has been especially troublesome late in past seasons.
Injuries: Because of the inconsistent, undependable surface, the Titans have seen a number of injuries take place at Nissan Stadium. During the 2018-2021 seasons, Nissan Stadium consistently had amongst the highest lower body injuries of any stadium across the league.
Improved technology: The monofilament, matrix helix turf, combined with the organic infill, is the latest in turf technology. It combines consistency and durability of field turf with the feel and performance of a grass and dirt surface. The organic infill is a type of infill that mimics the feel and performance of natural grass. It can produce field temperatures that are 20°- 40° cooler than fields with traditional SBR infill. It even requires watering, as it is made with natural materials.
Matrix Helix fibers have a corkscrew shape that creates an appearance similar to natural grass while allowing the turf to spring back into place after impact. The shape of the fibers secures infill in place, reducing movement during play and minimizing infill "splash out."
Reed Seaton, president and CEO of Hellas Construction Inc., said the consistency of the turf will benefit the players.
No matter where an athlete puts a cleat in that turf, it's the same all over the entire field from game to game, Seaton said.
"A properly built synthetic turf field with organic infill and a pad is a superior system to a mediocre grass field," Seaton said. "The technology of synthetic turf is now able to emulate a well-maintained grass field.
NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Miller has said previously that the latest technology, and subsequent data, has been eye-opening as it relates to grass vs turf.
"There has been, over the course of the last few years, a decrease in the difference between injury rates on synthetic surfaces and those on natural grass to the point now where we really talk more about answering the question, 'Can we decrease injuries on both?' as opposed to one or the other," Miller said in a previous interview. "That is a complicated conversation that includes discussions about type of surface, the characteristics of the surface, the sort of cleats players are wearing, the activities they're involved in, probably some atmospheric and weather issues (and more)."
Prep work on the Nissan Stadium field installation is already underway and will be completed in time for the 2023 NFL season.
"I think our grounds crew is among the best in the National Football League," Nihill said. "Ultimately there's just a limit to how much can be done for a natural grass surface in this part of the country. This turf is cutting-edge technology and will be a huge improvement in terms of consistency and performance."