The ticket above may be rendered useless (and hopefully refundable) by Monday. That’s because Levi’s Stadium is having a bit of a grass problem. Sod that was planted in April came up in chunks and was causing falls during Wednesday’s in-stadium practice session, forcing Jim Harbaugh to relocate the session to the 49ers’ practice facility next door. Thousands of fans who attended the session went away disappointed. Today the stadium’s grounds crew began the process of replacing
the middle thirdthe entirefield from goal line to goal line, first ripping out the old sod that wasn’t taking root.
New sod is expected to take root in around 2 months, so it’s not as if there wasn’t ample time for that to occur. When the Earthquakes hosted the Seattle Sounders 2 weeks ago, I found it curious that sod seam lines were still visible on the pitch. While the field was playable for that event, it suffered mightily under the trampling of 300-lb. linemen. The grass variety in use, West Coast Turf’s Bandera Bermuda, is not considered the cause of the problem, though the 49ers haven’t officially said what the cause is. Niners Nation claims that the sand base under the sod is the culprit. To get the field ready for Sunday’s game vs. the Chargers, the team is getting more sod rolls from WCT to fill in the area around the hashmarks.
That sod will be extra thick at 2 inches, giving the sod a chance to stay integrated for at least this one game. That’s considered only a temporary fix, since such installations are not designed to permanently take root. After that sod is used, the entire field will be torn up and the subsoil system replaced, in favor of a revamped system that will hopefully allow the grass to grow better into the base.
I don’t think is what the 49ers meant when they advertised Levi’s as the greenest stadium in America. Tearing up, replacing, and irrigating sod multiple times over isn’t green in the slightest.
Typically stadium operators keep a small sod farm near the stadium so that bad patches can be easily replaced. It’s also common for the grass suppliers to keep a large amount (literally acres) available for customers in case of emergency.
While Bandera Bermuda is a relatively new grass variety, it isn’t untested. The surface is in use at Petco Park, Raley Field, and was used in the end zones at the Coliseum a couple years ago as a test for the Raiders. The stuff has also been installed at the Rose Bowl for UCLA’s upcoming football season, and was used at California Memorial Stadium for the exhibition soccer match between Real Madrid and Inter Milan. While the field didn’t play as smoothly and quickly as a permanent grass installation would, there were no severe complaints and most importantly, no field-related injuries. After the match, Cal Athletics worked on installing the lower-maintenance Field Turf surface at Memorial.
As seen with the soccer-vs.-football experience dynamic this week, using the same strategy at Levi’s as the one used at Cal is no guarantee of success. The players could tear through the new sod just as they did with the original grass. However, the extra weight and root structure should help the field withstand the pounding. The field is also expected to stay through the following Friday (8/29), a high school football doubleheader. By midnight on Friday the field should be shredded into oblivion, seeing that there will be three football games played there in six days. If the field doesn’t make it through this Sunday’s game, the high school games may have to be rescheduled for other locations or the home schools’ respective fields. I’ve been looking forward to Friday Night Lights, since it’s the cheapest priced event at Levi’s so far ($20) and the seating is all general admission, meaning that fans can sit pretty much anywhere that’s open (probably the lower bowl only). It would be a shame if the event were cancelled, but if the injury risk is too high, no sense in pursuing it further.
There are many growing pains associated with opening a new venue. Unfortunately for the 49ers and fans, some of them have been painful (traffic for the soccer game) or even lethal (a man died at last Sunday’s game from heat-related causes). Everyone’s a guinea pig until things are ironed out. Here’s hoping that the new field takes hold, so that the focus is on the ball and what the players do with it, instead of the surface. After all, we already have one compromised stadium to deal with in Oakland.