The 49ers’ grass problem could be solved with restraint

A year ago, the 49ers got the cherry on top of their football stadium sundae, a highly sought-after LEED Gold certification. LEED Gold had never been designated upon a sports venue previously, so with that Levi’s Stadium was considered the environmental belle of the ball, as far as venues go.

Since then, much attention has been paid to the wonderful green roof, the plethora of solar panels, the wise use of gray water – all the buzz words you frequently read about when a building is touted for its environmental bonafides. Yet all of that has been overshadowed by the one thing that everyone sees on TV, the damaged and dangerous grass surface.

After a couple of sod changes, including a change in the type of Bermuda strain, blame was placed squarely on the gravel-sand subsurface used to get the grass to take root. Anyone who has laid out sod in the yard with their dad knows the typical issues: make sure the dirt isn’t rocky or full of clay. Water regularly and at the right times. Grass is not easy to grow, and even harder to maintain. You’d think the grass – just for the sake of the 49ers’ health – would be of paramount importance. But in ownership’s never-ending search for high profile non-football events, the grass has practically become a barrier to revenue generation.

The easy move, of course, would be to switch to artificial turf. It’s plastic and rubber, is a ton easier to maintain than grass, and is easily removed for concerts and other events. The 49ers already installed turf on the fringes of the field, where carts and other equipment are likely to travel. The field remains grass for now, and the fight to keep the grass in place will be fierce, as this is California, where fake turf is anathema (Cal’s Memorial Stadium being a notable exception).

Replenishing and regenerating grass is not exactly the most green of procedures. Besides the grass that is trucked in every spring for initial installation, a completely separate field is maintained at a Central Valley facility, for use when the stadium field is inevitably damaged. Roll upon roll of the replacement stuff is used to repair parts of the stadium field before giving way to a wholesale replacement. The damaged grass is trucked back to Livingston, where it is rehabilitated. And so there’s this constant cycling of grass throughout the football season. The Coliseum goes through its own version of this, with grass planted before the baseball season, the baseball outfield replaced shortly after the second Raiders’ preseason game, and the entire football field usually once more in November. That’s a reasonable schedule, especially compared to the frequent shuttling the 49ers have to do.

At some point the process will become untenable, maybe not for economic reasons, but for environmental reasons. The drought is the biggest player here. More than a dozen fires rage around the state, so it seems incredibly insensitive to use so much water and gas on a single two-acre grass field that is properly utilized fewer than 20 times per year. The Ravens and Patriots both had trouble maintaining grass, switching to turf early on in their respective stadia’s tenures. Unfortunately, turf is plenty of its own issues. It’s not an ideal surface for soccer. There are still concerns about injuries, though bad grass is arguably much worse. Now there are issues with athletes accidentally inhaling the crumb rubber “dirt” under the plastic turf blades, as those tiny pieces tend to go airborne on hard cuts on the surface. A class action lawsuit was filed this year, alleging that the rubber has carcinogens. Considering that much of that rubber comes from old tires, there may be an argument there. Maybe not. Either way it merits study. Plus artificial turf fields tend to run hotter than grass fields during the summer thanks to the rubber’s tendency to insulate.

What do you do, then, when trying to choose between thirsty but preferable grass and lower-maintenance but less desirable turf? Easy. Hold fewer events. It’s okay, 49ers. You won’t go broke. The grass will be allowed to flourish. If you’re going to run a dome-like schedule, give up on the grass. It’s not fair to the players or the grass to do otherwise.

21 thoughts on “The 49ers’ grass problem could be solved with restraint

  1. If they can’t eliminate/curtail non-football events, at least they could try to schedule them more wisely. From Purdy’s article earlier this week: “The field will be replaced yet again after the Luke Bryan concert on Aug. 29, with new sod installed for the 49ers’ exhibition game against San Diego on Sept. 3.”

    In what fantasy world does sod root in place in only 3-4 days?

  2. I’ve read that there used to be a peach orchard on that site or something of that nature many years ago, and that the kids’ soccer field right next to it (the one the 49ers want to turn into a VIP parking lot) also grows grass just fine. Why won’t grass stick there? I was at Levi’s for a corporate event a month ago and they were tearing up the grass then, too. Meanwhile, they’ve got Luke Bryan (whoever that is) and Taylor Swift doing concerts there right before the season starts….A bit off-topic, but if this upcoming El Nino winter meets some projections, Super Bowl 50 be played in hurricane-like conditions. Levi’s lucked out for the Sharks game there – picture-perfect weather. That might not be the case with the much bigger showcase of the Super Bowl.

    • May be played in…

    • @Pjk re grass field adjacent to Levi’s holding up much better than the Levi’s grass: The U16 club soccer tournaments they play there might put less strain on the grass in part because of the athletes themselves. I would imagine that sub-200 pound soccer player planting and cutting is less likely to tear up the field than the force created when NFL behemoths dig in to each other at the line of scrimmage. That’s pure speculation on my part though.

      Question for all: is this a problem that can eventually be solved with technology? Will turf fields eventually become safer, less carcinogic, etc? Can grass be engineered to take root more deeply?

  3. Pfft… I have no sympathy for the 49ers. My lawn looks like… well I shouldn’t use expletives here… because I can only water it twice a week due to the water cutbacks. I’m going to have to spend a lot of money to get it looking nice again after (if) the drought is over.

    Switch to turf or suck it up and play on a dead lawn like the rest of the state niners.

    • I haven’t watered my lawn since last summer. Yes, my house looks like Mad Max lives in it.

    • No one should have lawns in CA. Redesign your “lawn” to require less water, plants etc that more water friendly. The drought may eventually go away, but expect to it to be a frequent occurrence. Besides, do it right and it could look a whole lot prettier than a basic grass lawn.

  4. If the Raiders do eventually get to share Levi’s Stadium, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, the grass issue will become even more problematic.

    • …or he’s just looking out for what he believes to be the best interests of his constituents. YMMV.

      • You can spin it whatever way you want. Miley and his “constituents” are TURDS who want to get kick backs from Fisher and Wolff potentially!

      • Odd… Nothing int hat piece makes me think Nate Miley is a snake, but everything about your posts makes me wonder how you got through 8th grade.

  5. as for what’s happening at levis. basically the niners are scheduling way too many non football actives that includes ripping up the grass every other or so week just before football season so the grass has no time to set in.

    if the niners continue to do this in the upcoming years in july and august then they’re going to have to go to a field turf. if they schedule these things outside of the “football season” then they can stick with real grass.

    doesn’t sound like the niners wanna go away from grass anytime soon, at least not this upcoming football season but things can change a year from now.

    but niners are playing with fire and if the field causes an injury to a major player just as the hou horrible turf caused clowney’s injury last season then they’re even going to get more bad things said about the stadium itself both by the media and especially the niner fan base.

    i still wouldn’t be shocked down the road if the niners either go install field turf or put up some kind of retractable roof on the sun side of the stadium opposite the suite tower.

    i don’t know how much it’d cost to construct a roof. i know the us open for tennis is nearing and for ashe stadium they’re also putting up a retractable roof that will cost 150 million. difference is ashe roof is to protect the court/fans from rain while any roof structure at levis will protect the fans from the sun/heat. now levis stadium is much bigger than ashe stadium so it’s going to cost more than 150 million.

    ashe stadium roof-

    also the ashe stadium roof will enclose the tennis court while i think any kind of retractable roof will cover the fans but also would think the niners wouldn’t want the entire stadium to be enclosed so i could see any roof if built in the future could be like what safeco field’s roof does which cover the venue but also have openings around the park so you can feel you’re still outdoors.

    safeco field roof-

    an enclosed levi’s stadium with retractable roof could also draw convention type events to the stadium too which wouldn’t happen with the open air feel venue that it is right now.

  6. Levis Stadium a 1.4 billion pretentious half ass stadium that doesn’t even get loud and has sod problems that is in a bad location. Nice job Santa Clara Niners of ripping off your season ticket holders and your fan base. They should just go with Field Turf and get it over with.

    • Yep, it’s such a failure the York’s are crying all the way to the bank.

      • agreed financially it’s been a huge win for the niners. we’ll see how it successful it’ll continue to be if the niners on the field are on a downward trajectory the next few years.

        design wise i never liked levis stadium but it seems this was the design for the stadium no matter where it was built as if the niners did build a new football stadium at the candlestick location this stadium design of levis would’ve been built there too as they had a mockup of a new stadium at candlestick before the move to santa clara and it was basically the same stadium.

        although the heat issue they’re facing right now wouldn’t be a factor.

      • The York’s don’t give a crap…they got their money….the fans who paid 50k or more for PSL’s….not so much….they got taken. Nice huh? And the team going to straight to hell! Haha

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