One way or another, grass will finally be installed as a permanent surface at Lumen Field by 2026. This will be the culmination of a fight that has been waging at least ever since Referendum 48 — that ultimately funded the stadium’s construction — was put on the ballot for Washington voters in 1997.
It obviously remains to be seen how long that grass surface will stick around after the men’s World Cup, but stadium officials have suggested that it will at least be there for the 2026 Seattle Sounders and Seattle Seahawks seasons.
A question that has sort of gone unanswered is, “Why wait until 2026 to install that grass?”
This is all speculation, but I think there’s a growing case to be made that the time to change to grass is sooner (perhaps after the 2023 season) rather than later (after the 2025 season).
No nonsense, all the time
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Here’s my thinking:
It’s a waste to install new FieldTurf now
As you may know, the Sounders’ lease agreement with First & Goal stipulates that the playing surface must be replaced every four years. The last time it was replaced was in the summer of 2019 and it is theoretically due to be replaced again this summer. Given the congestion of events at Lumen Field, the Sounders confirmed to me that they agreed to delay the installation of the new FieldTurf until after the upcoming Seahawks season.
The good news is that while the current FieldTurf appears to be in pretty bad shape, I haven’t actually heard anyone complaining about how it feels even when asked directly.
Still, putting off the installation of FieldTurf for another six or seven months only shortens the amount of usage it will receive before it’s completely ripped up in early 2026. Sure, the FieldTurf will ultimately end up being donated to some other field and live out its full lifecycle, but that just seems like a waste of resources to install it for just two years.
Bite the bullet now
Whether the grass pitch is installed ahead of the 2026 season or after the 2023 season, the money is going to have to be spent eventually. Given the state of inflation, I think we can also safely say that it’s not going to be any cheaper to install grass in 2026 than it will be in 2024.
The same could be said for all the expenses that will be incurred from new greenskeepers to lawnmowers to grow lights. These are all investments that have to be made anyway, so why not make them now? Sure, there’s two more seasons of presumably more expensive maintenance, but I have to think that’s at least partially mitigated by the cost savings of doing one surface conversion instead of two.
Yes, I know that FIFA is planning to put in their own specialized grass for the World Cup, but I would imagine that process is a lot easier if they are replacing an existing grass field than if they’re having to convert it from FieldTurf.
2024 is a big year
Next season, the Sounders will be celebrating their 50th anniversary. They’re already planning to mark the occasion by opening their new training facility and unveiling a new crest. I’m sure there will be a ton of other activations throughout the season.
Playing that season on a new grass surface would possibly make an even bigger impression. I’m sure that sounds like hyperbole, but I think one of the main obstacles to settling into Lumen Field as the Sounders’ forever home is the playing surface. If First & Goal were to make the commitment to permanently switch to grass, I think that goes a long way toward ensuring the Sounders — and Reign for that matter — never leave. (But let’s not let them off the hook for building dedicated soccer locker rooms and switching to LED signage throughout.)
They might need grass in 2024, anyway
The 2024 Copa America is going to be played in the United States, this much has already been announced. The working assumption is that this will serve as a sort of dry run for the 2026 World Cup and that the 11 U.S. host cities will also host Copa America matches. When the Copa America Centenario was played here in 2016, Lumen Field had to bring in temporary grass.
Installing permanent grass ahead of the 2024 season would obviously negate the need to roll out temporary stuff for this tournament and would presumably allow organizers to bank a bit more money in terms of calculating the overall cost.
No months-long road trips
One side effect of waiting to transition the field until 2026 that hasn’t really been addressed is the impact that will have on the Sounders’ season. If we assume grass installation can’t start until February 2026 and it takes at least three months to complete, that means Lumen Field is off-limits until June. The World Cup is scheduled to kick off on June 11 and run through July 19.
The latest an MLS team has ever played their home opener appears to be June 9, and that was in 2011 when Sporting KC didn’t begin their season until March 19, nearly three weeks later than seasons typically start now. Suffice it to say, the Sounders can’t wait to play home games until late July.
That means the Sounders would need to play some home games at a temporary facility — T-Mobile Park probably makes the most sense — but that would be yet another added expense, to speak nothing of annoying season-ticket holders and potentially weakening the Sounders’ home-field advantage.
If grass is installed ahead of the 2024 season, that might still necessitate an extended season-opening road trip, but it would at least be much more in line with what several other teams have done in the past.
NFL players want grass, too
Not to be lost in all of this discussion, NFL players apparently want to transition to all grass, too. FieldTurf was originally installed at Lumen Field at the behest of then Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren and they have long been presented as the biggest obstacle to making the change. But last year — echoing calls from the Players’ Association — current Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll went on record suggesting the NFL needed to revisit its stance on artificial turf.
More recently, one of Aaron Rodgers former teammates went on a bit of an anti-turf rant:
The NFL has not yet changed its policy, but that seems to be the direction we’re heading. If changing to grass is almost inevitable, again why not now?
Yes, there are plenty of challenges to installing grass at Lumen Field. They’re going to need to find a way to mitigate the impact of non-sporting events and to keep it from falling apart when NFL linemen are digging their cleats into the rain-soaked surface, but new hybrid grass technology seems to be capable of addressing both issues. In researching this over the years, I’ve become convinced that with enough money and resources, there’s no reason this can’t be done. By putting it off, it will likely only end up costing more. If the teams all want grass, if the cost difference is minimal and it leads to a better overall experience, I’m failing to see the compelling reason to wait.