M&T's Turf Field Transformed Into Grass Soccer Pitch
By Tim Richardson
When international soccer returns to Baltimore July 28, the field at M&T Bank Stadium will have a different look than during Baltimore Ravens games. Instead of playing on the state-of-the art Sportexe Momentum turf, Tottenham Hotspur will face Liverpool on a natural grass surface specifically installed for the match between the two teams from the Barclays Premier League.
The Ravens brought in 86,400 square feet of Kentucky Blue Grass, a perennial species of grass native to Europe, Asia, North America and northern Africa, for the game. Twenty-four trucks, carrying 530 rolls of sod, began arriving at M&T Bank Stadium July 23. By July 24, a crew of 15 workers transformed the NFL turf field into a natural grass soccer pitch.
The man overseeing the extensive project is the Ravens' head groundskeeper, Don Follett.
The sod is from Tuckahoe Turf Farm in Hammonton, N.J. Follett said the farm was one of the largest growers of sod in the Northeast and a leader in sod and growth technology.
"Tuckahoe's experience in specialty work, such as golf course construction, made the farm a perfect choice for this project," Follett said.
Soccer at the highest levels is played on a natural grass surface and installing such a field was part of the requirements when M&T Bank Stadium hosted the two previous matches in 2009 and 2010. For those previous two friendlies, Bermuda grass was used, but Follett said the teams felt those surfaces were too short. So Follett made the switch to Kentucky Blue grass because it forms a valuable pasture plant, characteristic of well-drained, fertile soil.
"The ground staff at the M&T Bank Stadium have gone to great lengths to prepare the stadium for this game, including laying down grass on the turf," said Darren Eales, Tottenham Hotspur director of football administration. "It is a magnificent arena and we are excited about competing in such an environment."
Even though this is the third international friendly that will be played at M&T Bank Stadium, Follett said each situation was unique and detail driven.
"The actual time the process takes really depends on when the trucks arrive," Follett said. "But we set a goal to have the sod down within two days. We won't line the field until the day of the game."
Roy Sommerhof, Ravens vice president of stadium operations, did not disclose an actual dollar amount, but he did confirm that the entire cost, from delivery to removal, was six figures. But bringing in the natural grass is essential to hosting a match of this caliber.
"Clubs are used to playing on grass and prefer to play on that surface," Sommerhof said.
A new element introduced in this year's transformation process involves the material used between the sod and the turf. For the previous matches, a protective plastic covering was used to separate the football field from the temporary grass surface. But Follett said that material had caused drainage flow issues, so he is using a geotextile fabric for the 2012 match. Geotextiles are permeable fabrics which, when used in association with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect or drain.
"Water will drain through the fabric," Follett said, "while the material's filtration design will keep the dirt off of the turf field. Once water makes its way through the geotextile fabric, it will drain through our regular turf system."
Follett said the covering was made from the same elements used in water bottles, so the material would be recycled after the game. He also said the sod would be returned to Tuckahoe Turf Farm to be reused.
Baltimore has become a popular location for international soccer matches. In 2009, a sold-out M&T Bank Stadium witnessed Chelsea defeat A.C. Milan, while more than 35,000 fans watched Inter Milan play Manchester City a year later. The economic impact of those combined matches was about $25 million.
"These games, along with events like Monster Jam and the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic, add content to what we provide to our season-ticket holders and others in the community who enjoy such events," Sommerhof said. "They help create activity in the stadium when our team is not in season.
"We believe these events are also good for the state and city as they generate admissions tax revenue, increase hotel bookings and add to dollars spent on entertainment."
More than 40,000 tickets have been sold for the match, and Sommerhof said fans would have a unique opportunity to see teams from the Barclays Premier League play each other during a preseason matchup.
"You don't normally have two teams within the same league playing each other in a friendly," Sommerhof said. "Of the more than 30 friendlies taking pace in the U.S. this summer, our match is the only game featuring teams from the same league.
"To put it in perspective, it would be like the Ravens playing the Steelers in a preseason game."
Unlike the previous matches, the Ravens secured this contest themselves, while also serving as the promoter.
Ravens vice president of ticket sales and operations Baker Koppelman estimated that expenses for hosting this game were about $2.5 million, and the effort required from the team was much greater than it was during previous years.
"The process was very labor intensive," Koppelman said. "Between identifying the teams, negotiating contracts, scheduling … it took us about 12 months to finalize everything. Our goal is to present a great event, both in showing how we can put on destination matches for teams who tour the U.S. and for the fans."
Sommerhof said assuming full responsibility for the game was beneficial for the Ravens, because it enabled them to create their own relationships within the soccer world -- something he throught was an asset as the Ravens investigate opportunities with teams for matches in the future.
Tottenham Hotspur, also known as Spurs, was founded in 1882 and has won two League titles, eight FA Cups, four League Cups, two UEFA Cups and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. Liverpool, commonly referred to as the Reds, has won 18 League titles, as well as seven FA Cups, eight League Cups, five European Cups and three UEFA Cups.
Tickets for the match are still available at baltimoreravens.com/tickets or by calling 410-547-7328.
Posted July 27, 2012