Synthetic Turf

The global demand for synthetic turf continues to grow by 15 percent or more annually. It is easy to understand why. The playing surface enabled the Barrow Whalers to become the first Arctic high school football team in northern Alaska, tripled the number of activities that New Jersey’s Sayreville High School held on its field last fall, and earned over $40,000 in rental fees from the community for Turpin High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Synthetic turf also became the preferred solution for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to upgrade and augment its playing fields, making it the number-one municipal purchaser of synthetic turf in the United States.

The escalating need for durable fields that accommodate multiple sports teams and other school and community activities, coupled with the need to reduce water usage and field maintenance costs, has encouraged a rising number of football complexes, schools, municipalities and parks to turn to synthetic turf to balance their program needs. Demand has grown to the point where almost 1,000 multi-use synthetic turf sports fields are installed annually in North America. About half of all NFL teams currently play their games on synthetic turf, and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) has recently called for at least six soccer “pitches” in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to be synthetic.

Although synthetic turf was introduced with much fanfare in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the early 1980s when a vastly improved, second-generation product gained widespread popularity. Today’s third-generation synthetic-turf fields have redefined the term “artificial grass.” In fact, it is supported by the NFL, Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), FIFA and many international federations because it combines the playing characteristics, look and feel of natural turf, with the advantages of increased usage and safety, and all-season and all-weather play.

Increased Playing And Practice Time

If you want immediate gratification, you have it. Synthetic turf is supplanting its grass counterpart in record numbers because it can be used daily and in all types of weather, without worry of damage. In addition, while turf-grass managers recommend against using a natural field for more than 20 to 24 hours per week or 680 to 816 hours per year for a three-season window, synthetic turf can be utilized around 3,000 hours per year with no “rest” required, more than three times that of natural grass. Since it remains uniform and consistent, season after season it has become the preferred choice for many program needs.

For example, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation reports that “synthetic fields may remain open every day of the year, while natural fields must, to survive, be shut down for at least four to five months a year. New York City is so densely populated that all players cannot be accommodated on our existing turf fields, which must be closed when muddy and for reseeding and turf establishment.”

Fewer Injuries

Because synthetic turf is infilled with resilient materials that provide a level of impact attenuation that is difficult to sustain on worn-down, over-used natural-turf fields, its usage can enhance player safety and reduce the number of injuries. Traction, rotation and slip resistance, surface abrasion and stability meet the rigorous requirements of the most respected sports leagues and federations. In fact, the NCAA published the results of a study among schools nationwide comparing injury rates between natural and synthetic turf. During the 2003-2004 academic year, the injury rate during practice was 4.4 percent on natural turf and 3.5 percent on synthetic turf. During games, the injury rates were 11.5 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively.

A five-year prospective study published by The American Journal of Sports Medicine cited higher incidence of zero-day time-loss injuries, noncontact injuries, surface/epidermal injuries, muscle-related trauma and injuries during higher temperatures on synthetic fields, and higher incidence of one- to two-day time-loss injuries, 22+ days time-loss injuries, head and neural trauma and ligament injuries on natural grass.

Environmental Impact

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