Colts exec says Lucas Oil Stadium not considering switch to natural turf – Inside INdiana Business

The Colts and Lucas Oil are preparing to fully open the stadium in 2021. (Photo courtesy: The Indianapolis Colts/

Plan your new artificial turf in Lucas Oil Stadium is moving forward, despite renewed calls from the NFL Players Association for stadiums league-wide to change their playing surfaces to natural grass.

The Capital Improvement Board, which runs the facility, said last month that it would replace the field next summer, switching from one type of artificial turf to another. This plan is still on track.

Pete Ward, Chief Operating Officer at The Indianapolis Colts have confirmed that the team has not been in talks with CIB about switching to natural grass.

“We will always put player safety first, but we also have to do what is practical for our stadium,” he said.

The $1.24 million turf for Lucas Oil Stadium, which will be installed by Texas-based Hellas Construction, is a brand called Matrix. It’s the same turf used at So-Fi Stadium in Los Angeles, AT&T Stadium in Dallas, and NRG Stadium in Houston. Hellas was selected from among five bidders for the project.

The current turf will be removed in March, while the new turf will be installed in late June, after the US Olympic Swimming Trials conclude.

The mono-type surface is the type the NFLPA initially required turf venues to switch to before Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles tendon during the team’s home opener on Sept. 11. Since then, the union’s position has shifted to focusing on wholesale. Switch to natural grass.

“Moving all stadium fields to high-quality natural grass surfaces is the easiest decision the NFL can make,” Lloyd Howell, executive director of the NFLPA, said in a statement last week. “Players overwhelmingly prefer it and the data is clear that turf is simply safer than artificial turf. It’s an issue that was near the top of the players’ list during my team’s visits and I’ve raised it with the NFL.

“While we know there is an investment to make this change, there is a greater cost to everyone in our business if we continue to lose our best players to unnecessary injuries… This is worth the investment and simply needs to change now.”

The NFL Players Association did not respond to an email seeking comment on the plan at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Representatives of CIB and Lucas Oil Stadium also declined to speak in detail on the matter, only issuing a brief statement late last week.

“The new playing surface to be installed at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2024 was selected in close consultation with the Indianapolis Colts,” Lucas Oil Stadium manager Eric Neuberger said in a written statement. “Safety and performance were primary considerations.”

CIB did not answer several follow-up questions emailed, including whether a switch to natural turf had been considered, what the cost would be, who would pay for it and whether it had been in contact with the NFLPA on the matter.

“There are a number of hurdles,” Ward said of switching to natural grass. “I don’t know how natural grass will work in a stadium with a roof, and that hasn’t been discovered yet.”

While some newer roofed facilities such as Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and State Farm Stadium in Arizona can move the playing surface from inside the stadium to outside to expose it to sunlight, such a system was not considered for Lucas Oil Stadium. The place is not equipped for the type of intensive irrigation and drainage needed to grow and maintain natural grass.

According to Milt Thompson, a sports consultant who spent several years as a member of the CIB, the task of installing irrigation and drainage systems would be expensive.

“If they have to convert a field that has no irrigation and no drainage, that’s a big cost — it’s not just a day-to-day cost, it’s a big cost,” Thompson said.

A source familiar with CIB operations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the NFLPA’s order and its potential impact on the league, said it would be impractical for the field to convert to natural grass because the field would be damaged by the ongoing conference activity occurring at the venue.

The stadium is connected to The Indiana Convention Center is frequently used as overflow convention space. For each event, a special heavy-duty pitch is laid over the grass. These pavers protect the grass but may damage the natural grass.

FDIC International, a conference held annually in Indianapolis, displays fire trucks in the field. Gen Con sets up gaming areas. Many sporting events, such as Nike’s Middle East Volleyball Qualifiers event, have created courts on the field. Parties also build their stages above the playing surface.

The source said the NFL has not expressed any concerns about turf regarding the National Scouting Combine, which Indianapolis has hosted since 1987. The other cities now vying for the rights to stage the event — Dallas and Los Angeles — also have artificial turf in their stadiums and the league has not indicated to the need for natural grass for future bidding cycles.

Thompson said the Colts and CIB likely wouldn’t consider moving to natural turf unless forced to do so by NFL rule changes. While the league has remained mum on the subject, such a mandate could be a bigger issue in 2030 when the current collective bargaining agreement between the NFLPA and the league is ready to be renegotiated.

He said it could also come sooner if the NFL chooses to act on its own.

“This is going to be an expensive issue, and they’re going to pass that cost on to everyone,” Thompson said. “But what’s not going to happen is they change those rules carte blanche, right away, without some adjustment to what those expenses look like.”

According to the master lease with the Colts, the Capital Improvement Board is responsible for maintaining the playing surface “in accordance with generally accepted industry standards for the repair, maintenance and replacement of playing surfaces at other NFL stadiums and as recommended by the (turf) manufacturer.”

The CIB is required to replace the playing surface at least once every 10 years, but the existing turf is replaced after five years. Most NFL stadiums with turf now replace their fields every two or three years.

The lease states that the Colts are responsible for any replacements or repairs required by NFL rules. This means that if the NFL requests a change to the playing surface, the team will be on the hook contractually for it.

“CIB assumes no responsibility or liability of any kind for the cost of stadium facilities, improvements, equipment, replacements, repairs or similar items required solely as a result of changes, modifications, supplements or modifications to any NFL rules,” the agreement states.

But who will ultimately pay the price for such a change — if it happens — remains to be seen, Thompson said.

“When you change the rules, everyone has to change their rules…,” he said. “What these two won’t do is break a 20- or 25-year lease in order to accommodate a rule change that can’t be predicted. So, it’s a matter of who does the responsibility shift to and who pays for it. These are not simple issues.”

Both Ward and Thompson said they believe the CIB will work with the Colts on a solution if the switch to turf is mandated by the NFL.

“I think, in theory, they could move, but we have always worked in a wonderful spirit of cooperation,” Ward said.

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