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Synthetic Turf Sports History – Gaining Steam

By Denise Valenzuela

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In the previous post we examined the early developments of synthetic turf, how it was created, developed, patented and ultimately used for major sporting facilities.  Here we dive into the middle generation of synthetic fields and how they rose to popularity.  Still a far cry from today’s synthetic turf technology this time period was critical in the development of an industry.

The first third-generation synthetic soccer field was installed in the Netherlands in 1996. Of course, it didn’t just suddenly appear; a history led up to it. What is that history? What are synthetic turf’s origins? Where does it stand today? What do players think of it?

Houston, we have a problem.
The year was 1965. The place was Houston, Texas. More specifically, the Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium. The field of the Astrodome had been covered in natural grass. Of course, the grass needed to be kept nice and green, which requires sunlight. So the Astrodome was built with a transparent roof to let the sun shine in.

There was just one problem. The glinting of the sun on the roof caused serious problems for players trying to catch fly balls. To solve the problem, the roof was painted. As you might guess, that solution beget another problem: the grass no longer received sunlight.

As a solution to this new problem, the stadium owners and engineers decided to replace the grass with the first ever artificial playing surface. This was a green carpet made of nylon fibers. The surface was installed for the baseball season of 1966 and a new era was born.

Synthetic turf, the first generation.
Synthetic turf carpet was introduced to Europe in 1970. But this carpet was different. Instead of nylon fibers, it was made of a different synthetic fabric: polypropylene. It was cheaper than nylon. It was more comfortable. And polypropylene was softer so players were at less risk of injury. This first generation of synthetic turf was what we now call carpets, with closely packed tufts.

 

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