Could grass grow again at Paycor Stadium? Players union calls for grass in all stadiums

Paycor Stadium
Paycor Stadium(The Enquirer)
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 7:49 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2023 at 1:33 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (ENQUIRER) - If the NFL Players Association had its way, grass would grow again in the Bengals’ stadium.

Grass grew, sort of, in Paycor Stadium’s first four years from 2000 to 2004 when it was known as Paul Brown Stadium, according to our media partners at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The players union has called for all NFL fields to have natural grass in the wake of New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending, and perhaps career-ending, injury.

If the NFL heeded the union’s demand, about half of the 30 NFL stadiums, including the Bengals’, would need to change from turf to grass.

Here are six things you might not know about the turf at Paycor and what a change in the surface could mean.

When did Paycor Stadium have grass?

The Bengals played at home on grass from 2000 to 2004. Stadium crews had trouble throughout that time growing grass in the stadium.

A 2004 Cincinnati Post story described the playing conditions as temperatures dropped and the season wore on as the “NFL’s largest sandtrap.” NFL players ranked the grass field at Paul Brown Stadium consistently among the worst in the NFL.

In June 2004, crews rolled out the first layers of FieldTurf in the stadium. The stadium has had artificial turf ever since.

What is the current Paycor playing surface?

Paycor Stadium’s synthetic turf is the same type on which Rodgers suffered his injury. The Bengals are one of seven NFL teams that play their home games on “slit film turf,” according to the NFL Players Association. The other teams that play on slit film are the New York Giants, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts.

The players association contends slit film accounts for a higher level of injuries and last year called on the NFL to ban slit film turf.

“The injuries on slit film are completely avoidable – both the NFL and NFLPA experts agree on the data,” the NFL Players Association wrote. “And yet the NFL will not protect players from a subpar surface.”

What does Joe Burrow think?

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on Wednesday said he’s heard grass fields are safer but thinks the most important thing is for the NFL to adopt a universal turf for all stadiums.

“In the last couple of years, studies have come out how much safer grass fields are,” Burrow said during a press conference Wednesday. “I think that’s important. Obviously, I think the most important thing is having a standard for the turf fields ... and all of them are the same.”

When asked in 2022 about what he prefers to play on, Burrow said he preferred to play on turf.

“I personally like playing on turf,” Burrow told reporters in 2022. “I do wish that each stadium had the same turf. I don’t know – it just feels faster to me.”

What do the Bengals think?

The Bengals didn’t respond to messages on Wednesday and Thursday. In March, Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn said she doesn’t think the turf at Paycor Stadium has been a problem.

“I feel like our surface has served us really well so far,” Blackburn said in March at the owners meeting. “Some of our biggest injuries were on grass fields at other spots. So it’s always hard. There’s so many stats. But there’s a regular replacement (schedule) for the field at the stadium, and we’re sticking with that regular replacement at the moment because our field has served us well.”

What would it cost?

In 2004, news reports estimated the cost of switching the Bengals’ football field from grass to turf would be between $500,000 and $1 million. If adjusted for inflation, that would cost $1 million to $1.7 million today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

In 2022, Cincinnati and Hamilton County made an unsuccessful bid to host the 2026 World Cup and proposed changes to Paycor Stadium, including adding natural grass to the surface.

Hamilton County at the time estimated replacing the synthetic surface with grass and a new drainage system for the World Cup would cost $4 million. Soccer fields are bigger than football fields.

Who would pay for it?

Hamilton County and the Bengals didn’t respond to messages asking about who would pick up the tab.

Hamilton County owns Paycor Stadium and paid for the construction and maintenance through the half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 1996.

The 1997 lease for the stadium between Hamilton County and the Bengals says Hamilton County taxpayers are responsible “for paying the field maintenance expenses.”

The lease also makes Hamilton County taxpayers responsible for routine maintenance. The county reimbursed the team for replacing the synthetic turf in 2018, according to county records, but the cost wasn’t available.

News coverage 20 years ago shows the Bengals have paid for new playing surfaces in the past. An April 2004 story in the Cincinnati Post said the Bengals paid for the installation of the FieldTurf.

This story was written by our media partners at The Cincinnati Enquirer.