FieldTurf Inc., a manufacturer of artificial athletic turf in which recycled rubber is a crucial ingredient, has hit the major leagues-literally and figuratively.
For the first time, FieldTurf has been installed as the playing surface in the stadiums of two National Football League teams. The Seattle Seahawks were first with FieldTurf by one week, opening Seahawks Stadium with FieldTurf installed on Sept. 15. One week later, Ford Field in Detroit-home of the Detroit Lions-opened with new FieldTurf featuring a unique Detroit touch: the rubber undercushion for the playing surface was made from part of the 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires recalled by Ford Motor Co. in May 2001.
FieldTurf isn't exactly new to the NFL-a total of 10 teams, the most recent addition being the Oakland Raiders, use the surface for their practice fields. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were the first college football team to install FieldTurf in their stadium, in fall 1999, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the first major league baseball team to play on the surface, in spring 2000.
Professional soccer teams and other college and school athletic departments followed suit, so that to date the Montreal-based company has installed more than 430 athletic fields in North America, Europe and New Zealand. Simply speaking, FieldTurf facilitates play in major athletic events, the company said. The soft, synthetic carpet-which resembles grass in appearance and texture-doesn't entangle cleats the way old artificial turf did, while the infill of rubber and silica sand provides a softer, more resilient surface that reduces injuries to players.
The surface lasts eight to 12 years and requires no maintenance other than an occasional brushing, according to the company.
FieldTurf Inc. began life as SynTenni Co. in 1988. Founder and President Jean Prevost, a former professional tennis player, developed the company's first products-synthetic grass for tennis courts, and a synthetic surface designed to reduce wear and tear on golf practice tees.
The company's emphasis changed, however, when John Gilman-a former quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League-joined as CEO. Mr. Gilman steered the company's business toward athletic fields and by 1993 it got its first contracts to lay FieldTurf in indoor soccer stadiums.
It was no big deal for FieldTurf to use recalled Firestone tires for Ford Field, particularly since Ford played a major role in the building of the stadium, Mr. Gilman said. ``There was no bidding,'' he said. ``It was just a matter of course.''
FieldTurf uses approximately 20,000 recycled tires for every football field, he added.