Home team’s natural grass will move aside for artificial turf when NFL arrives, thanks to some nifty engineering

Tottenham Hotspur opened its 62,062-seat stadium on High Road in the Tottenham district of North London in April, ending a construction delay of seven months that moved more than half a soccer season and three planned NFL games from the new venue. 

The NFL was planning to start playing games in the venue last fall as part of a 10-year agreement that includes at least two regular-season games at Tottenham every season. That agreement will now kick off in October, when the Chicago Bears play the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 6 and Carolina Panthers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers follows a week later.

When the NFL comes to town, the $1.3 billion stadium will reveal one of its niftiest technological tricks: It can retract its natural grass pitch to reveal an artificial surface to host a decade of NFL games and an assortment of concerts. 

“I think the ability to alter the physical environment to make this an absolutely perfect (English Premier League) stadium with a close and low atmosphere and then with the push of a button reveal a purpose-built NFL stadium with sightlines, locker rooms and press area all built in,” said Christopher Lee, Populous managing director, makes it the first multisport venue that’s custom-designed for each sport. 

Tottenham Hotspur and the NFL have a 10-year deal to bring regular-season games to the venue. (Getty Images)

Making the stadium work equally well for soccer and American football required a revolutionary approach that didn’t harm the natural grass required for soccer and still allowed constant use of the building — both from an economical and sustainable point of view. 

The first technical issue was about sightlines, Lee said. In soccer, the spectators remain low, generally below field level for the first row, and as close as 16 feet from the goal line on the south end where a 17,500-seat “south stand” holds the main supporters section. But in American football, that first seat needs to be at least five feet above the field level to see over the crowded sidelines. When the NFL plays at Wembley, it closes off the first 11 rows. 

“It was a bit like, ‘How do you change that piece without just tenting off the first six to eight rows?’” Lee said. Then the second issue was the need for natural grass for soccer and artificial turf for football to keep the natural grass in tip-top shape. And if there were two surfaces, the potential of hosting both events on the same day comes into play, both from a field-markings and a pitch-quality perspective. 

The “aha” moment, Lee said, came by looking at a set of drawers in the office a bit like a Swiss Army knife, where you pull one out and reveal another beneath it. Moving fields have been done the world over, but never with another field beneath. Using a three-piece tray system, the field splits into three to move outside and around the stadium’s support structures into a garage with grow lights, the ability to create humidity and robotic mowers due to the lack of head space. The grass can stay there for seven days.

Five feet below the natural turf sits the artificial version, making sightlines ideal for both events, Lee said. The stadium comes with two NFL-specific locker rooms and a separate media center. 

“Tottenham Hotspur will be an amazing venue for NFL games and we are very excited about playing football in this magnificent new stadium this fall,” said Christopher Halpin, NFL chief strategy and growth officer. “To be able to bring our game to the passionate U.K. fan base in another truly spectacular setting is something we are really looking forward to.” 

Apart from welcoming the NFL, the stadium, which sits on a tight urban site on Tottenham’s busy High Road, has also quickly become the pride and joy of fans. The 35-degree pitch of the stands is the steepest allowed by code, helping it fit as the only Premier League stadium located on a main street. 

“Our approach right from our first meeting with Daniel (Levy, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club chairman) is if we are going to build a building of this size and grandeur and invest this amount of money and materials, we should be working the building really hard,” Lee said. “It has to be a civic building of the area and for the area.” 

So, along with the multiple uses, whether NFL, rugby or concerts, parts of the building transform during the day too. The 150-member press area becomes a café during the day and bar at night. “It was this whole thing of multi-use, but getting the community totally engaged,” Lee said. 

Using High Road — no true Tottenham fan would support another club in London — as the competition, the in-stadium mix of 8,000 premium seats with a tunnel club and sky lounge comes along with a five-story glass atrium at the sound end accessible to all featuring a street-food style hall dubbed The Market Place. 

“If it is not as good as the local bars and restaurants, they won’t come to the stadium and will be in the pubs they know and love,” Lee said. Of course, the 215-foot-long bar — the longest bar in Europe — has already proved more popular than expected.

“Our new stadium and wider scheme has been developed to deliver an unrivaled fan experience and significant benefits to our local community,” Levy said in a statement. “We want to make this venue a world-class sports and entertainment destination for everyone, in our birthplace of Tottenham.” 

Lee pictures the new stadium as a civic piece or architecture that becomes the town hall for Tottenham. Tucked between “historic bits of architecture” on multiple sides, the contemporary design was meant to show off the building’s place in time. Still, with distinctive sides due to the urban nature of the site — Lee called the shape akin to a squashed egg — designers wanted the architecture dynamic in its form with large, sweeping atriums and a veil wrapping the building that allows light conditions to change the appearance.