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NFL aims to Improve Safety and Consistency of Playing Surfaces with Crowd-Sourced Challenge

Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson is carted off the field after suffering a broken fibula
Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson is carted off the field after suffering a broken fibula

Playing surfaces have, in recent years, become a point of division between players and ownership around professional sports - particularly in the NFL. The biggest reason for player pushback has been a greater risk of injury based on player statements.

Several Carolina Panthers players have been vocal about the playing surface at Bank of America stadium including linebacker Shaq Thompson.

In a statement released by the NFL on Thursday, the league is launching the HealthTECH Challenge I program. The crowd-sourced challenge is designed to accelerate innovations that can help make playing surfaces more consistent and safer for players.

The league has partnered with Football Research, Inc. (FRI) and Duke Biomedical Engineering (Duke BME). And program organizers have invited submissions that address several possible elements of natural and synthetic playing surface safety. These areas included address issues from player safety to quality of the field of play.

New or improved field maintenance techniques, equipment that reduces variability across the surface and/or over time and methodologies to prolong the viability of natural grass surfaces in NFL stadiums are a few of the categories listed. Other categories to be considered are topical treatments for synthetic surfaces that improve traction for players, equipment to protect playing surfaces during non-sporting events and field usage monitoring technologies.   

The challenge will provide up to $100,000 to entrants with ideas that further improve the safety and consistency of playing surfaces. The individuals or groups who submit projects that are selected for funding will have the opportunity to work with an expert support team to further develop their concept and plan for creating a finished product. 

In addition to companies that currently specialize in playing surfaces, the Challenge is open to submissions from companies and new ventures from outside the surface industry, including representatives of academic institutions, design houses and other entities that specialize in engineering, advanced manufacturing and material science.

“Our goal for this challenge is to generate fresh and creative ideas to complement our ongoing efforts to create the best possible playing surfaces for NFL players that is consistent and safe,” said Jennifer Langton, senior vice president of health and safety innovation at the NFL. “Crowd-sourced challenges like this one are a unique opportunity to tap into a wide range of expertise and make the game safer for players on the field."

  • Nov. 16, 2023 to Feb. 20, 2024 Submit Application

  • March-April 2024: Review by Duke BME and a panel of expert judges established jointly by Duke BME and FRI.

  • April 2024: Deadline for a selection of finalists and oral presentations on the submissions.

  • May 2024: Final selection.

  • May 2024-May 2025: Funding period.

The Carolina Panthers currently play on artificial turf at Bank of America stadium. The practice fields are natural grass.

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