When the expectation for a team is to be playing meaningful home games late into the season and even the postseason, the conditions of the playing surface become an important focus, particularly in a cold-weather community like Kansas City,
It's that line of thinking that recently led to the Kansas City Chiefs installing a $2.2 million heating system under the field at Arrowhead Stadium, which could see the coldest game in its' history on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans as temperatures are set to be in the single digits.
The need for this kind of technology came at a perfect time for the Chiefs, whose 10-3 record has given them a realistic shot of at least one home playoff game, in addition to two key home regular season games left on the schedule as well.
The three-year project to install this multi-million-dollar system concluded last spring with thousands of feet of pipe being installed underneath the playing surface.
These pipes, which snake back and forth from sideline to sideline at a depth of nine inches below the sand that's under the field, are laid out nine inches apart and run from a boiler room.
The boiler room, which houses three three-million BTU boilers, sits underneath the stadium bleachers near the player's entrance tunnel and was installed two years ago as the first step of the process.
"They have four-inch pipes that run to the field from those boilers," Brandon Hamilton, the team's Director of Facilities, explained. "Those four-inch pipes turn into three-quarter inch pipes as they go to the field and they coil back and forth from sideline to sideline."
The boilers heat up the water that goes through the pipes and heats the sand under the field.
The system runs like a thermostat you'd have in your home, automatically flipping on when the temperature gets to a certain pre-set level, which can be changed throughout the year.
Hamilton said it does take a couple of days to get the temperature of the playing surface to a certain level, particularly when it's as cold as it's supposed to be on Sunday, but by game time, the temperature of the field will be around 50 degrees.
While it's not a fast process, it is effective and is being used by most of the northern NFL teams already, and the Chiefs consistently speak with grounds crews of other NFL teams who already have the system.
The investment in this system is another example of how much trust there was that these meaningful games were on the horizon for this team. The organization bet $2 million that it'd be worth it, and they were right.
Players like quarterback Alex Smith have already said it's the best field they've played on since being in Kansas City—they can tell the difference and that means it's serving its purpose.
In addition to the soil temperature, the cold weather also has an effect on how Hamilton and company handle the tarp coming off the field before the game, which you'll see on Sunday before the game against the Titans.
"We're going to blow heat underneath the tarp because what happens is the moisture from the ground comes up from the bottom of the tarp, condensates and forms ice," Hamilton said of the rise in soil temperature from the system. "So we're going to keep the ice from forming on the bottom side of the tarp, but the unknown is when we pull that tarp off and it's three or four degrees Sunday morning, it may instantly frost.
"We may have what looks like a frozen field, but it will be is just the blades of grass having frost on them. The soil itself and the root zone itself will be warm."
While the spirit of installing this technology was first having an ideal playing surface late in the season, the beauty of this system is that it isn't just used to heat the field in historically cold conditions.
"We use it as a tool and it's constantly keeping the soil at the perfect heat for whatever we want to do, whether it's to grow grass, keep the soil soft or things like that," Hamilton added of this system, which was used as early as September. "We did that because the Bermuda grass is a warm-season grass. We wanted to maintain a soil temperature of above 70 degrees for the Bermuda.
"We maintained that temperature through October and then we started turning it down because Rye grass, which is a cold season grass, likes it above 55 degrees, so we turned that temperature down to about 60 degrees to maintain the Rye.
With so many applications available with this system and how it affects the playing surface throughout the year, the Chiefs' investment seems to be paying off, which is happening above the playing surface as well as the team can clinch their third playoff spot in four years under head coach Andy Reid with a victory on Sunday.
For fans heading out to the game, here's some important game day information, including tips on how to stay warm.