Etihad Stadium provides a natural turf playing surface with a total area of 19,000m2. Currently the arena is made up of 17,600m2 of natural turf and 1,400m2 of synthetic turf, which runs the entire perimeter of the arena. For an AFL match the boundary line is 5 metres from the fence line and the synthetic turf is 3 metres wide and is situated outside the playing area.
From fence to fence the arena dimensions are 169.5m from north to south and 140m from east to west. For an AFL event, the distance between the north to south goal lines is 159.5m and from the east to west boundary lines is 130m.
Etihad Stadium arena surface dimensions
The arena at Etihad Stadium is a sand profile surface, which is used in many stadia throughout Australia, including the MCG.
The Etihad Stadium profile is typical of most sand profile surfaces; it includes aggregate, gravel, sand and turf. The 500mm profile also comprises drainage and irrigation systems and is situated on a concrete base.
Under arrangements with the AFL, Etihad Stadium is contracted to provide a natural turf surface.
The usage of the stadium requires that the natural turf profile is designed to effect change and replacement of turf due to intense usage. In the 10 year period, a number of systems have been used and trialled.
Etihad Stadium sand-based turf profile with drainage and irrigation ‘in situ’
Wherever possible, Etihad Stadium, through its Arena Management team led by General Manager, Gavin Darby, grows turf ‘in situ’. This means the venue attempts to maintain existing turf and only replaces turf when it is considered necessary.
In order to grow strong turf, the venue requires a window of opportunity with optimum growing conditions. The most effective growing periods for rye grass are outside the coldest periods of winter and the hottest periods of summer. Temperatures between 10 and 25 degrees are regarded as the best growing periods. When temperatures are too hot or too cold rye grass becomes dormant.
Conditions within the stadium, specifically shade patterns and a lack of air circulation, can produce negative conditions in terms of a capacity for grass growth. Such negative conditions can also introduce other issues such as disease, which the Arena Management team manages and controls.
Etihad Stadium follows a maintenance program of its turf, which can vary depending on event schedule, event type and climatic conditions.
A typical weekly maintenance program may involve:
•A turf nutrition program.
•A light renovation on a fortnightly basis that includes a form of aeration, over seeding followed by a light top dressing.
•The artificial lighting rigs are a key pillar of the management program and are regularly used between March and October.
•Turf irrigation via a computer controlled sprinkler system, which also includes the use of wetting agents.
•Grass is mown to between 26mm and 32mm on match days, but sometimes length varies according to sporting code and temperature.
The stadium’s retractable roof remains open throughout the course of a week in order for the ground to be watered with natural precipitation. If this does not occur, the stadium uses its harvested water where possible.
Etihad Stadium is exempt from Victorian water restrictions as it is classified as a venue that hosts events of national and international significance. However, the venue is conscious of water saving and uses harvested storm water, wherever possible.
Etihad Stadium is privately owned and is required to generate a financial return for its more than 2 million superannuants who have a vested interest in the venue.
Therefore the venue has a need to continue with a complete fixture of sport and entertainment events throughout each year, which includes concerts, which can lead to turf stress. This may necessitate a balanced turf replacement program depending on the type of events staged, the number of events hosted and the length of time the roof is closed, which causes a lack of natural light.
The venue is always committed to investigating the world’s leading technologies and regularly visits stadia and turf industry experts around the globe. This type of examination was one reason for the venue deciding to introduce its grow lights, which are now used at the MCG and ANZ Stadium.
Etihad Stadium is a multipurpose venue which hosts as many as 85 sports and entertainment events per year. Our major hirer is the AFL which on average schedules 50-55 matches per year including NAB Cup pre-season games and the occasional final.
Furthermore, the stadium hosts domestic and international soccer events, rugby matches (Union and League) as well as concerts and entertainment events with the ability to have 60,000 plus patrons.
The venue has regularly hosts major entertainment artists including U2, Bon Jovi, ACDC, Eminem and Andre Rieu.
Etihad Stadium was the first venue in Australia to introduce Stadium Grow Lights.
The Melbourne Stadiums Limited Board of Directors approved the spending of $2.5 million in 2007, enabling the purchase and transportation of 17 lighting rigs, which arrived at the stadium in January 2008, from the Netherlands. The decision to purchase the lighting rigs was only made after in depth international research undertaken by members of the stadium’s senior executive.
The lights which simulate sunlight and generate warmth had been in use in Europe and the UK where often less sunlight is available during a day.
The lighting rigs today are a trade mark of some 30 of the world’s great stadia.
The initial research of the lights’ viability at Etihad Stadium needed to consider the enclosed nature of the venue as well as significant shade patterns.
Due to their eventual success, the venue’s Arena Management team has successfully been able to cultivate grass during what are traditionally non-growing periods i.e. winter.
The following schedule refers to the turf replacement program over the past five years:
2006 - 15,103m2
2007 - 8,829m2
2008 - 587m2
2009 - 730m2 (plus 285m2 for Sensation and 3 moving stand movements)
2010 - 14,165m2
Etihad Stadium grow lights in full use
Etihad Stadium is widely known for its unique retractable roof – the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Furthermore, Etihad Stadium is the only AFL venue with a roof, which provides dry conditions for patrons and players at all times. The roof takes eight minutes to open or close.
In all cases the hirer of the venue directs Etihad Stadium as to whether or not the roof is to be open or closed. Stadium event managers, however, will often seek advice from Victoria’s Bureau of Meteorology and in turn relay information to the hirer.
For Australian Rules matches for example, the AFL determines if it requires the roof to be open or closed. AFL representatives direct the stadium of its decision prior to gate opening time, which is two hours before an event.
The roof is not closed for every event at the stadium and is often left open unless there is inclement weather forecast.
The roof, however, tends to be closed for most night events particularly during the winter months but it may remain open for day events, especially if warm and sunny weather is expected.
Etihad Stadium roof closed during an AFL game
The Etihad Stadium arena is predominantly irrigated by rain water harvested from the venue’s retractable roof.
A comprehensive sprinkler system, which has a capacity to water the entire playing surface, lies under the venue’s field of play.
In 2008, Etihad Stadium reinforced its position as an environmentally responsible venue by installing 17 large water tanks, which have a capacity to store up to one million litres of rainwater.
By the end of July, 2010 the venue had harvested 17.8 million litres of rainfall.
In addition, water collected off the roof is used for the flushing of toilets at Levels 1 and 2 of the stadium on event days, and for the washing of equipment.
AFL Guidelines/Surface Parameters
The AFL provides parameters or ground surface guidelines to all venues throughout Australia where AFL home and away games are played.
These relate to the aesthetic appearance of a ground, but also include the following: turf cover, levelness of the surface, surface stability, irrigation, use of sprinklers, surface hardness, traction and surface consistency.
Etihad Stadium’s surface meets all guidelines outlined by the AFL, which are checked on a weekly basis. This was further confirmed by the AFL mid-season report, which was released on Friday 23 July, 2010, by the AFL’s independent ground auditor, AGCSA.
Clegg Hammer Readings, which measure the hardness of a surface, are taken on the Friday of each AFL round and the results of Etihad Stadium ground inspections are supplied to all competing clubs, as well as the AFL and the AFL Players Association.
AFL Ground Inspections
Ground inspections take place on a Friday at Etihad Stadium before every round of AFL matches played at the venue.
Inspections occur after weekly ground maintenance has been completed by the stadium’s Arena Management team.
Attendees invited to the inspections include representatives from:
• AFL Players Association
• Competing Clubs (representing clubs playing in weekend matches at Etihad Stadium)
• Etihad Stadium
• AFL Turf Consultant
The ground is inspected for aesthetics, hardness, traction, surface consistency and stability.
Maintenance undertaken during a week is shared with all participants attending the inspection, including the participating clubs.
In addition, the AFL conducts its own independent audits, to measure the surface against AFL guidelines.