The English Premier League Summer Series took place in the United States for the first time, with six soccer clubs participating in matches and events across five major U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, from July 22-30, 2023.1
The tournament kicked off at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, on July 22, with Chelsea FC taking on Brighton & Hove Albion FC, and continued on July 23 with a double-header featuring Fulham FC vs. Brentford FC followed by Newcastle United FC vs. Aston Villa FC.
In an interview with SportsField Management magazine prior to the Premier League Summer Series, Philadelphia Eagles Vice President of Grounds Tony Leonard discussed preparation for the event, as well as how the Premier League Summer Series will help Philadelphia to prepare for the FIFA World Cup in 2026.2
SportsField Management(SFM): You have hosted major international soccer matches at Lincoln Financial Field in the past, and you deal with a lot of other events – from concerts to Monster Jam to WrestleMania to the NHL Stadium Series – so you are no stranger major events that extend beyond football. What does the overall planning and process look like for these types of special events, and how do you approach the unique challenges?
Leonard: It all starts with working with our stadium operations staff and the folks who plan events in our stadium throughout the year. It’s like a puzzle – where do you fit in the grass and the grass maintenance? This soccer event is sandwiched between two major concerts – Beyonce and Luke Combs – so we have to balance all of that. But we work with a great sod farm, Tuckahoe Turf Farms, and we direct them on the maintenance. We make weekly trips to the farm to check on the grass, make any recommendations, tweak anything, and make any last-minute adjustments; and then we will be ready for installation a week prior to the first match. Following Beyonce, we will remove the stage, remove the flooring, put the sod in, maintain that for a week prior, and host the matches. Then, the morning after the last match, we will roll the sod back up and get ready for Luke Combs. As with anything we do, details matter. When you get to this level, you just have to make sure you cross your t’s and dot your i’s.
SFM: You will be hosting three Premier League matches in the span of two days. What does the preparation entail leading up to the event, and also on game day, to ensure the best and safest playing surface?
Leonard: This starts months ago when the event is first announced, and then we go from there. It’s going to the sod farm and seeing what we have to work with. And it’s working with great partners – FMC and Tuckahoe Turf Farms.
Going into the weekend of the event, there will be training on Friday. Saturday – with one game – will be fairly simple, weather dependent. Sunday will be a little bit of a challenge having two games. We have the first game in the afternoon, so there will be pre-game waterings to keep the surface integrity and keep the ball speed up. That’s a little different from what we normally do. Then, of course, we will preserve the surface and make sure it is in top shape for the second match. Any athlete that hits our playing surface wants to be on the best possible surface, so we try to achieve that.
SFM: What type of turfgrass will the matches be played?
Leonard: This will be Kentucky bluegrass, which is a little different from what we typically have on our stadium field, but closer to what the soccer players are used to and what they like. Ball roll and ball bounce are important. It’s still going to be the middle of summer, and it will still be hot. We are keeping our fingers crossed that it won’t be too hot. It will be a good test. We are looking ahead to 2026, the FIFA World Cup, and what will be the best surface.
SFM: Speaking of the World Cup, how does hosting the Premier League Summer Series help you prepare for 2026?
Leonard: I think the biggest thing in 2026 is how our fields are going to expand – the length and the width. Unfortunately, that’s something that’s not easily done in any NFL stadium without removing some rows of seats, but it’s something we are gearing up for. The technology and techniques are always evolving. We were in Qatar in November for the World Cup, and we learned quite a bit from those folks and seeing how they do things; then we can add our little spin to it. We all work together; this is not a competition to see who can have the best field. One thing is for certain, FIFA wants all of the venues to have the best field – they want them all to be great. That collaborative approach between us and FIFA is how we achieve that. To do these international soccer matches and bring in the English Premier League, get their feedback to see what works and what doesn’t work, will be great for us.
SFM: Beyond the 16 host stadiums, what will the practice site situation look like for the World Cup?
Leonard: There will be 49 base camps. There will be a record 48 teams playing in this World Cup, and there will be one referee base camp (the referees will have their own practice facility). On top of that, there will be 32 practice sites outside of the base camps. When a team comes to Philadelphia, there will be a couple fields here in the city. We will work with whoever manages those fields to make sure we have consistency. Easy to do in Qatar when you have eight stadiums in the same city versus 16 stadiums spread out throughout Mexico, the United States and Canada. You are hitting every different climate and a lot of different areas with regard to humidity, heat and altitude.
SFM: You briefly mentioned your partners. FMC Corp is serving as presenting sponsor and “Official Turf Care Provider” for the Premier League Summer Series at Lincoln Financial Field. What does that partnership mean for you and your crew?
Leonard: It ensures that we have some of the top people in that industry here in Philadelphia. They are literally a phone call away. We can work with them at our practice facility, and we were able to do some different trials with them. We have some unique situations here with the heat system and trying to grow grass in January, and they can help us with that.
SFM: Is there anything you would like to add?
Leonard: We have a dedicated crew, and it takes a lot of time and attention – at a time when we’re shifting gears to get ready for Philadelphia Eagles training camp. I have to give a shout out to everyone on our grounds staff who makes all this happen.
Also, kudos to the Eagles organization. We couldn’t do any of this without support from the top, and that starts with Mr. Lurie. He always wanted a natural grass field coming from Veterans Stadium, and he gave us all the tools to work with: a SubAir system, underground heating, and being able to go from cool-season to warm-season grasses – and to trust us to do that. A lot of that has helped build a case for Philadelphia to get a World Cup – not only the commitment by the Eagles but the commitment by the city. I think that’s how we ended up where we are today.
1 The Premier League Summer Series also visited Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia; Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida; Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey; and FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
2 Lincoln Financial Field be one of 16 stadiums across the United States, Canada and Mexico to serve as a FIFA World Cup 2026 host venue.