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Private equity firm bets on natural grass after artificial turf issues

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Interest in natural turf management company SGL grew after Aaron Rodgers snapped his Achilles on artificial turf four snaps into his Jets debut.

[Simone Del Rosario]

On his first home game on artificial turf, Aaron Rodgers lasted just four snaps before his Achilles snapped. His season-ending injury reignited a fierce debate about the safety of artificial turf.

Now a sports-focused private equity firm is betting big on natural grass. 

[George Pyne]

Sports as an asset class is exploding.

[Simone Del Rosario]

That’s George Pyne, NASCAR’s former COO turned founder of Bruin Capital. Bruin Capital is reportedly buying Dutch turf management company PlayGreen – which owns SGL, Stadium Grow Lighting – for more than $100 million. 

Interest in SGL grew after the Aaron Rodgers injury. Rodgers himself is very familiar with the turf company’s product. He played on a surface it nurtured for most of his career. 

The Green Bay Packers was the first North American team to experiment with the Netherlands light system starting in the 2010 season. Lambeau Field, aka the “Frozen Tundra,” was a prime place to pilot. With less sunlight and unforgiving weather, growing natural grass was a challenge. The lights changed that, Packers fields manager Allen Johnson told AthleticTurf.net in 2014. 

[Allen Johnson]

Without them, I wasn’t, honestly I wasn’t growing anything really well beyond the middle of October. And now, with some decently mild temperatures, I could probably go til the first week of December. 

[Simone Del Rosario]

From Wisconsin to Saudi Arabia, SGL told DealBook, “We’ve proved we can grow grass under any circumstances.”  

SGL has deep roots in the market, with contracts for 90% of stadiums that use grow-light technology. Overall, they say they work with roughly 20% of pro stadiums worldwide. Soccer is their main market, but you can find the tech everywhere from the Masters to Fenway.

Bruin Capital’s bet on green comes as more teams weigh ditching artificial turf for natural or hybrid options. But it’s also on the grounds that PlayGreen is more than a turf company, it’s a tech company. On top of LED grow lights, SGL uses data to predict and treat fungus growth. And with all of its client data, SGL has sights on AI to automate turf management in the future. 

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