Chelsea/Wrexham latest example of Triangle’s sporting successes

Kenan Stadium transformed for soccer showdown

Chelsea fans cheer after a goal against Wrexham during a FC Series match at University of North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC on July 19, 2023. PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL

The Triangle is proving to be a premier destination for major sporting events in North Carolina as, yet again, another massively successful venture happened right within its borders.  

It was the second time this year that one of the area’s local universities transformed its college football stadium into a brand new venue for an event never before seen in the area.  

In February, it was the NHL heading outdoors as the Carolina Hurricanes hosted the Washington Capitals for the NHL’s Stadium Series in Carter-Finley Stadium and this time, it was Kenan Stadium hosting a FC Series match between two of Europe’s most popular clubs in Chelsea FC and Wrexham AFC. 

Putting on these events is an undertaking of massive proportions because the facilities aren’t readily available, they have to be assembled. 

In Raleigh, it was the creation and sustentation of ice at Carter-Finley Stadium and in Chapel Hill, it was the laying of 100,000 square feet of fresh sod on the artificial turf of Chris Smith Field. 

“This is a first on this field since we’ve been artificial,” said UNC’s Director of Athletic Grounds and Turf Management Casey Carrick. “But we’ve been to Bank of America in Charlotte and helped with a couple of those flip-overs so it’s not a new process to us, but it is new for Kenan. 

“The sod is specifically made for applications like this. It’s a four month process to grow the sod at the farm. It’s grown on plastic so the depth of it is pretty consistent and uniform throughout the whole thing. It weighs 17 pounds a square foot so it’s very heavy. There’s a couple of machines out here that push it together really tight and make the seams almost unnoticeable and so once it’s in place it really doesn’t go anywhere.” 

According to Carrick, the sod that Chelsea and Wrexham played on is the same one utilized in various NFL stadiums. 

The sod was laid one week prior to the match and was ready for game day with no issues. 

“When we heard it had only been put down last week, I think everybody was a little bit nervous, but it played incredibly well,” said Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson. “You’ve got to give the grounds staff and the technology so much credit for that. For it to knit together so quickly, it was amazing. We all thought it was going to cut up, but it didn’t. It was a fantastic playing surface, so credit to everybody involved.” 

If you build it, they will come.  

That’s proving to be a non-debatable truth in an area hungry and capable of hosting high-end sporting events. Each event this year has not only been embraced by the local communities, but they’ve been events that have been sought out by national and even international crowds as well. 

Even the training sessions for Wrexham were met with huge turnouts at Wakemed Soccer Park despite the heat and humidity and the fact that it was, again, just a practice. 

“The open training session was fantastic,” Parkinson said. “It was a great chance to engage with all the supporters, both the Wrexham and Chelsea ones. It’s been enjoyable. All around the area we’ve interacted with fans and that’s been a real pleasure. 

And it’s not even just these major events either. Smaller events such as Major League Crickets tournament in Morrisville and the Savannah Bananas stop at DBAP earlier this month have been met with tons of buzz and sold out crowds as well. 

Add in the legalization of sports betting in North Carolina with the recently approved House Bill 347, and even more avenues of revenue and tourism have started to open up for the area, especially with PNC Arena already slated to be one of the locations with an on-site sports book. 

The Triangle is not only home to some of the greatest college sports in the country, but it’s proven itself to also be a perfect stage for some of the world’s top sports and teams as well. It’s a diverse area with a common love, sports, and that should be all the evidence organizers need to start working to bring even more events to the area.