Season Cup, Riyadh’s showpiece football tournament featuring Messi and Ronaldo, was made possible thanks to the world’s first fully indoor hybrid pitch built in 21 days by global sports surfaces specialist, SIS Pitches.

The competition forms part of the Riyadh Season, a festival featuring both live sport and entertainment in the capital, funded by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund. All Season Cup games take place at the Kingdom Arena in front of 24,000 fans. During the competition, the stadium received two Guinness World Records. The first for being the largest covered football stadium; the second for having the largest seating capacity for an indoor covered stadium.

Setting the stage for the cup’s major fixtures, including Al Nassr vs. Inter Miami, was a major challenge for SIS Pitches. Construction and development of the elite indoor sports venue started in late 2023, giving the business a much shorter window to install and prepare a playing surface fit for top-level competition.

However, this short window was only one part of the challenge. SIS also had to ensure the natural turf grew strong enough to properly secure the small percentage of synthetic fibres stitched into the arena’s surface, as is standard for hybrid pitches of this type. This process was made harder by the arena’s fully indoor design, which has no windows or roof for sunlight to enter. The SIS team worked around this by using ultraviolet growing lights to prepare the pitch in time.

Sela, the developer responsible for the arena, requested a game-ready playing surface in just three weeks, much shorter than the typical window for a major development of this type. This aligned with the pace of construction for the wider stadium, which was completed in just 60 days.

Speed and resilience were key. SISGrass, the solution specified by SIS, merges natural turf with a small percentage of polymer yarn. Already used by many of the most recognisable names in sports, this mixture is injected by the company’s patented electric stitching machine, providing a more consistent and resilient playing surface. SIS’s machine is capable of covering 1300m2 metres per day with a 90mm shallow stitch, making it ideal for quick installs like that requested by Sela.

SISGrass is much harder-wearing than an all-natural pitch, and is proven to accommodate more playing hours while also being less susceptible to wear or damage. This was particularly important for the Kingdom Arena, given the small window groundspeople have to prepare between entertainment and sports events.

The stadium is home to Saudi Professional League team Al Hilal. It will also host several other major sporting events in the coming months, including two heavyweight championship boxing fights. The Kingdom Arena is similar to New Zealand’s Forsyth Barr Stadium, which is also indoors, though the latter is fitted with a transparent roof allowing sunlight to enter. Riyadh’s stadium is therefore the first fully indoor facility to be completed.

David Ball, Managing Director at SIS Saudi said “This project had an incredibly challenging timeline but our team was able to mobilise quickly, delivering a high-quality playing surface fit for what arguably football’s two greatest ever players. We knew the arena was going to be used for other sports and entertainment, so the pitch had to be capable of accommodating short turnarounds between events. SISGrass was a natural choice in this respect, having already proven itself the best option for groundspeople across the world.”

Based in Riadyh’s Boulevard City development, the Kingdom Arena boasts all the facilities expected from a modern stadium, fitted with a state-of-the-art air monitoring system and 20 skyboxes.

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