AstroTurf, maker of artificial turf for sports, files for bankruptcy; sale of plans

(Reuters) – AstroTurf LLC, the maker of synthetic turf that has lined the Houston Astrodome and other playgrounds for half a century, has filed for bankruptcy protection and plans to be sold after losing a $30 million patent verdict against rival FieldTurf USA Inc..

Pending court approval, Germany’s SportGroup Deutschland Holding GmbH, which makes artificial turf systems and running tracks, has agreed to buy AstroTurf’s turf business for $92.5 million in cash, according to a news release and documents filed Tuesday in a Georgia bankruptcy court.

AstroTurf’s Chapter 11 filing came after a federal jury in Detroit found on Oct. 9 that the private company had willfully infringed a FieldTurf patent related to a system for attaching artificial blades of grass to a layer of woven backing.

The jury awarded FieldTurf $20.3 million for lost profits and $9.7 million for royalties. AstroTurf said it could not afford to post bail to cover a judgment.

A FieldTurf spokesperson said the Montreal-based company will “aggressively oppose” AstroTurf’s proposed sale in court.

“FieldTurf views the proposed transaction as an attempt to deprive AstroTurf’s creditors of the fair value of the assets and avoid payment of AstroTurf’s outstanding patent infringement verdict,” the spokesperson said.

Invented in 1964 and once known as “Chemgrass”, AstroTurf got its name from its installation in 1966 in the covered Astrodome, where grass could not survive due to low light conditions.

Many professional and college sports teams have subsequently installed AstroTurf, although some have switched in recent years to grass or softer artificial surfaces.

AstroTurf was also used for the backyard of the Brady family home in the 1970s comedy “The Brady Bunch.”

AstroTurf LLC is based in Dalton, Georgia. SportGroup has offices in Burgheim, Germany, and said it provided pitches and tracks for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The case is In re: AstroTurf LLC, US Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Georgia, No. 16-41504.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry

Terri S. Tomasini