Half a century ago, the story of Polytan began with the production of shock-absorbing, seamless tartan race tracks, initially under the name of Firl + Schretter Sportstättenbau, based in Neuburg an der Danube.
The company founders were forward-thinking with their product choice. Just a year earlier in 1968, the athletics competitions of the Mexico Summer Olympics had taken place for the first time on a modern tartan track instead of traditional cinder track. The synthetic sports surface experienced its breakthrough in Germany at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where the circular track in the Olympic Stadium was made of polyurethane-bonded plastic. Polytan, then Firl + Schretter Sportstättenbau, had installed their first synthetic surface one year earlier in Munich’s Leopoldstraße. Although the first circular track in the Munich Olympic Stadium did not originate from Polytan, the sports flooring manufacturer renewed the surface under Frei Otto’s famous tented roof twice in the following decades: in 1997 for the SPAR European Cup Athletics Final and in 2002 for the 18th European Athletics Championships.
Two years after the Olympic Games in Munich, the company headquarters were relocated from Neuburg an der Danube to Burgheim. The sports floor manufacturer is still based there today. The company headquarters was extensively expanded in 2017 and today boasts a modern premises with around 80 employees – working for Polytan and Sport Group Holding, the group to which Polytan belongs. The Burgheim headquarters is highly recognisable thanks to its chili red running track, which extends approximately 65 m along the building’s main façade and ends in big waves at a PolyPlay Arena – a mini playing field with artificial grass and high ball fences. It has been part of the Polytan range since 2007. At that time, as a DFB cooperation partner, Polytan was allowed to plan and implement the nation-wide, youth-focused ‘1,000 DFB mini-pitches for Germany’ initiative.
It all began in 1969 with the development and installation of tartan running tracks. Today, Polytan is one of the world’s leading suppliers of highly functional outdoor sports flooring systems – both for seamlessly laid plastic surfaces and for artificial grass with an elastic layer. The range also includes shock-absorbent surfaces for playgrounds and fun parks. The sports surfaces are suitable for numerous ball sports and athletic disciplines, and are just as well suited to large football and athletics stadiums as leisure, school and club sports facilities. They are also available as temporarily installations. Examples include the Polytan artificial turf pitch, which was built in front of the Brandenburg Gate on the occasion of the UEFA Champions Festival 2015, and the ‘Blue Track’, which is built every year at the Mercedes-Benz Arena (formerly O2 World Berlin) for the ISTAF Indoor athletics meeting in Berlin. The fact that sports flooring from sports floor manufacturer Polytan enjoys international recognition today, and can be found all over the world, is thanks to well thought-out designs. During product development in Polytan’s in-house laboratories, the various components are fine-tuned and adapted to meet the desired requirements. After all, an artificial grass football pitch with a granulate infill for FC Bayern Munich demands different playing characteristics than a Polytan infill-free artificial turf pitch for Crefelder HTC first-division hockey club.
Over the last 50 years, both the sports flooring range and company name have changed. From Firl + Schretter Sportstättenbau came Polytan Sportstättenbau GmbH, then Polytan STI and now simply Polytan GmbH.
Today, the Burgheim sports floor manufacturer is part of Sport Group Holding, a continuously expanding corporate group that specialises in sports flooring. Between 2007 and 2014, the companies STI, EnviroSport, Sportsbygg and TeamSports were added, and in 2016 US artificial grass manufacturer AstroTurf. Today, the holding comprises a total of 20 companies from nine countries. The number of employees amounts to approximately 1,900. Development of the Polytan logo has also been an exciting process. The large orange logo of the early years developed into bright red lettering with colourful running track details in the background; typical of the wild seventies. Today, the elegant grey perfectly reflects the spirit of the times and the high quality of Polytan products.
Today, synthetic surfaces from Burgheim-based Polytan can now be seen in many major athletics stadiums across the world. In 2019 alone, five of the fourteen IAAF Diamond League athletics meets will be held on Polytan running tracks. International top-level sports were held on a Polytan running track for the first time in 1974 at the Pragerstadion, Vienna. Other milestones include the refurbishment of the running track at the Wildparkstadion in Karlsruhe in 1978 and the first new foreign installation of a running track in Dalian, China, in 1987. Other great success stories include the 2002 European Athletics Championships in Munich and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. For this event, Polytan installed two synthetic surfaces at the Chaoyang Sports Centre.
Polytan made its breakthrough in the artificial-grass-for-sports-fields sector as part of the third generation of artificial turf in the 1990s. But what makes Polytan artificial grass systems so special?
This design revolutionised the use of artificial grass in professional football by providing similar playing properties to natural grass and offering sustainable protection against injury for the players. At the same time, Polytan began its own artificial grass production in Grefrath. To date, Polytan is the only artificial turf manufacturer in the world that develops and produces its own masterbatches – also known as PE polymer formulations. A masterbatch formulation determines the specific properties of the artificial grass filament such as resilience, colour, UV resistance, elasticity and surface temperature. This means that product quality can be enhanced from the outset.
The high quality of Polytan artificial grass for football has also ensured the company’s continuous participation in the FIFA Quality Programme for Football Turf since 2003. In the same year, the first sports field made with Polytan artificial grass was awarded the FIFA Recommended 2 Star certificate. Back in 2011, there was no other artificial turf manufacturer worldwide that had more artificial turf pitches with the FIFA Recommended 2 Star quality seal.
The significance of the year 2003 for Polytan’s artificial grass division can be demonstrated by its equipping of the Red Bull Arena in Salzburg, where the Austrian first division club FC Red Bull Salzburg plays its home games on artificial turf. The contract was awarded to Polytan for the new LigaTurf monofilament, a modern artificial turf system with natural, grass-like playing properties. The subsequent model, the LigaTurf RS+ was introduced in 2008, and continues to set the benchmark for artificial grass systems in professional football thanks to enhanced technical innovations, including its once-unique filament cross section. Other European football stadiums in which national first-division matches were played on Polytan artificial grass quickly followed. These include the Swiss national stadium ‘Stade de Suisse’ in Bern, the Swiss ‘Stade de la Maladière’ in Neuenburg, the French ‘Stade Marcel Pico’ in Nancy and ‘Stade du Moustoir – Yves Allainmat’ in Lorient. In 2015, the first FIFA Women’s World Cup was held entirely on artificial grass. The final took place at the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver on a specially provisioned Polytan LigaTurf RS+ CoolPlus system.
In addition to producing synthetic turf systems for football, in 2012 Polytan was licensed as a ‘Preferred Pitch Producer’ for the World Rugby association and a ‘Preferred Supplier’ for the FIH (Hockey Pro League). This means that Polytan’s unfilled artificial hockey turf systems are an indispensable part of this international top-class sport. For example, the Burgheim sports flooring manufacturer not only equipped the hockey pitches for the 2000 Sidney, 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Summer Olympics with artificial turf, but the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics as well. European and World Hockey Championships, and numerous first-division clubs followed suit.
An essential component of this success is the company’s continuous development of hockey artificial turf systems: With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the 2022 Hockey World Championship in sight, Polytan launched a sustainable turf that is partly made from renewable resources and produced with components made by Braskem, the world’s largest bioplastics manufacturer. Poligras Tokyo GT artificial turf is part of the environmentally friendly Green Technology range, which features sustainable products and which is set to be continuously expanded by Polytan in the future – both for the artificial grass and athletics tracks sectors.