Climate Change & Major League Baseball: A Strikeout?

And it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.

Strolling down Yawkey Way and passing through the turnstiles of Fenway Park to watch the Boston Red Sox is a special experience for any baseball fan. Few, however, pause to consider the impact climate change has – and will have – on the “old ball game,” and whether climate change may strike Major League Baseball (“MLB”) out.

Including spring training and the playoffs, the MLB season typically lasts from February through October [1]. Consequently, the season includes the warmest months of the year – June, July, and August. Elliott Negin of The Huffington Post, noticing that the number of summer heat waves has been increasing, rightly points out that excessive heat puts both players and fans at risk, yet thus far, there has been no definitive decrease in ballpark attendance, possibly because MLB teams have made efforts to protect both players and fans from excessive heat [2]. However, as extreme heat waves become increasingly common, will it impact attendance in future years? If fans opt to stay home and escape the heat, ticket and concession revenues will decline.

MLB is also threatened by rising sea levels. According to NASA, projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that sea levels will rise by up to 6.6 feet by 2100 [3]. If this happens, stadiums located in coastal cities will be at risk of being consumed by the sea. For example, artist Nikolay Lamm, using sea level rise maps from Climate Central, illustrated the effect of just a 5-foot rise in sea level on San Francisco’s AT&T Park in Figure 1 (via Business Insider).

Figure 1

Figure 1 – AT&T Park [4].

Some of the core equipment players use is also at risk. According to Matt Markey of the Tribune Business News, 60% of all MLB players use Louisville Slugger bats manufactured from ash trees grown along the New York-Pennsylvania border. Alarmingly, Markey writes, that ash forest is in danger of being completely decimated by the emerald ash borer, an insect that methodically kills ash trees [5]. The borer’s spread into the region has been hastened by climate change-induced drought, which has weakened the ash trees, and a declining number of extreme-cold days in recent years [6].

MLB and many of its individual franchises have been working towards reducing their impact on the environment, however. For instance, the Minnesota Twins opened Target Field in 2010 and established a groundbreaking irrigation system that captures, conserves, and reuses rain water, thereby reducing the ballpark’s city water needs by 50% [7]. Target Field was also the first ballpark to achieve both LEED Silver certification both for new construction and for operation and maintenance [8]. Even 104-year-old Fenway Park has seen green improvements; in 2008, Fenway became the first ballpark in MLB to install solar thermal panels to heat the stadium’s water, saving 18 tons of carbon dioxide each year [9].

Despite the positive initiatives, however, there is plenty of room for MLB to improve. For example, air travel is an important component of MLB that contributes to climate change. Of the 30 MLB teams, 24 are located in unique metropolitan areas. (New York, the greater Los Angeles area, and the San Francisco/Oakland area are all home to two teams [10].) Over a standard 162-game schedule, this means that teams must travel a lot, usually via air. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), aircraft engines produce various greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and even water (when given off at altitude), and ground operations at airports belch further carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases [11]. Clearly, then, the amount of travel required of teams contributes negatively to climate change. Although there is no ready-made, easy solution to the travel requirements in baseball, the travel could be reduced by decreasing the number of games in the season, which would help reduce the number of flights each team would be required to take.

In addition, the majority of MLB games are currently played at night [12]. Despite energy efficiency improvements, it still requires electricity to illuminate the playing field, the concourse areas, and the grandiose scoreboards in each stadium. Even with advancements in renewable energy, 33% of the electricity in the United States is still generated from burning coal, which gives off greenhouse gasses, while only 13% is generated from renewable sources [13]. A solution to this could be playing more games during daylight hours to reduce the amount of electricity needed to run the lights in the stadium, and teams (or the league itself) could further invest in sources of renewable energy.

The battle MLB fights against climate change is like Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, facing off against Mike Trout, baseball’s best hitter, with the game on the line. Will Kershaw strike out Trout, or will Trout hit a game-winning home run?

(Word Count: 797)

 

Footnotes:

[1] Major League Baseball, “Schedule,” http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/schedule/index.jsp#date=10/02/2016, accessed November 2016.

[2] Elliott Negin, “Major League Baseball Copes with Climate Change.” The Huffington Post, August 16, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elliott-negin/major-league-baseball-cop_b_1785103.html, accessed November 2016.

[3] NASA, “Understanding Sea Level: Empirical Projections,” https://sealevel.nasa.gov/understanding-sea-level/projections/empirical-projections, accessed November 2016.

[4] Business Insider, “What will America Look Like Under 25 Feet of Seawater, Part 2,” http://www.businessinsider.com/illustrations-of-what-america-will-look-like-if-sea-level-rises-2013-7, accessed November 2016.

[5] Matt Markey, “Destructive Insect Could Wipe Out Ash Wood for Bats.” Tribune Business News, April 29, 2012. ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2016.

[6] Brian Bienkowski, “Thriving in Warmer Winters, A Beetle Threatens a Key Source of Major League’s Cherished Wood Bats: The White Ash Forests of Pennsylvania and New York.” The Daily Climate, March 31, 2014, http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2014/03/major-league-baseball-bats, accessed November 2016.

[7] Major League Baseball, “MLB News,” http://m.mlb.com/news/article/7905456//, accessed November 2016.

[8] Minnesota Twins, “Target Field,” http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/min/ballpark/go_green.jsp, accessed November 2016.

[9] Boston Red Sox, “Fenway Park,” http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark/gogreen_solar_monitoring.jsp, accessed November 2016.

[10] Major League Baseball, “Teams,” http://mlb.mlb.com/team/index.jsp, accessed November 2016.

[11] Federal Aviation Administration, “Aviation & Emissions: A Primer,” https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/policy_guidance/envir_policy/media/aeprimer.pdf, accessed November 2016.

[12] Major League Baseball, “Schedule,” http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/schedule/team_by_team.jsp?tcid=mm_mlb_schedule, accessed November 2016.

[13] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Electricity in the U.S.,” http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=electricity_in_the_United_States, accessed November 2016.

Cover Photo Credit:

Andy Thomas, Fenway Park, May 23, 2015.

Previous:

More Plastic Than Fish in the Sea? A Big Problem for Pack2Go

Next:

Sustainability at H&M: Cleaning Up Its Act

14 thoughts on “Climate Change & Major League Baseball: A Strikeout?

  1. It will be very interesting to see the impact rising temperatures in the summer will have not only on Major League Baseball attendance, but also on that of youth league games (across multiple sports) and on the health concerns for players that could be easily exacerbated by risks of dehydration. As an example of a southern MLB team’s response, is that of the Texas Rangers who are considering building a domed stadium due to the triple-digit temperatures that the games see throughout the summer months in Dallas. However, to your point on energy consumption, this only exacerbates the overall negative impact Major League Baseball has on climate change.

  2. It is an interesting thought to play more baseball day games to try to combat the the high use of electricity. However, earlier in your post you mentioned how “as extreme heat waves become increasingly common, will it impact attendance in future years? If fans opt to stay home and escape the heat, ticket and concession revenues will decline.” Moving more games to daytime hours may have similar effects as people will be unable to come to the game due to work, school, and other commitments. Additionally, many games are played during night to counteract the impact of heatwaves (it is colder during the night). How do you think teams can balance this tension between keeping attendance and revenues up, while combatting high use of electricity during the night-time hours? These goals almost seem to be diametrically opposed in the world of baseball.

  3. Fascinating to read about the multitude of ways the physical manifestations of climate change are impacting baseball Andy! One path that teams are taking to resolve the tension spotted by Scott’s comments above (evening games increasing consumption of electricity) is the installation of distributed generation, as Andy suggested: “In the last few years, the Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians installed photovoltaic (PV) solar systems at their ballparks. This year, the Seattle Mariners are joining the movement and the Indians are advancing the cause by adding a cutting-edge small wind turbine complex” (https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/taking-solar-and-wind-out-to-the-ballgame). While only partially offsetting usage today, it’s great to see Major League teams are committed to sustainability even as they are forced to adapt to climate change themselves.

  4. Like Scott suggested above, I wonder how the MLB’s sustainability mission can align with its revenue goals. For example, I would posit that night games are really played to attract the largest TV and stadium audiences, rather than for any concerns about temperature. If more games are moved to the day, will the MLB’s business model still be viable? I think your piece does a nice job exposing the rifts between sustainability and profitability in America’s favorite game.

  5. I think that this post does a great job of both highlighting a nonobvious organization that is undoubtedly affected by climate change, but also interesting ways in which the MLB is affected. From personal experience the amount of electricity consumed by a professional sports stadium is astounding. To further the lighting issue, teams typically have sponsorship contracts where external signage is mandated to be illuminated 24/7. So even if night games are limited there is still a good chance that the lights inside and outside of the stadium will remain on. As you pointed out, the efforts to make stadiums greener are fairly prevalent so hopefully teams will find effective ways to utilize solar or other options to limit the impact of their electric bills.

  6. Fascinating article. Like a few others have mentioned, there is an inherent tension in the solutions you brought up. The issue of more games during the day has been treated by others who highlighted the potential impact on viewership and vulnerability to rising temperatures. I find your observation on the role of travel really interesting. Reducing the number of games played during the season would seriously impact revenues from ticket sales and advertising. I wonder if there is a way to address this issue through increased coordination in the MLB. I could imagine a situation where the Red Sox travel to the West Coast, and in that visit, play all the local teams. Increased coordination might reduce the need for repeated cross-country travel, in a way that has a more limited effect on revenue. Changing the scheduled to optimize for for reduced air travel may not be visible to the consumer. In a more drastic approach, one could imagine a situation where league play is redesigned so that teams only play within their region during the regular season. This option would drastically reduce the need for travel, but would probably not be received well by fans who eagerly wait for storied match-ups with rivals.

  7. Home run of an article, Andy. Really enjoyed it. A few thoughts I have which you piqued. First, for the rising sea level potentially threatening stadiums, is this possibly going to turn out to be a bad thing for the everyday fan? For example, many baseball owners are looking for ways to expand revenue streams outside of the traditionally large and consistent media channels (relative to other sports, baseball is by far hurting the most in terms of viewership/ratings, see link below). One way they’re doing that is by upgrading stadiums, facilities, etc., and pricing up tickets and concessions. Thus, is it possible that this ‘fear of our stadium falling into the sea’ argument could be used a justification for owners to vacate perfectly good – sometimes historic – stadiums in lieu of newly constructed ones? This could be waste of perfectly good infrastructure, as 25 out of the total 30 teams play in stadiums built since 1989, many of them since the year 2000. Do baseball fans really value sitting in a nicer seat with gourmet nachos $40-50 more per ticket, especially when the sport generally involves the family experience, so could be upwards of $300 incremental cost to a family of five? Until I sign a contract anywhere close to that of Joe Mauer’s, I certainly would be fine in the older seats. Also, many stadium projects receive city tax payer money, which is arguably a misappropriation of funds. Second question, is your sensitivity to the summer heat and nighttime games a result of your Twins sitting in the basement of the AL Central?!?!

    1) http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2016/11/03/baseball-is-dying-tv-ratings-for-2016-world-series-through-the-roof/#1363fb21496e
    2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Major_League_Baseball_stadiums

  8. Andy – it is very impressive how you analyzed the impact of climate change on MLB in multiple angles. One thing I found interesting when I compare MLB to Japanese Baseball League is that design of the stadiums. Among 12 professional teams in Japan, 6 of them have domed stadiums which allows the team to play in any weather condition. Although the construction cost of those stadiums is typically higher than regular stadiums, it will at least solve the first concerns you raised? I am keen to understand more why these stadiums are not a regular practice in United States.

  9. Thank you for the article Andy!

    I am not particularly into baseball, however, I was impressed at the reach Climate Change could have on multiple industries and organizations which are part of our daily lives. Furthermore, I am curious to know what the actual carbon footprint of the MLB is compared to the overall US contribution to green house emissions. Although the number might be small in comparison with other industries such as Oil & Gas, it is important to keep opinions in perspective and realize that baseball is a simple family / friend driven activity that builds up communities all over the country. The MLB might not do much to change its footprint on the environment, but the decisions that other companies and governments make regarding climate change truly affect the game. This is the reason why the MLB should join the group of corporations taking ownership of climate change – companies need to continue to pressure global leaders towards more comprehensive regulation of activities which damage our planet.

  10. Great article Andy!

    Apart from what everyone said above, I love how you bring a topic like the impact of climate change to a topic like sports which tends to be universal. I think this is a great way to reach many people especially in America who still consider global warming a myth. The more we show that it will impact everything the more serious people will be and hopefully we can start having the conversation on how to change our behaviors as consumers.

  11. Thanks for a great article! I hadn’t considered the intersection of sports and climate change before, and now I’m wondering what this could mean for college baseball (the College World Series is in Omaha in the middle of the summer – yikes), as well as in other sports like college/professional football. You saw what happened when Notre Dame played N.C. State in hurricane conditions… increasingly common extreme weather events could force some sports to reconsider their playing seasons, as well as the amenities required of stadiums and ball parks.

  12. Thanks! This was super interesting since, like many above, I hadn’t thought about the implications of climate change on sports. I think this article really highlights a major tension of climate change responsiveness – how do you balance between short term profits and longer term gains in sustainability, which may require a short term cost? For example, as others pointed out, moving night games to daytime ones would reduce energy consumption, but it could also reduce ticket sales and revenues from TV broadcasting, as many people wouldn’t take off work to go to the games. I am not sure how we solve this problem but I appreciate that your post called out the issues when it comes to implementing sustainable protocols.

  13. Andy, thanks for the post. I’ve never taken the time to think about how climate change would affect sports particularly those played in the summer months like baseball. I am in agreement with your suggestion to reduce the number of games played in order to mitigate some of the risks highlighted in your post. I think we are trending toward a place where certain days in the summer may have conditions that cannot be played in with regard to the heat. By reducing the length of the season, you can spread the games out more to mitigate this potential occurrence without necessitating a shift to more night games. I doubt that MLB would go for this, however, due to the effect on the league’s revenue.

    On a different note, as is unfortunately becoming common with some of my posts, I want to play devil’s advocate and highlight some ways baseball may be benefitting from global warning:

    – Warmer weather is correlated with more home runs (which leads to more scoring and more “exciting” games)(1)
    – Warmer weather can also lead to drier fields which in turn makes fielding more difficult on grass fields (potentially leading toward more scoring and more “exciting” games)(1)
    – And finally, climate change could shorten the winter seasons in the northern parts of the U.S. allowing more schools to begin spring training earlier and potentially widening the talent pool(1)

    Of course, none of these benefits to the game of baseball is worth the negative impacts that occur as a result of climate change but given that many of changes the MLB could make to help combat global warning could negatively impact their bottomline, one may want to make sure they don’t consider “throwing the game”.

    (1) https://thinkprogress.org/in-the-heat-of-the-moment-three-ways-climate-change-could-impact-the-game-of-baseball-12c33ec132c4#.v2onfr5qp

  14. I never viewed the game of baseball from this angle – thanks for providing some unique insights through this article. I think the implications of the changing weather conditions and potential decrease in attendance can certainly apply to other outdoor sports as well, including football, soccer, to name a few. In addition, companies whose business is related to outdoor activities could suffer from rising temperatures due to global warming. Since the increase in temperature is gradual and therefore not discernible on a daily basis, such changes will accumulate over time and have a profound impact on our lives and various businesses.
    Going back to the game of baseball, given the nature of the sport, I do not think the issue of heat strokes will be that serious, and if that issue surfaces, I think the teams can adjust by changing the materials of uniforms, for example. Teams can also alter the design of the stadiums to minimize such risk, such as adding domes to stadiums to reduce heat and bring down the temperature in the stadium. Of course, the impact of such capital expenditure will have to be reviewed carefully in order to make an informed business decision.

Leave a comment