Concussions, Colin, and…Climate Change? – The Other “C’s” That Should be Keeping Roger Goodell Up at Night in 2016

Supporting environmental initiatives and sustainability efforts is not just good PR for the NFL, but imperative to ensuring the long-term success of its core business model

If one conducts a Google search on the National Football League (“NFL”) midway through its current 2016 – 2017 season, headline results would include “concussions,” “Colin Kaepernick protest,” “TV ratings decline,” and “domestic abuse.”  Despite the current importance of these issues to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials, there is one important issue often left out of the headlines that threatens to derail the long-term sustainability of this business: climate change.  At face value, it is hard to see how climate change can impact this $12.2 billion organization as its primary assets are athletes, team brands, and stadiums as opposed to natural resources (Ozanian, 2016).  Nevertheless, the owners of this service-based business have every reason to be just as concerned about the impact of climate change on its business model as the shareholders of large natural resource-reliant corporations.

The Players

Out of all the NFL’s assets, its most important is arguably its players.  The core of the NFL’s business model is its ability to take highly-skilled individual players and combine them into hyper-competitive teams that drive intense, and often obsessive, fan consumption.  Like any tangible asset, players have a limited “useful life” associated with their production value which forces the NFL’s business model to rely on teams’ ability to draft new players to sustain its viability as an entertainment entity.  This ability to replace and improve upon its most valuable asset is directly challenged by the impact that climate change has had on rising temperatures across the United States during peak amateur football season.

A 2012 study by University of Georgia climatologist Andrew Grundstein showed that from 1980 to 2009, 58 high school football players across the U.S. died from heat-related illnesses (Grundstein AJ, 2012).  From 1994 to 2009, the number of deaths tripled compared to the previous 15 years (Grundstein AJ, 2012).

Total U.S. High School Football heat-related deaths from 1980 - 2009
Total U.S. high school football heat-related deaths from 1980 – 2009 (Grundstein AJ, 2012).

Due to the increase in heat-related illnesses, high school and college football coaches have had to adjust the way in which they prepare players for games by limiting the number of practices held, conducting practices without full-padding, and holding practices at unconventional times of the day (Israel, 2012).  Although these adjustments to increasing temperatures are appropriate for the well-being of amateur football players, the alteration of traditional practice formats presents a risk of serious injury during actual games in addition to underdevelopment of players’ skill-sets over time.  These two factors can directly impact the “quality” and “quantity” of potential future NFL players.

The Stadiums

Although the NFL can do little to directly control the impact that rising temperatures have had on football players’ health and development, the league and its owners have been proactive in implementing sustainability efforts in the construction and operation of teams’ stadiums.  This past summer, President Barack Obama issued a call to action to athletes, teams, and organizations to tackle climate change through sports (Petes, July).  The Department of Energy (“DOE”) in conjunction with the Green Sports Alliance is scheduled to host a workshop this month at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, where the DOE will bring together sports stadium and arena owners and operators, building professionals, and other sports-industry stakeholders to identify opportunities and challenges in advancing the design, construction, and operation of sport facilities (Petes, July).

Several NFL teams, however, are already implementing sustainability efforts into their stadiums. In 2014, the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi Stadium became the first professional football stadium to open with LEED Gold certification (Petes, July).  In addition, the stadium is lowering greenhouse-gas impacts from concessions through its 4,000-square foot rooftop farm.

Levi Stadium's 4,000 sq. ft. rooftop farm
Levi Stadium’s 4,000 sq. ft. rooftop farm (Wall Street Journal).

Similarly, the Atlanta Falcons are set to achieve Platinum LEED certification at their new Mercedes-Benz Stadium once construction is complete.  Other sustainable features at the stadium will include multiple public rail-line stations, a retractable roof, and 4,000 solar panels which are estimated to produce 1.6 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year (Petes, July).

The Next Step

While the NFL has taken strong steps in combating climate change with its sustainability efforts at team stadiums, there is still a significant opportunity for the organization to increase its role in battling climate change.  For example, the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) has taken a pro-active position in not only making its own facilities more sustainable but also by directly calling on Congress to tighten regulatory standards on carbon pollution from electric power plants (Hershkowitz, 2013).  Additionally, the NFL could improve its promotion of the environmental initiatives of its individual teams.  A 2012 GreenBiz study showed that only 15% of NFL teams disclosed environmental initiatives that they were implementing, compared to 31% of Major League Baseball teams and 28% of NBA teams (Dioguardi, 2012).  By promoting these environmental initiatives, the NFL is not only benefitting greater humanity but is also helping to ensure the long-term success of its own business model. (797 words)

 

Works Cited

Dioguardi, B. (2012, February 22). How U.S. Pro Sports Teams Rank on Environmental Disclosure. Retrieved from GreenBiz: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2012/02/18/howusprosportsteamsrankenvironmentaldisclosure

Grundstein AJ, R. C. (2012). A retrospective analysis of American football hyperthermia deaths in the United States. International Journal of Biometeorology.

Hershkowitz, A. (2013, June 28). Sports world teams up against climate change. Retrieved from GreenBiz: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/06/28/sportsworldembracesneedclimateprogress

Israel, B. (2012, August 13). Is Climate Change Making Temperatures Too Hot for High School Football? Retrieved from Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/isclimatechangemakingtermeraturestoohotforhighschoolfootball/

Ozanian, M. (2016, September 14). The NFL’s Most Valuable Teams 2016. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2016/09/14/thenflsmostvaluableteams2016

Petes, L. (July, 2016 11). Tackling Climate Through Sports. Retrieved from The White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/07/11/tackling-climate-through-sports

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9 thoughts on “Concussions, Colin, and…Climate Change? – The Other “C’s” That Should be Keeping Roger Goodell Up at Night in 2016

  1. Wow, really interesting post. I never thought about the impact of heat-related illness on the NFL’s player pipeline. It’s probably also true that temperature increases present a risk for current players as well, given that not all stadiums and practice facilities are in climate-controlled settings. It’s also great to see proactivity in sustainability of new development, but I just wonder how many new stadiums will actually be built in the near term. I’d love to see the NFL take a stronger stance on making teams think about retrofitting space to meet sustainability goals, reducing power utilization (even at the expense of in-game experience), and improving the sustainability of another one of their huge money-makers and sources of waste: concessions.

  2. Great post. I would love to see the league take a more aggressive role in mandating owners to alter existing stadiums to be more sustainable. Additionally, I would like to know where climate change ranks on the league’s priority list? I would imagine not high since on 15% of NFL teams disclose their environmental initiatives.
    Earlier in the post, you mentioned domestic violence, concussions, etc are major focus points of the NFL at this time. I would argue that these are important to the NFL due to recent public outcry. With this in mind, it begs the question, does the public set the league’s agenda? If so, will the NFL take additional steps without consumer discontent?
    Again, thanks for the post and making the case for why the NFL should care about climate change.

  3. Great post, Zack. LEED certifications aside, the NFL has an amazing opportunity to simply bring awareness to its fanbase. It could easily put together and run a campaign against global climate change before the end of the season. Players could all wear green wristbands and/or cleats. They could talk on commercials about recycling and energy conservation. Once again, it seems as though the NFL is a step (probably more than a step) behind in standing behind the right message. I wonder how long it can get away with being passive players before the consumer starts to notice.

  4. Hey Zack – this is really interesting! I didn’t even think about how rising temperatures would impact atheletes and sports organizations. Beyond just athelete health, it seems that many sporting and entertainment organizations have much to gain (or save) financially in the long-run from turning to green initiatives. For instance, the Pocono Raceway installed 40,000 solar panels at a $15 million expense [1]. Since doing so, “the track’s annual energy bill has been cut by $500,000” and they expect to recoup the cost in up to 10 years [1]. I think another interesting development is that as more attractions such as stadiums and malls shift to sustainable means of power, the large groups of people frequenting them will become more comfortable to this being the norm and more open to doing the same.

    Source:
    [1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/business/sports-industry-expands-its-environmental-initiatives.html

  5. Hey Zack – I enjoyed reading your blog. I never considered heat-related illness to be as big of an issue as concussions. However, in seeing your statistics on fatalities, I find it crazy that we do not find this problem frequently addressed by the media. Through friends in Georgia I learned about the strict policies the State has on athletic participation in heat and humidity. Georgia, like many other southern states, has instituted rules on the length of time spent and level of exertion demonstrated in different temperature ranges. They even specify what types of uniforms players can wear and what types of drills can be done, with material fines issued to schools that violate these policies. One additional mitigant to the health issues caused by heat-illness, would be for the NFL to get in front of this issue and help raise awareness. I look at the league’s campaign to promote children exercising and can’t help but think the caveat of doing so in appropriate weather would do a lot of good and potentially save some lives. However, I also see how your point on jeopardizing their talent pipeline would be factored into their decision not to address this matter, and could see the league prioritizing its best interests as it has done so frequently in recent years.

  6. Zack,

    This is a great post. I like how you hit on the various issues the NFL is currently facing. Domestic abuse and concussion protocols seem to be on the issues that are demanding most of the League’s immediate attention, but I am happy to see that environmental and sustainability initiatives are also efforts that the League is pursuing. You made some good points about how new stadiums are playing a role in sustainability. In addition to Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, MetLife Stadium in New York is also a model for sustainability. According to the website for the stadium, 40,000 tons of recycled steel were used to build the stadium. Additionally, 20,000 tons of steel and 30,000 tons of concrete were recycled from the previous New York stadium when it was demolished. Further, the vehicles used during construction were powered by clean diesel fuel. These are just a few of the environmental initiatives that were used when constructing MetLife Stadium. Hopefully, more teams will follow the example set by the construction of MetLife and Levi’s stadium and will pursue environmentally conscious ways of constructing new stadiums.

    Source: http://www.metlifestadium.com/stadium/sustainability

  7. Great read on a great topic!

    I guess I am more skeptical about the climate policies of the NFL (though I do admit I am very biased when it comes to the league). For one, while NFL is an organization in some respects, for a lot of the actual day to day business, rules and regulations are managed by the teams. As you mentioned, only 15% of teams actually disclose environmental initiatives and there are no requirements mandated by the league that governs all teams. With regard to building stadiums, I think a major challenge will be the source of financing. Since most stadiums are built using public funds (instead of by their rich owners–see I’m biased), I think it will be difficult with league mandate of strict regulation governing best practices for climate sustainability. Stadiums may have to be built with short term cost as a bigger concern than long term climate affects, and that could lead to increased emissions with new stadiums. Sports teams also use vast amounts of transportation that is bad for the environment, build large practice facilities, and lobby against any regulation that hurts their bottom line. Until profits of either the teams or the league as a whole are impacted, I do not see much improvement occurring.

  8. Zach, interesting post here. I hadn’t thought about the link between climate change, amateur sports, and the long-term health of the NFL’s business, but I certainly remember playing football in school and hearing about collapses at practices across the south. While I agree that if the NFL takes this seriously they can curb their own use at stadiums (like the 49ers), that might have less potential impact than some more aggressive avenues. NFL owners consist of some of the wealthiest individuals in the country, many of whom own or manage outside businesses. Furthermore, each stadium is named by a sponsoring company, and the NFL may have one of the strongest marketing and PR machines in the nation. If the NFL and its owners took a stance and promised to enact sustainability measures beyond just their teams and stadiums, but also in their outside business interests, and ultimately demanded that all sponsors have similar initiatives, they could have a much more drastic impact.

  9. I don’t see the NFL making a large push towards sustainability anytime soon. Not at least when they can point the finger to sports like NASCAR or Baseball – the latter because they simply play so many more games and therefore use more energy than football. That said, I like the ideas people suggest and have an additional one.

    The parking lot’s at Football Stadiums are massive. Teams could look at using a more eco-friendly asphalt like “pervious pavement” such that would permit water to pass through to the soil below. In addition, this would help the parking lot drain after a large rain storm, which we should expect more of due to climate change.

    Lastly, even more than helping combat climate change directly, I believe the NFL should be in an advocacy role. Various promotions and protests held by teams and players have started national dialogues (breast cancer research, Kaepernick and racial equality…). The NFL is a powerful megaphone for change.

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