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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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