No study has ever supported the argument that new sports stadia provide tangible economic benefits for the municipalities that build them, but cities keep on building these massive projects in the name of prestige and sports fandom. Miami and Dade County, Florida, for example, have built the most expensive stadium in the world. The cost of Marlins Park will reach over $2.4 billion by 2048 if interest accrued on bonds is included in the stadium’s total price. Perhaps that figure would be acceptable in South Florida if the Miami Marlins were a decent team, but after one disappointing season, its owner traded away its best players, infuriating its fan base and spooking businesses from investing in stores and restaurants out of fear no one would show up. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, recently gave up his White House bid, in part because his support eroded as conservatives were incensed the state will dish out $250 million in public funds for a new basketball arena.
Citizens are left to wonder what good a new stadium does as local infrastructure crumbles and schools languish in mediocrity--which is one reason Los Angeles has resisted using taxpayer money to build an NFL stadium even though the second largest television market in the U.S. lost its teams 20 years ago.
The mania over sporting arenas has been ongoing across the pond as well. Two of London’s largest sporting facilities, Wembley Stadium and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, are amongst the the most expensive stadia in the world. England’s most successful football club, Manchester United, has considered expanding its stadium, but those plans have actually been delayed due to concerns over the local economy. Whether we are talking about baseball, American football, or what the rest of the world calls football, sports teams have often defied the laws of capitalism by extorting money from the public sector for private benefit.
Therefore, a new initiative, 100% Sport, which aims to inspire sports fans to become enthusiastic about renewable energy, appears to be as genuine as a footballer writhing in pain on the pitch after brushing up against an opposing player during a game. 100% Sport screams loudly, but offers little in substance. But it is a nice distraction from the sporting leagues' track record of making billions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers and cash-strapped municipalities.
Sponsored largely by the UK telecommunications giant BT, this campaign has lined up Sir Ben Ainslee, who by most accounts is the world’s most successful Olympic and America’s Cup Sailor. Spokespeople like Ainslee, according to BT, can tell effective stories that can encourage sports fans to switch to clean energy.
“This campaign is about how sports fans can change the world,” said said Niall Dunne, Chief Sustainability Officer for BT, in a recent press release. “When Chelsea played their London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day this year, 1.7 million BT Sport customers tuned in. Imagine if just 10% of those, a mere fraction of the UK’s football fans, switched to renewable energy. That’s the carbon saving equivalent of taking almost 50,000 cars off the road every year.”
It would be impressive if only 5 percent of those fans invested in renewable energy, but the decision to install solar panels on one’s roof after watching a sports match, and especially after all the advertisements, requires more consideration than trying a new beer or buying a new pair of athletic shoes. No promotion or any semblance of quid pro quo is provided by BT for fans to move to renewables. Not even a site offering education on clean energy is offered--just the aspiration of Mr. Ainslee, whose sponsorships have afforded him the opportunity to see his “first-hand” accounts of water pollution and climate change.
Professional athletes and the managers of stadia in which they compete should probably just stick with making these facilities more responsible places in which to watch a game. Allianz Stadium, where both New York NFL teams play, has had its share of sustainability-related events. More ballparks in the U.S. are adding solar or upgrading their lighting systems so that they are more energy efficient. Even the Sierra Club has taken notice of how more sporting facilities are making changes in design and organizing more community events in order to take a bite out of these arenas’ environmental footprints. Plans for action, instead of relying on the words of action heroes, are how sports teams can make a difference, if they are genuinely included to do so.
Image credit: UCInternational
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.