The environmental impact of the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched sporting events in the U.S., is primarily attributed to the significant carbon footprint generated by the advertising frenzy surrounding the event. Climate experts and environmentally conscious consumers and investors are raising concerns about the environmental impact of the ads, which are promoted online before and after the event. It is essential to address the massive environmental impact of this beloved and highly viewed sporting event in America.
Football, or soccer, is a highly entertaining sport, but what many fans may not know is that the global football industry is responsible for emitting over 30 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is almost equivalent to Denmark’s annual emissions. With millions of Americans tuning into football games, especially major events like the upcoming Super Bowl LVIII, the environmental impact of these sporting events needs to be assessed. Major sports leagues, such as the NFL and NBA, have the power to influence viewers and play a crucial role in promoting sustainability.
Large-scale sporting events involve various unforeseen environmental consequences, including the construction of new infrastructure, sanitation upgrades, increased energy demands, waste management challenges, and the waste generated by watch parties hosted by viewers. Major sports leagues, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB, generate approximately 35,000 tons of CO2 annually from fans’ emissions alone. The waste generated by the teams playing during the events and the carbon emissions from A-listers and celebrity fans flying in private jets further contribute to the event’s carbon footprint. Additionally, the energy consumption to power stadiums, resource-intensive field maintenance, and the sale of food, beverages, and merchandise at games significantly impact the environment.
However, the biggest source of the Super Bowl’s carbon footprint is the digital advertisements. While the immediate focus is often on the high cost of Super Bowl advertising, which can reach $7 million for a 30-second slot, the environmental cost of these ads is often overlooked. In 2021, Super Bowl advertising produced as much carbon dioxide as 100,000 Americans or around 2 million tonnes of CO2. The 56 advertisers and their 67 spots resulted in over 6.3 billion TV ad impressions, 26 million online views, and 64 billion social impressions. The lead-up to the Super Bowl generated approximately 4 billion digital ad impressions, which translates to 4,000 metric tons of CO2e.
Despite the significant environmental impact, the Super Bowl has made efforts to become more sustainable. In 2022, the NFL, the Los Angeles Super Bowl LVI Host Committee, and Verizon collaborated on greening efforts for Super Bowl LVI. They focused on enhancing air quality, establishing community gardens, bolstering food security, and restoring a California kelp forest. Super Bowl LVII in Arizona was one of the NFL’s most sustainable efforts, with the league’s NFL Green program leading community projects to restore ecosystems and habitats, including tree planting, wildlife habitat restoration, and reforestation projects.
The NFL also procures Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset the energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions associated with its major sporting events. Waste management, including recycling, composting, and minimizing landfill disposal, has been a key focus. The Super Bowl stakeholders have also utilized carbon credits to offset a portion of their emissions. For example, Entergy and the Super Bowl XLVII Host Committee purchased carbon offsets for flight emissions from various offset projects.
In Europe, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) established a climate fund to address the massive carbon footprint of football. The American Super Bowl LVIII committees and the NFL Green have implemented the “Green Initiative” at the Las Vegas Indian Center, focusing on planting trees, creating green spaces, and seedling restoration projects.
Efforts like these leave a lasting legacy and have a positive impact on the environment. However, it is crucial for the Super Bowl and other major sporting events to continue implementing sustainable practices, reducing waste, and offsetting their emissions to minimize their environmental impact.