GreenSportsBlog has two overarching editorial goals for 2016: 1. Celebrate the work of eco-athletes, and 2. In so doing, push the sports media to cover the Greening of Sports and highlight when they already do so. Last week, NBCSN helped on both fronts when it interviewed Stanley Cup winning and Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Mike Richter about the NHL’s first-ever GreenWeek, which ends today. The NHL’s leadership in the sports-greening movement is well-known to sports, business and sustainability insiders but not to fans, in large part because the sports media has not picked up the Green-Sports story. The Richter interview may be a small but important sign that things are starting to change.
I had the pleasure of guest lecturing recently about the sports-greening movement to a New York-area university-level sports marketing class. When I asked hockey fans in the room to identify themselves, 8 of the 20 or so people in the class raised their hands. When the “Hockey 8” were probed about whether they were aware of the NHL’s ahead-of-the-curve commitment sustainability (first North American pro sports league to issue a Sustainability Report, first carbon neutral pro sports season, etc., etc.), only one responded yes.
Some might view the 12.5 percent (1/8) response rate as a low number but I don’t. More to the point, I don’t think the number is important–anecdotally, we know that awareness of the sports-greening movement among fans is relatively low as of now.
Also good was what Richter, the goalie who will be forever revered by New York Rangers’ fans for being the goalie of their 1994 Stanley Cup winning^ team, actually said in the interview: He highlighted several of the NHL’s green initiatives, and in so doing, demonstrated that green-sustainability is an important, mainstream cause that sports leagues and teams should and will support, a la education, domestic violence prevention, etc.. It makes business sense (i.e. using less water and energy saves money). It’s the right thing to do (i.e. donating uneaten food to charity feeds the homeless and keeps food out of landfill). It is positive. It will be popular, not controversial.
Mike Richter hoists the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden in June, 1994 (Photo credit: Athletes For A Healthy Planet)…
Richter also shared with viewers his evolution from hockey player to eco-entrepreneur. He talked about his new startup, BrightCore Energy, which focuses on financing for lighting upgrades in commercial buildings that result in a 50- to 80-percent savings on lighting costs and a smaller environmental footprint. If he had more time, I am sure Richter would have mentioned Healthy Planet Partners, which finances, installs and maintains renewable energy technologies for existing buildings.
…and Mike Richter, Eco-Entrepreneur (Photo credit: Zimbio.com)
Taking the long view, it makes perfect sense that sports teams, leagues and venues kick-started the green-sports movement by “Greening the Games,” from composting to on-site solar, from energy efficiency to encouraging mass transit. The next step is to communicate this greening to fans at the games which, hopefully, will lead to change towards more environmentally friendly behavior. That is starting to happen from Seattle to Columbus, OH and beyond.
Yet maximize its impact, to be an agent for massive environmentally-friendly behavior change, the sports-greening movement needs to work with teams, leagues and the networks that broadcast/cablecast the teams’/leagues’ games to tell green-sports stories on broadcast and cable television–and via the networks’ associated websites. Why? It’s just a math issue: Far more people watch games on TV or online than go to games–it’s not even close.
For the most part, the networks and leagues haven’t yet gotten the memo. Just last month, CBS, NFL Network and the NFL missed an opportunity to tell the story of the Bay Area’s “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” to millions of viewers watching the gazillion hours of pre-game programming. Why? We will delve into that in a future post.
Leave it to the NHL, with a smaller–compared to the NFL–but certainly significant audience, to lead the way in putting Green-Sports on the air. According to AC Nielsen, the average NBCSN game draws about 350,000 viewers. NHL.com reaches 4.7 million unique visitors per month. That’s a lot of eyeballs and ears. I suspect that the Richter interview will not be the last time an NHL Green story is told on NBCSN (or NBC for that matter.) Hopefully the NFL, NBA, MLB and others follow suit sooner rather than later.
^ As of this writing, the Richter’s 1994 Cup winners are the only Rangers team since 1940 to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
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