Wednesday morning, while still in a post Trump-a-pocalypse daze, I was heartened by my interview with Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, ex-President of the Green Sports Alliance and one of the Founding Fathers of the Green-Sports movement, about the way forward. He said that, while Trump’s election is a “major blow for people concerned about…the climate change fight,” he is convinced “the collective, positive influence of sports will help counter the anti-environmental policies of the Trump presidency.”
Yet, while I felt better after my Green-Sports shrink session with Hershkowitz, I was not completely convinced Green-Sports cut help put things right in this strange time. I needed a second opinion and gave a call to Dave Newport, Director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and another leading light of the Green-Sports world. Newport advanced the notion that Green-Sports will thrive and gain in influence over the next four years. In the words of President Obama, I hung up the phone “Fired UP!” and “Ready to Go!”
GreenSportsBlog: Dave, let’s dispense with the finery. Can the Green-Sports world have a positive impact in a world with climate change denier/Paris Climate Accord exit-er wannabe Donald J. Trump as President of the United States?
Dave Newport: Absolutely! In fact, Green-Sports can and will play a leading and important role. Here’s why: Millennials and Generation Z (current 18-25 year olds). Businesses need to reach them and acquire them as loyal customers. Sports teams, pro and college, leagues, and the networks that air their games—all experiencing well documented decreases in attendance and viewership—especially need to get them to come to the games, tune them in on their mobile devices, to care.
GSB: I know there’s research out there shows that millennials care less about sports, or at the very least, are spending less time following sports than their GenX and Boomer predecessors…
DN: Exactly. But what do millennials and GenZ-ers care about these days? Purpose. They demand that the companies whose products and services they buy have a positive societal purpose. And ranking near the top of the purpose list is environment and the climate change fight. This is true for Hillary voters and Trump voters among the younger demographics. I talked recently to a high ranking executive at a major company and he said “the only way we get the younger customer is align ourselves organically and legitimately around purpose.” If a company doesn’t attach itself to a positive purpose, the millennial or GenZ consumer will tune out. They hate the big banks. In fact, there’s a study out there in which millennials said they’d rather go to the dentist than go to a bank!
GSB: Well, as a dentist’s son and a frequent patient, I’m not so sure I agree. But then again, I’m far from a millennial. OK, enough dentistry! Back to the millennials and green sports…
DN…Point is, as I said earlier, sports teams are losing millennials, and they need them. Millennials support the environment and the climate change fight so sports teams really need to step up their green games.
Dave Newport, Director, University of Colorado Environmental Center (Photo credit: Dave Newport)
GSB: I can see how that would be the case in über-green Boulder, CO. Or maybe Berkeley, CA or Cambridge, MA. Places that Hillary—who won strongly amongst the younger demos—carried. But what about in places like, say, Florida or the Rust Belt, all of which went to Trump?
DN: Oh, sports teams and brands connecting to millennials and GenZ-ers through purpose is not only the province of Hillary supporters. And, tell you the truth, sports and brands need to connect to the entire community through purpose. Know this: In Florida, a state that was won by Trump, voters voted for increased access to renewable energy, against the wishes of Big Energy. So to say Trump voters are anti-solar, anti-clean energy, is false.
GSB: Glad to hear about the Florida results. Now, back to the younger demographics being purpose driven. I get that, clearly. But does that really translate to sports?
DN: Look, in a survey this fall, 90 percent of incoming freshmen at CU—and at many schools–said they are concerned about the school’s carbon footprint and its plan to reduce it! Ten years ago, when I first arrived here, no one was talking carbon footprint. So, to the degree that sports teams and their sponsors green up their practices and outcomes, these emerging purpose-driven Gen Zs and Millennials will have a reason to engage.
GSB: What about businesses partnering with sports teams on green-themed programs? Will that increase? Right now, those types of partnerships are few and far between, albeit with CU leading the way with green-themed programs from companies like BASF, White Wave and Kohler.
DN: Again, I’m bullish. That’s because there’s a whole class of companies—renewable energy, for instance—that is growing rapidly and will continue to do so because it makes business sense. Why? The price of renewables is falling, in many cases below that of fossil fuels.
GSB: But what about Trump’s threats to undue tax credits and rebates for renewables?
DN: They may be tough to take away. Why? Because those tax credits mean that renewable energy developers will be able to compete and grow….
GSB: …And this is particularly true in red states…
DN: …Like Texas, the Saudi Arabia of Wind, Wyoming, Iowa etc. And as these companies scale, they’re going to need to fuel further growth. You know who Phil Anschutz is?
GSB: Of course. Owner of AEG, the largest sports venue owner in the world…
DN: Right! Well Anschutz is trying to get permitting for a 300,000 acre wind farm in Wyoming to build the world’s largest wind farm. Once it’s up and running, and with new advanced battery technology allowing wind-generated electrons to be stored and transmitted, Anschutz plans to sell that electricity to customers in California at a profit.
DN: We’re at an inflection point. Teams and brands need to work harder to get millennials and GenZ-ers. Showing the younger demos that they care about the environment will go a long way to bring them into the fold.
GSB: OK, teams and brands. No time to waste. Pick up the greening pace, NOW. Dave, I know you have more to say on the potential of Green-Sports and will be doing so on Twitter this weekend. Tell our readers how they can tune in.
DN: Thanks, Lew. To learn more about Green-Sports’ future, be sure to “tune in” to Twitter via #sbchat this Sunday November 13 at 930 PM EST to chat about the Emerging Business of Sports Sustainability with me and Learfield Sustainability Sponsorship expert Brandon Leimbach