Prior to this year, seeing a Green-Sports story in a major media outlet was only slightly more common than seeing Haley’s Comet streak across the sky. Or at least so it seemed.
But that changed in 2021, big time.
Sky Sports News offered up the Summer of Sustainability. A BBC Sport writer’s title has the word “sustainability” in it. Just last week, CNN covered Green-Sports. So did La Nación, Argentina’s leading newspaper.
Why has this been happening?
November’s COP26 in Glasgow was very likely the main driver, with assists from the August release of the damning climate report from the UN IPCC, and the seemingly unending torrent of extreme weather which of course impacted sports.
No matter the reasons, the fact that big media, sports and otherwise, discovered Green-Sports is a very big deal.
It is not hyperbole to say that 2021 was the year that millions of sports fans discovered that the athletes and teams they’re passionate about…are passionate about the environment and climate action. Given the perilous state of the climate and the need for urgent action to turn humanity away from the carbon cliff, well, it’s about damn time!
And that is why the easy call for GSB’s Best Green Sports Story of 2021 is that the…
Media Finally Discovers Green-Sports!
Will this year be a COP-inspired one-off or will coverage grow in frequency and substance? That’s a question for 2022 and beyond. For now, let’s take a look at why this was the year the media found Green-Sports religion.
The Green-Sports world can be viewed a stool with four legs. They are Venues, Teams, Athletes and Media. For the stool to be as solid as possible, each of the legs need to be sturdy.
Since I started writing GreenSportsBlog in 2013, the first three legs have grown much stronger:
- The home of the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, is Climate Pledge Arena (the Best Green-Sports Story of 2020). Such a name was not imaginable back in ’13.
- Teams, from the small (England’s Forest Green Rovers) to the very big (the New York Yankees) have made Green an important part of their DNA. Energy efficient lighting, composting and on-site renewables, once the subject of breathless Breaking News stories from GreenSportsBlog, now scarcely raise an eyebrow.
- Athletes have increasingly lent their voices to and gotten involved in environmental action, from plastic ocean waste removal to e-waste recycling to hurricane relief to — most recently and, it says here, most importantly — the climate crisis.
Climate Pledge Arena on Opening Night (Photo credit: Anthony Bolante/Puget Sound Business Journal)
But for the most part, major sports and mass media outlets basically ignored Green-Sports. Likely, those companies thought that environmentally-themed stories, climate in particular, wouldn’t draw enough in the way of eyeballs. Or maybe climate change was seen as too political.
That meant the Media leg, and thus the entire Green-Sports stool, was wobbly. Which meant that the Green-Sports and Climate-Sports movements were weaker than they needed to be.
And the Media leg may well be the most important of all of the Green-Sports stool’s legs.
I know what you’re thinking, dear GSB reader: “Why do you think Big Media coverage is more important than Venues minimizing their carbon footprints?”
Of course, the global sports industry’s total carbon emissions are significant and reducing them is certainly important. With fan travel figured in, David Goldblatt, writing in 2020’s “Playing Against The Clock: Global Sport, the Climate Emergency and the Case for Rapid Change,” estimated those emissions to be equal to those of the populations of Angola or Tunisia. So, making the venues as energy efficient as possible and for letting attendees know about those greening measures is a good thing.
But, it says here that letting the masses of fans who watch sports on TV, computers, and/or phones, know how green their games are is an even bigger deal, because the truth is that the vast majority of sports fans don’t go to sports events.
How vast? None other than NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shared in 2020 that, “99 percent of NBA fans never set foot in an NBA arena.”
Given the vastness of the climate crisis as well as the size of the sports media audience, we need sports media to offer frequent, positive, solutions-oriented climate messaging to the many millions if not billions of fans who don’t go to sports events — similar to the “Say No to Racism” player kneel-downs that precede every English Premier League game and are seen on every broadcast.
If climate campaigns gets that kind of traction, 2021 will be seen as the year when the foundation was set. If not, we’ll know that 2021 was a COP26-infused one-off.
No matter how the future plays out, the present is clear: Media Finally Discovers Green-Sports! is clearly the BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2021!
Of course, there has been coverage of the Green-Sports intersection before 2021. Heck, that you’re reading this story attests to that fact!
GreenSportsBlog has been on the Green-Sports beat for eight years; Matthew Campelli’s Sustainability Report has traveled in a similar lane for four years. But it’s not self-deprecation to say that we reach tiny, niche audiences of the already converted as compared to BIG sports media.
Sky Sports BIG — which drew a high of 4.5 million viewers for January’s Liverpool-Manchester United broadcast
BBC Sport BIG — with its average monthly audience of 7.4 million
La Nación, the largest newspaper in Argentina, BIG — with 7.6 million unique visitors
Those outlets and more reported on Green-Sports in 2021, with COP26 being a central focus. That bigness means they are reaching sports fans, many of whom are not generally reading environmental/climate content and who may not be convinced of the issue’s existential nature.
The Daily Express is a conservative English tabloid, which has not been friendly to climate change. Yet, earlier this year, it partnered with Dale Vince, OBE, the Chairman of Forest Green Rovers, the fourth tier English football club that is generally regarded as the Greenest Team in Sports, for its first ever green campaign/series. The paper, with a monthly audience of 2.7 million, sees going green as being good for business.
Headline from the February 8, 2021 story in the Daily Express announcing its ‘Green Britain’ series with Dale Vince
Yes, 2021 was the year when BIG media, including in this case, BIG CONSERVATIVE media, discovered Green-Sports.
GSB spoke with three journalists who covered Green-Sports this year, as well as a Green-Sports-Preneur, and two Green-Sports leaders (who are also entrepreneurs), to gain some perspective on what BIG Media’s entrance onto the Sustainable-Sports dance floor means.
Dave Lockwood Ι Editorial Lead for Sustainability, BBC Sport
On how he has a job called Editorial Lead for Sustainability, and what it means…
I had a personal interest in climate, the environment and sports and wanted to find and tell those stories. It was about 4-5 years ago that I had my first conversation with my editor about it and started writing pieces here and there. About two years ago, we partnered with Sport Positive on the English Premier League (EPL) Sustainability Table and more stories resulted. So, I went to my bosses and got approval to basically split my time between sustainable sports and my day job as senior producer for sports news.
That this position exists, even if it isn’t yet full time, is a very important step. It was quite forward thinking to have someone whose job it is to drive content on this issue. The BBC deserves credit for creating the position and for increasing the prominence of these stories.
On what happened at COP26…
COP was like an open door for Green-Sports content. We aired a tremendous amount. I got a great sense of collaboration among the various sustainable sports and athletes groups who were on the ground in Glasgow, that more was happening outside the delegate hall, including at the sports-related venues, than inside. I do know that those inside the hall felt that energy.
On looking beyond COP26 for Green-Sports and Media…
Hopefully there isn’t a drop off in coverage in 2022. The responsibility is on us to keep stories about climate change, the environment and sports front and center. The challenge for us at BBC Sport is that there are only so many ways you can cover certain environmental sports stories. The good thing is that there is no shortage of compelling Green-Sports stories.
Click here for Dave Lockwood’s piece, “What is COP26 and how does it affect sport?”
Click here for a BBC Sport story, co-authored by Lockwood, Katie Gornall and John Stanton, “More games, more countries, more travel: Does European football care about its climate impact?
Dave Lockwood (Photo credit: David Lockwood)
David Garrido Ι Presenter, Sky Sports News
On what got him interested in the Green-Sports intersection and when he got started pursuing green stories…
Sky News has been covering climate change and also plastic ocean waste for some time, with programs like Ocean Rescue and Pass on Plastic; it now has a daily climate show. So, over time I became more and more aware. For me, the lights started flashing about the linkages between the environment and sports in early 2019. I’ve spent about 2+ years looking at and learning about the intersection and have been actively reporting on it for more than a year.
On what it has been like to be part of Sky Sports as it ramped up environmental and climate coverage…
It’s been great! We have an enthusiastic sustainable content group that meets monthly, with 10 to 30 people showing up. It of course makes sense for reporters and producers who cover the sports for which we have rights to air live, like Premier League football, golf, cricket and F1. What’s great is that reporters that cover sports we don’t have bespoke linear TV channels for, like rugby league, sailing and even darts, are producing sustainability-themed stories.
I am also very happy that the BBC Sports and the BT Sports of the world are joining the Green-Sports movement. That will force all of us to up our games, which will ultimately be beneficial for our audiences and hopefully the environment.
A short documentary from Sky Sports aired last month
On Sky Sports News’ key Green-Sports programming in 2021…
We had four main sustainability/climate-themed initiatives this year.
In January, we had our most sustainable football (soccer) Transfer Deadline Day¹ ever. I led the channel’s coverage that day. The winter deadline is generally quieter than the summer, so we had more time to devote to the environment, which was great. We were not afraid to talk about these issues, while also not hitting people over the head. For example, we let the audience know that all our on-air clothes were sourced from sustainable materials.
We followed that up with our coverage of Extreme E, the brand-new off-road EV racing circuit. It was a big deal for us because we have the rights and there is a lot of British interest because F1 legends Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button own teams and there are four UK drivers. Purpose, especially environmental sustainability is firmly embedded in the sport. The race locations, like Greenland and Senegal, are all places that are vulnerable to climate change. I look forward to doing more with Extreme E.
Then in July we had our Summer of Sustainability, a week of environmentally themed coverage. We launched on July 14, when I drove 150 miles in an EV to cover five sustainability stories in one day. I started at Tottenham Stadium, home of Tottenham Hotspur, the winner of the EPL’s Sustainability Table. Then I headed over to The Oval, an iconic cricket ground; that sport has been harshly impacted by flooding. Next was Eton-Dorney Rowing Lake, where I spoke with Team GB Rower Melissa Wilson and 1992 Olympic gold medalist Greg Searle about how rowing is harmed by extreme weather changes and the ways athletes can make a difference. We then went to Williams Advanced Engineering to understand how Formula E and Extreme E vehicles can make a difference. The journey ended at Forest Green Rovers, arguably the greenest team in sports.
The ratings were better than expected, which was a good thing.
Finally, in September at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London we partnered with Tottenham, Chelsea and the Premier League for Game Zero, the first net zero carbon football match. Sky Sports promoted it heavily with Playing for the Planet, a six-episode podcast series leading into the game. And Game Zero has proven not to be a one-off. Norwich City hosted one vs. Leeds; Everton is looking to host one, too.
On getting pressed by Forest Green Rovers’ Chairman Dale Vince, OBE, about Sky Sports and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium not going bigger with Game Zero…
[Editor’s Note: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium added at least one plant-based food option to every concession stand during Game Zero. Vince asked Garrido during a joint panel appearance at the Sport Positive Summit why Spurs and Sky Sports didn’t offer only plant-based food at all concession stands like Forest Green does at every home game]
I understand Dale’s perspective. We need people like him to hold us to account and push us with constructive, critical feedback. My goal is to go broader rather than narrower, getting as much of our audience to make positive environmental changes as possible.
On where we go post-COP26…
I always asked what would happen on November 15th, the day after COP ended. We have to keep pushing environment and sports coverage, to keep on top of it, because of COP. I’m energized, that’s for sure.
Click here to read about how Sky Sports encourages fans to reduce their carbon footprints.
David Garrido takes an active role in promoting the ‘Sky Zero’ campaign, Sky’s pledge to go net zero carbon by 2030 (Photo credit: David Garrido)
Mariano Chaluleu Ι Sports reporter, La Nación, one of Argentina two largest newspapers
On what led him to want to cover Green-Sports…
With my Bachelors Degree in International Relations, I’m very interested in topics that combine issues of sports, society, international politics, and activism. I had been looking for a different angle since the Olympics. It stuck in my mind that tennis players complained about the extreme heat there. COP26 actually led me to the story: when I found out that there was a plan to circulate the COP 26 Sports Community Manifesto among athletes, sports teams and more, I immediately started to trace from whence it came. I was able to find EcoAthletes, the group that developed the Manifesto, and I found and wrote my story.
[EDITORS NOTE: I AM THE FOUNDER AND CEO OF ECOATHLETES]
On potentially writing future Green-Sports stories…
I think my editors liked the story; they always appreciate content that is outside of the every day national sports agenda and this was one of those stories. I’d love to pitch more Green-Sports stories and hope to be able to cover next November’s COP27 in Egypt. My goal is to write a detailed story about the sports-related solutions that are discussed at COP27 and to see if they are integrated into the actual business of the conference.
Click here to read Mariano Chaluleu’s story about the COP26 Sports Community Manifesto (translatable into English)
Mariano Chaluleu (Photo credit: Mariano Chaluleu)
Katie Cross Ι Founder, Pledgeball, the Bristol, England-based Green-Sports Startup which rallies British football (soccer) fans to tackle climate change
On the kind of media coverage, beyond Green-Sports-focused outlets like GreenSportsBlog and The Sustainability Report, Pledgeball has received…
The Global Goals Centre’s Bristol 17 Campaign gave us a fair bit of coverage. I really like their aim — to demonstrate that action on the SDGs is possible, by showing stories of local action. They produced a one minute film of us, that led to a mural being painted of my face on a wall in Bristol, which subsequently led to a podcast appearance on Earth Rights and an invitation for me to speak at the Natural History Consortium’s Communicate Conference.
Then BBC Radio Bristol interviewed me the morning I presented at COP. The Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, invited me to do a piece on his blog
And I have commented about football and the environment for a number of articles, including for The Guardian, The Express and The Athletic.
Katie Cross, Founder of Pledgeball at the UNFCCC Action Hub at COP26 prior to presenting with partners Spirit of Football (Photo credit: Andrew Aris, SOF)
Kristen Fulmer Ι Founder, Recipric, a US-based “Front Office Sustainability Agency”
On what she thinks the media has done well in its coverage of Green-Sports and what it can do better…
Understandably, the media has definitely latched onto the more visible, measurable sides of the Green-Sports industry – Like the number of tons of diverted waste from landfill: We see the garbage, we know that trash is bad, we can measure and share impacts in digestible factoids.
The invisible is a little bit tougher: Carbon emissions take some time to comprehensively measure and sports organizations are early enough in their journeys that they’re hesitant to share early data with the media. Health and wellbeing has been highlighted through COVID, but is also difficult to “see,” much less measure the effects with athletes or fans. Topics related to climate justice are simply largely unexplored, much less showcased in the media. These are great opportunities to leverage the media’s voice to highlight the clubs that are brave enough to tackle these invisible challenges head-on!
On how we will know if the media coverage of Green-Sports is having an impact beyond the coverage itself…
Like anything, there will always be leaders and laggards in Green-Sports, but I’m excited for the day when there are more leaders than laggards. That will push the media coverage to pivot from celebrating the few consistent leaders of the industry to holding the laggards accountable.
Right now, I’m satisfied whenever we can leverage stories on green sports to catalyze positive change. I get asked by prospective clients about the leaders in the industry all of the time. Even when they’re not quite ready to elevate their climate journey, they are recognizing that other clubs are and that is really only done through the power of media.
Kristen Fulmer (Photo credit: Kristen Fulmer)
Claire Poole Ι CEO, Sport Positive, producer of the Sport Positive Summit
On how she would cover Green-Sports if she was a sports media CEO…
Sports is our escape, so we’d never want to preach to fans but I would want to see more small and frequent commentary on environmental information through live sports broadcast — arming sports commentators with information perhaps on disruption to games that season, or athletes who are active on important issues etc, with stats and data to include alongside how many goals players had scored or how many fans are in the stadium.
Claire Poole (Photo credit: Sport Positive)
GSB’s Take: One quick parting shot…
Sports media in the UK have led their North American counterparts in Green-Sports coverage. The easy explanation is that the UK hosted COP this year but the truth is that Sky Sports and BBC Sport were on the beat well before COP. Why has that been the case? Who knows?
Rather than speculate, I’ll just say this: C’mon ESPN! C’mon Fox Sports! C’mon Canada’s TSN! It’s time to sturdy-up the Green-Sports stool on this side of the pond.
Covering Green-Sports will help you with younger fans who are more climate-forward than their older counterparts. And it may help you find new advertisers beyond sports betting sites.