In the 20-ish year history of the Green-Sports movement, the focus of teams and leagues has mainly been on greening the venues — from on-site solar to composting to green construction practices to team and fan travel and more. This made perfect sense since the stadiums and arenas are the ‘front porch’ of sports.
But the thing is, the vast majority of sports fans don’t actually go to games, so for sports to maximize its impact, it needs to use its immense social power to influence those fans at home, in bars, everywhere to reduce their emissions.
A report out today from UK-based Planet League takes that notion and runs with it by launching a new way to measure carbon emissions — Scope F — with F standing for fan.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver famously said in 2020 that only one percent of NBA fans actually go to games. FC Barcelona seconded that notion with its recent announcement that only three percent of its fanbase will ever visit its legendary Camp Nou stadium.
To make a real difference on climate, teams, leagues and mega events have to reach out to the vast majority of fans, numbering in the billions worldwide, who follow sports on TV, mobile devices and some who, yes, still listen to games on the radio. They are responsible for massive amounts of emissions.
With that in mind, Planet League (formerly known as Planet Super League), riffing on the familiar Scope 1, 2 and 3¹ emissions, introduced Scope F in a report released on Tuesday.
F stands for fan and Scope F covers the CO2 emissions that a sports club influences among its fans. These include emissions embedded in the purchases fans make based on ads they see during games, sponsorships they may read about online, and more. The report indicates that a team’s Scope F emissions can be comparable to its Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions combined.
While Scope F emissions are the result of the mother’s milk of the sports business — ads, sponsorships, and buying the stuff they promote — the Planet League asserts that the influence of sports organizations and brands can be harnessed to bring emissions down as well as to increase them.
By using their influence to inspire fans to cut emissions and live greener lifestyles. As an example, the report cites Planet League’s own “fanbase versus fanbase” tournaments in the UK.
In these contests, fans sign up to represent the club they love. They compete against fans of other clubs — so far 70 clubs have signed up in England, Scotland and Wales — in weekly fixtures (“games” in American parlance). They score “goals” by completing green activities. There are around a hundred of them which fall into environmental categories such as: home energy, transportation, food, water and waste, as well as activities like getting out into nature and a handful about spreading the word and influencing others.
Per the report, in the five Planet League tournaments conducted so far, an estimated 14,000 fans have completed over 77,000 activities with evidence that these have resulted in CO2 emissions 360 tonnes lower than the average UK lifestyle. To date, most of the Planet League clubs have been in the middle-to-lower tiers of the English, Scottish and Welsh football pyramids but the bigger clubs are taking notice.
And that, the authors of the report say, means there is a huge opportunity for club-led, sponsor-aided fan-based emissions reductions.
According to the Planet League report, their “not conservative but not unreasonable” estimate is that Scope F reductions could be up to 100 times the reasonably expected Scope 1 through 3 reductions.
This and other claims should be scrutinized by independent experts but even if Planet League’s assumptions are off and those impacts are “just” 50X the Scope 1 through 3 reductions, that still would be a seismic game changer, especially if/when the bigger clubs — aka the Premier League — start measuring and managing Scope F emissions in a big way. And Premier League clubs and their fans are paying attention.
“The Scope F concept is incredibly insightful and presents a great opportunity for clubs to really engage with and inspire their fans to take action to tackle environmental issues,” opined Caroline Carlin, operations and sustainability manager at Southampton Football Club of the Premier League. “We know that so many of our own fans have a great sense of pride that the club is actively taking steps to reduce our environmental impact and believe that they want to support us with the initiatives we introduce to do this.”
Caroline Carlin (Photo credit: Southampton Football Club)
Tom Gribbin, a Planet League co-founder and one of the originators of the report, agrees: “Our work centers on encouraging football fans towards positive behavior change in the name of their beloved team. We believe Scope F is the starting place for football clubs, and other sporting organizations, to think bigger in regard to their influence and reach to tackle the climate crisis.”
GSB’s Take: Scope F is a novel and potentially very important way for Green-Sports practitioners like Planet League to help teams, leagues, and mega-events to expand their climate mitigation efforts beyond the venues to include the masses of fans who follow sports remotely. It says here that the authors of the report get it right with their main assertion: Sports teams can and must influence fans to make environmentally/climate friendly purchase decisions in their everyday lives just like they influence those same fans to buy products and services from their advertisers, sponsors and vendors.
The impact of sports media did not get a great deal of attention in the report. For Scope F to fulfill its promise, the ESPNs and the Sky Sports of the will not only have their activities measured — both the emissions they produce to deliver the games they air and much more importantly, the emissions they catalyze by providing air time to advertisers and sponsors to sell products and services — they also need have a seat at the emissions mitigation table.
Finally, there will likely be some interesting potential conflicts down the road as Scope F scales up. For example, sports teams want to maximize the amount of stuff they sell — uniforms, caps, you name it. That increases Scope 1, 2, 3 and F emissions. Yet, will those same teams also encourage fans to buy less stuff so they can reduce their Scope F emissions? How will that work? Something to consider.
But that’s for another day.
For today, welcome Scope F!