The GSB Interview: Ryan Hall, Greening the College Football Playoff

With the 2017 college football season set to move into high gear this weekend, GreenSportsBlog takes a look for the first time at the Greening of the College Football Playoff (CFP). The CFP, now about to enter its fourth season, draws higher television ratings than just about any other non-NFL sports event in the United States. Given its incredibly high profile, a strong greening program could resonate throughout broad swaths of American sports fandom. To understand what the CFP has done, sustainability-wise and where its green efforts are going, GreenSportsBlog talked with Ryan Hall, its Director of Community Relations.

GreenSportsBlog: Ryan, before we get to the nuts and bolts of the greening programs at the College Football Playoff (CFP), I gotta ask you: How did you get to be the CFP’s Director of Community Relations?

Ryan Hall: Well Lew, I grew up in Austin and went to Rice University there as an undergrad. Went on to Notre Dame for law school…

GSB: A step up in class in terms of football and basketball I’d say…

RH: You’d be right about that but I didn’t drink the Notre Dame Kool-Aid, didn’t become a huge fan. But I did meet my future wife the first day of orientation in South Bend.

GSB: Congratulations!

RH: Thank you. Anyway, I practiced as an attorney in Cincinnati for three years before going to work for the NCAA in Indianapolis in the compliance department. Did that for seven years. Then my wife’s firm opened a Dallas office so we moved down there — strong family connections.

GSB: And Dallas is where the College Football Playoff headquarters is…

RH: Given my experience at the NCAA, I was able to make some connections at the CFP. I ended up taking the job of Director of Community Relations in 2015, right after the first CFP. Sustainability, through our “Playoff Green” initiative, is a core part of my job, in addition to developing and ultimately executing the community relations programs during CFP Week, communication of, and enforcement of regulations, as well as membership relations.

 

Ryan Hall CFP

Ryan Hall, Director of Community Relations, College Football Playoff (Photo credit: College Football Playoff)

 

GSB: So talk about Playoff Green. What is it?

RH: The folks at the CFP knew from the very beginning that we needed to have a strong green commitment and thus a fan-facing program. Early on, we engaged Jack Groh, who manages the greening programs for the NFL, including at their premier events, the Super Bowl and NFL Draft, to build Playoff Green for us.

GSB: Jack is a natural fit for yo…

RH: You got that right!

GSB: Why do you think green was so central to the CFP?

RH: Well, from before the time I got here until now, the organizers of the CFP have realized that we have a responsibility to do more than put on a great semifinals and national championship. Of course, that is our primary task but, since we see the CFP as being a game changer in the “Big Game” landscape, we also want to be a positive game changer on societal issues…

GSB: Like sustainability and climate change? That makes sense to me, especially since colleges and universities have millions of students who study climate change, sustainability and the like…

RH: Exactly right. For those reasons and more, we knew we had to make the CFP a green event and get students into it. Not only college students, but also young people all the way down to the grammar school level. So we need our green program to have strong educational components down to the district level, including curriculum. And there are, of course, strong “big game” precedents for green community programs, including the Super Bowl, Olympics and FIFA World Cup. But, along with the Final Four, we’re the only big game event that has a potential army of college students, passionate about sustainability, at our disposal.

GSB: So how did you go about building the CFP greening program? Is climate change a part of it?

RH: Well, we created a foundation almost at our creation, the CFP Foundation. Our greening curriculum that gets deployed in the markets where our games are played each year has climate change as a core pillar. Our team has educators and it’s on us to 1) be leaders, educationally-speaking, and 2) leave the cities and towns that host us in better shape than when we arrived.

GSB: So talk about the specifics of the CFP greening programs…

RH: The true heart of Playoff Green has been tree planting. It started as a challenge, as a competition between groups of students from the four competing schools in parks at the game sites. The students were really into it, as were the localities. Then, with Jack Groh’s guidance, we broadened the project from parks into schools. For our 2017 game in Tampa, we ran a semester-long project in which we planted trees on the grounds of underserved public schools. In 2018, we expect Atlanta, host of the the championship game, to go even bigger as our curriculum and tree planting will reach even more schools.

 

Jack Groh CFPO 2017-bailey-50

Playoff Green Campus Challenge at Bailey Elementary, Dover, Florida, January 6, 2017 (Photo credit: College Football Playoff)

 

GSB: Atlanta is a great place, from a green-sports point of view, especially with the championship game being played at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, expected to be the NFL’s first LEED Platinum-certified stadium.

RH: We are very excited about being in, arguably, the greenest football stadium in the USA. It will be our biggest Playoff Green yet, especially with our partners at the Atlanta College Football Playoff Host Committee working with Jack Groh. The campus challenge will be bigger and better, involving more kids, from grammar schools to middle schools to high schools. We are also working with DonorsChoose.org the great nonprofit that helps fund teachers’ projects in underfunded districts. As schools become involved and meet the parameters of the Playoff Green challenge, we provided gift cards to DonorsChoose.org that help teachers at the school fund projects. We put resources directly into the school and classrooms.

 

CFP Bins 2017

An example of enhanced Trash and Recycling efforts at 2017 College Football Playoff events in the Tampa, FL area (Photo credit: College Football Playoff)

 

GSB: Are CFP corporate sponsors getting involved with Playoff Green, and if so, what does that look like?

RH: Corporate sponsorship is coming but we need to do it right — it’s a bit of a challenge, as we want to make sure there’s not a whiff of greenwashing. So we will be careful but it will happen.

GSB: That makes perfect sense. Finally, how are you and the CFP going to get the Playoff Green story out to the broader public? Will ESPN promote it? Because my biggest concern, and it’s not limited to the CFP, is that mega-events will keep their greening good works under the radar. This has largely been the case with the Super Bowl — my sense is that precious few know that the Super Bowl has been carbon neutral for more than a decade — and with the FIFA World Cup. Thankfully, the organizers of the Rio 2016 Olympics produced a vignette on climate change during the Opening Ceremonies that was viewed by an estimated worldwide audience of 1 billion people. Will ESPN tell the Playoff Green story on air?

RH: Great question. Outsiders really don’t know how great a partner ESPN has been, especially as it relates to Playoff Green. They’ve provided resources in terms of the implementation of Playoff Green and the tree planting, including funding. Playoff Green public service announcements (PSA’s) will be aired in stadium in Atlanta.

GSB: What about on air? Because 25 million people will watch the game on ESPN as compared to maybe 75,000 in stadium.

RH: That’s something we’ll work on in future years with our TV partner, ESPN as well as future partners.

GSB: That’s great…you know we will follow up on that down the road.

 


 

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MLB, MLS and NFL Step Up During Earth Fortnight

Late April is a great time of year to be a sports fan. The NBA and NHL playoffs are in the early days of their two month championship/Stanley Cup marathons. The NFL Draft, Christmas in April for football fans—especially those who root for perennial also rans like my New York Jets—starts on Thursday night. Major League Baseball’s and Major League Soccer’s regular seasons are in full swing.

And we are in the midst of Earth Fortnight (Earth Day was Saturday, April 22; related celebrations were held during the week prior and are continuing this week), a great time for sports leagues to highlight their sustainability bona fides to their fans and other stakeholders. 

GreenSportsBlog will have two Earth Fortnight-Green Sports columns for you: An in-depth feature on the NBA’s greening activities is upcoming. And today, we review the Earth Day/Earth Fortnight activities of MLB, MLS, and the NFL. What about the NHL? They’re in the process of completing their third consecutive carbon-neutral season so one could say every day is Earth Day over there.

 

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: 5TH ANNUAL CARBON NEUTRAL GAME AT FENWAY; HELPING TREES GROW IN BROOKLYN

The third Monday in April is tradition-laden in Boston. It’s Patriots’s Day (thankfully, named not in honor of the football team, but for John Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, etc. Those Pats). The Boston Marathon snaked its way for 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. At the early but traditional 11 AM start time, the Red Sox took the field against the Tampa Bay Rays as the marathon passed close by Fenway Park.

And, in a newer tradition, for the fifth consecutive year, the BoSox observed Earth Day by offsetting all carbon emissions from that day’s game and sorting waste to recover recyclables and food waste. The offsets were made in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs) purchased from several Massachusetts-based solar installations: Morra Brook Farm in Rehoboth, Westford Stony Brook School in Westford, and the firehouse and library in Wellfleet.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, on Earth Day itself, approximately 35 front office employees at MLB, MLB Network and MLB Advanced Media volunteered at Lincoln Terrace Park for New York Cares Day (Spring). New York Cares is an amazing organization that serves as a platform for New Yorkers who want to volunteer with seniors, youth, on environmental cleanup, etc. They manage over 400 such projects per month. I have been a New York Cares volunteer for over 20 years and can attest to its phenomenal work.

New York Cares Day is a massive, five borough-wide environmental cleanup and beautification initiative, pooling the efforts of over 4,000 volunteers at 40 public spaces. In the case of Lincoln Terrace Park, volunteers were tasked with composting, removing invasive seedlings, planting ground covers and clearing the park of debris.

mlb volunteers ny cares day

 

Volunteers from MLB, MLB Network and MLB Advanced Media at Earth Day cleanup in Lincoln Terrace Park in Brooklyn, NY (Photo credit: MLB)

 

MLS’ LA GALAXY AND STUBHUB CENTER “PROTECT THE PITCH” IN EARTH WEEK INITIATIVE

StubHub Center and the LA Galaxy hosted a variety of environmentally-focused community events last week in the run up to Protect the Pitch Day, their Earth Day-themed, nationally-televised home game vs. the Seattle Sounders on Sunday.

The week featured school tours of Stub Hub Center, featuring the stadium’s initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of its operations. These range from the high-tech (on-site advanced battery storage units from Tesla) to the not-so-high-tech (four bee hives that will produce over 800 pounds of honey annually, produce grown from the LA Galaxy Greenhouse; both will be used for healthy food preparation for players, coaches and staff)

Galaxy

LA area elementary school students explore StubHub Center’s sustainability projects, such as its greenhouse which produces numerous types of vegetables to provide food for players and staff. (Photo credit: LA Galaxy)

 

And the club brought its greenness out to the community when it visited Griffith Park to assist TreePeople^ with their tree care efforts.

The Galaxy’s carbon footprint-reducing efforts, showcased to the 24,931 fans during Protect the Pitch Day, were more successful than their on-field results, as they dropped a 3-0 decision to the Sounders. In fact, the club’s greenness harkened back to happier days, as they sold tote bags from Relan, made from recycled materials from the club’s 2014 MLS Cup Championship banner, which had previously hung inside StubHub Center.

 

NFL AND PHILADELPHIA TEAM UP TO GREEN UP NFL DRAFT

200,000 diehards are expected to descend on Philadelphia as the 2017 NFL Draft comes to The City of Brotherly Love from Thursday’s first round through Saturday’s seventh stanza. According to an April 21 Philly.com story by Frank Kummer, the NFL and city officials, the latter using “what it learned from the Philadelphia Marathon, are aiming for ‘zero waste’ – meaning that at least 90 percent of trash and leftover food does not end up in a landfill.” An army of volunteers are stepping up to bring the plans to fruition at the free NFL Draft Experience festival along a half-mile stretch of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Philly

Volunteers, like those shown here at the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon, will help make the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia a Zero-Waste event. (Photo credit: Green Works Philadelphia)

 

“There is going to be an impact on the City of Philadelphia and its environment,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s environmental program. “So we need to step up and do something about it.”

According to Groh, 16 stations with trash, recycling, and composting bins, staffed by volunteers from Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, the Sierra Club, and other groups, will be placed along the Parkway. And all building materials, including carpeting and wood, will be dismantled and donated for reuse.  Extra or leftover food will go to soup kitchens and shelters throughout the area, or it will end up at a compost facility in Fairmount Park. Food donations could exceed the 11,000 pounds given out during the Democratic National Convention in July, officials estimated.

Additional highlights include:

  • The league’s purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) equal to the amount  of electricity used to power activities in the Draft Experience site along the Parkway.
  • Signs, decorations, lumber, and carpeting will be donated to organizations including Habitat for Humanity and Resource Exchange.  The materials will be remade into such things as whiteboards for classrooms.
  • Water bottle refilling stations along the Parkway.
  • The NFL and Verizon are putting up $10,000 for urban forestry as part of a matching grant. Eventually, 10 trees will be planted for each of the 253 players drafted in 2017.

The NFL Draft’s sustainability effort is poised to be a winning one. If the Jets picks prove to be as successful, I will be one happy man.

 

^ TreePeople is a two-year LA Galaxy partner that inspires the people of Los Angeles to take personal responsibility for the urban forest.

 


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