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?
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.
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, 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.
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.
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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