GSB News and Notes, UK Style: Arsenal Supporters Protest Owner Stan Kroenke’s Ownership of Hunting Channel; Oval Cricket Ground/SkyTV Tackle Plastic Ocean Waste; Forest Green Rovers League Two Debut Earns Big Media Coverage

With the 2017-18 Premier League (EPL) football/soccer season set to kickoff tomorrow/Friday, with Arsenal hosting Leicester City, and with a raft of interesting Green-Sports stories breaking out across England, now is a perfect time for a UK style GSB News & Notes. And, just like the EPL campaign, we start with Arsenal, as their supporters protest the club’s American owner Stan Kroenke and his ownership of a cable TV hunting channel. Then we move on to an initiative from London’s Oval Cricket Ground and SkyTV to build awareness of, and action on the plastic ocean waste issue. We end with GSB fave Forest Green Rovers (FGR). Their debut in the fourth tier of the English Football pyramid, League Two, after earning promotion from the fifth tier last spring, drew coverage from major media outlets the world over. Why? Because FGR is the Greenest Team in Sports.

 

 

ARSENAL SUPPORTERS PROTEST OWNERS OWNERSHIP OF CABLE TV HUNTING CHANNEL

Arsenal is one of the Premier League’s (EPL’s) most decorated clubs, with 13 league titles and a record 13 FA Cup trophies to its credit. It is also an EPL green leader: The club just extended its partnership with Octopus Energy to supply the Emirates Stadium with electricity generated solely from renewables. The stadium also puts its 100 percent of its food waste through an anaerobic digester, which then gets composted.

Gunners’ supporters seem to be supportive of the clubs greening initiatives but that hasn’t stopped them from criticizing the club’s American owner, Stan Kroenke, on another environmental issue — animal cruelty — specifically, his company’s ownership of My Outdoor TV (MOTV), a hunting-themed cable network. And they are, smartly it says here, pushing Arsenal’s main sponsors — Emirates, Puma and Vitality — to condemn Kroenke’s support for hunting.

According to Jack de Menezes of The INDEPENDENT of London, “a petition calling for [Emirates, Puma and Vitality] to call for Kroenke ‘to stand down’ has [as of August 3rd] nearly reached 50,000 signatures, as pressure continues to grow on the American billionaire following the launch of his hunting TV channel.”

Kroenke has faced searing criticism and outrage from Arsenal supporters after it was revealed on August 1 that MOTV is owned by his company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. Per de Menezes, the aforementioned petition calls for a “meeting between the Arsenal board, key sponsors, leading animal rights charities and most importantly, [representatives] of the international fan bases regarding this situation.” Tom Farmery of The Daily Mail reported that the dustup reached up to the highest levels of British politics as UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the criticism of Kroenke’s MOTV app, which for £7.60 ($10.06) a month offers “the Netflix of the hunting world.”

But perhaps it was the BBC and its “Have I Got News For You” show that nailed the story with this tweet of a doctored jersey (“kit” in British English,) which Arsenal fans then picked up with a vengeance.

 

Arsenal Tweet

 

Can you see American sports fans protesting against a hunting channel? Or against fracking? While there certainly were marches against Mike Vick after he served his time for organizing dog fights, it’s hard for this reporter to imagine a movement against hunting in the US. And if that’s hard to imagine, it’s harder still to picture protests against, say, fossil fuel companies who sponsor sports events/teams. We certainly can learn some things from our British sports fan cousins.

 

LONDON’S OVAL CRICKET GROUND PARTNERS WITH SKY TV ON PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE CAMPAIGN

Sky TV, one of the UK’s two largest sports broadcasters (BT Sport being the other) is advancing Green-Sports in ways that its US counterparts ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and CBS Sports, should emulate.

Kia Oval Stadium, the 24,000 seat South London home of the Surrey cricket club, partnered with Sky and its new Sky Sports Cricket channel to build awareness of the plastic ocean waste problem. The broadcaster, through its Ocean Rescue sustainability campaign, gave out refillable water bottles to fans who came to the stadium from July 27th-31st for the England-South Africa five day Test match. Thanks to a hat trick by star bowler Moeen Ali, the home side won by 239 runs. I have no idea what “England won by 239 runs” in cricket means…other than that England won.

 

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics. (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

 

According to a story by Luke Nicholls in edie.net20,000 limited-edition re-usable bottles were given out at the London ground throughout the five-day Test affair, and “fans were encouraged to use 20 free water distribution points which were installed throughout the venue.” Giving out water bottles is hard to imagine at a stateside sporting event, or even at an English soccer/football match. But, perhaps the make up of the crowd at a five day Test match — where there are breaks for tea — gives the organizers confidence that the water bottles will be used in a proper, decorous fashion.

A Sky Ocean Rescue mobile studio was set up at the Oval, allowing fans to commit their own recorded pledge to become an #OceanHero. These were then shared via social media.

But it is on TV where Sky is really stepping up its Green-Sports game.

Sky News reports on the plastic ocean waste issue were played during breaks in the match and viewers were challenged to reduce use of single-use plastics in the home.

Sky Sports Cricket channel devoted parts of its Test match coverage to highlighting the impact plastic is having on the world’s oceans, using some cricket statistics that, per Nicholls’, are “shocking”: For example, “In the time it takes to bowl one over, the equivalent of four rubbish trucks’ worth of plastic will be dumped in the ocean.”

Now, I have no clue as to what “bowling one over” means or how long it takes, but I do know that if Sky Sports can broadcast environmental messaging during an important international cricket match, ESPN and Fox Sports can do the same during, say, an NBA playoff game or World Series games. Will they? Stay tuned.

To Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch, the Ocean Rescue campaign, which launched in January with a 45-minute documentary which aired across the company’s TV channels and has received almost 25,000 views on YouTube, is a no-brainer: “The dire health of our oceans is such an important issue, and one that needs to be urgently addressed. At Sky, we want to use our voice and the potential of our reach to inspire people to take action to protect our planet by bringing to life our amazing ocean for millions of people across Europe, and discussing the solutions.

England cricketer Stuart Broad, who is also supporting the initiative, noted that “by 2050, there’s a chance that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, which is really scary for our world, isn’t it?”

 

 

 

FOREST GREEN ROVERS EARNS DRAW IN FIRST LEAGUE TWO MATCH, ATTENTION FROM ESPN AND THE GUARDIAN FOR ITS GREENNESS

Forest Green Rovers (FGR), the Greenest Team in Sports (GTIS), played its first match ever in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, on Saturday, earning a 2-2 draw vs. Barnet in front of a raucous home crowd at The New Lawn stadium.

[NOTE: If you are a loyal GreenSportsBlog reader and are thus very familiar with the Forest Green Rovers story, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs. For GSB rookies, keep reading.]

FGR embarked on its journey to earn its GTIS designation when Dale Vince, OBE^, who also owns British renewable energy company Ecotricity, bought the club in 2010 and became team chairman. Over the next several years, he installed an organic pitch at the New Lawn, has it mowed by a solar powered Mo-Bot, and converted all of the stadium concession stands to vegan-only food.

You read that right.

The club’s fortunes on the pitch also improved since Vince took over, with FGR finally earning promotion from the National Conference, the 5th tier of English football, to the 4th tier League Two. This might not sound like much — sort of like a minor league baseball club moving up from Rookie League to Class A, if American sports had promotion and relegation — but it really is. That’s because, League Two is the bottom rung of The Football League, with the English Premier League at the top of the pyramid#.

[Welcome back, GSB veteran readers!]

Being in The Football League for the first time in its 128 year existence means more exposure for FGR. But because of the club’s green ethos, that exposure is growing exponentially, far more than for the typical League Two promo-tee.

For example, a long form piece by Ian Chadband, ran on espnfc.comwhich draws 11.48 million monthly unique visitors, two days before the Barnet match. It characterized FGR as: “a little sports club with big dreams like no other…The fairy tale, as they like to call it, of a village team on the verge of bankruptcy, who have risen to become the club from the smallest community ever to host a team in England’s professional Football League…[And] there’s the uniquely green bit, the fact that vegan-embracing, eco-friendly Forest Green have a very different ethos from perhaps any other sports organization.”

Stuart James, writing on July 31st in The Guardian, with its 30 million+ monthly uniques, dug deep into the food aspect of the FGR story. Vegan cuisine is not only on offer for the the fans; players and coaches are on all-vegan diets. Good thing for them that Em Franklin, the club’s chef, is a foodie’s — vegan or otherwise — dream: “The Q-Pie is brilliant – people love it,” Franklin told James. “It’s a shortcrust pastry base, puff pastry lid and it’s Quorn with soya béchamel white sauce, with thyme and leeks. It’s full and it’s filling because my portions are hearty! We’re doing a pasty as well this year – that’s something new. Because we’re vegan doesn’t mean it’s all lettuce and lentils.”

 

Em Franklin

Em Franklin, the chef at Forest Green, where the food is vegan. (Photo credit: Martin Godwin for The Guardian)

 

Speaking Wednesday to Brian Oliver of The Star Online of Malaysia, Ryan Harmer, FGR’s club’s commercial director summed it up this way: “In the past week we’ve had reporters here from China, been on Al Jazeera and ESPN, on German radio stations. In League Two that’s probably unheard of.”

 

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire
# From top to bottom, the Football League consists of The Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two

 


 

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Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football (Soccer) Ladder

In the almost four year existence of GreenSportsBlog, we have written more stories about fifth tier English soccer/football club Forest Green Rovers than any other team or topic—12 times to be exact. Why? FGR is, clearly to GSB, the Greenest Team in Sports. From rooftop solar to mowing the lawn with a solar powered “mow-bot” (I kid you not!) to the now famous vegan-only food concessions, FGR is at the cutting edge of Green-Sports. And, as of Sunday they are no longer in the fifth tier of English soccer. After beating Tranmere, 3-1, in a playoff match at London’s fabled Wembley Stadium, FGR earned promotion to the fourth tier (aka League Two), for the first time ever. This is huge, from both football and greening perspectives.

 

I am quite sure you’ve never heard of Kaiyne Woolery. But he may well be one of the most important people in Green-Sports today—and he likely has no idea about that fact.

Woolery scored two goals to lead Forest Green Rovers (FGR), aka the Greenest Team in Sports, to a 3-1 win over Tranmere Rovers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. The playoff victory earned FGR promotion from the National League (the fifth tier of English football) to League Two (fourth tier).

Kaiyne Woolery

Kaiyne Woolery celebrates one of his two goals for Forest Green Rovers in Sunday’s promotion 3-1 playoff win at London’s Wembley Stadium over Tranmere. FGR moves up to League Two, the 4th tier of English football, next season (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

You simply cannot overstate the impact of this win, abetted by Woolery’s two goals, both in terms of football and FGR’s sustainability/climate change fighting mission.

 

MOVING ON UP

From a football perspective, consider that Forest Green Rovers has been in existence since 1889 and has never made it up to the fourth tier (FYI, there are 24 tiers in English football, with over 7,000 clubs).

In most countries—but not the US and Canada—professional soccer operates a system of promotion and relegation. Clubs that finish at or near the top of a league are promoted to the league above for the following season. Teams that end up at or near the bottom get relegated to the league below. If you want more information on promotion and relegation, check out this schematic, which maps out the top nine tiers of English football, and/or click here.

 

English Football Pyramid

The English Football Pyramid. Forest Green Rovers won promotion from the 5th Level (Conference National) to the 4th Level (League Two), the highest tier it has ever achieved. (Credit: An American’s Guide to English Soccer)

 

For most of its 128 year existence, FGR rattled around a maze of English local, county and regional leagues, moving up and down over the decades, never getting above the sixth tier. In 1997-98, they made it up to the National League, the fifth tier of English soccer. While that was an accomplishment, let’s put it in its proper perspective: In baseball terms, the fifth tier is the equivalent of the low minor leagues. FGR’s quaint and sustainable home ground, The New Lawn, has a capacity of about 5,100, similar to most of its (now former) National League compatriots.

The club largely teetered between relegation and mediocrity until Dale Vince, OBE^, owner of Ecotricity, a solar and wind provider, bought the club in 2010. They started slowly but hit on an upward trajectory that led to FGR making the promotion playoffs in 2015 and 2016. They fell short both years but the third time proved to be a charm on Sunday. Before a crowd of almost 19,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, the club earned promotion to League Two with Woolery’s 11th and 44th minute goals sandwiching one from Christian Doidge in the 41st.

The honeymoon will be brief for the coaches, players and supporters, many of whom flooded The New Lawn for a celebration Monday night. FGR’s first League Two season starts in just three months (it’s a loooooong season!). Some higher caliber talent will need to be added to the core of this season’s group to make sure Forest Green Rovers stays in the fourth tier and doesn’t face relegation.

 

LEAGUE TWO: BIGGER MEGAPHONE FOR FGR’S GREENNESS

From a sustainability perspective, the implications of Woolery’s two goals and of the resulting move up the ladder are also massive.

One might not think going from the fifth to fourth tier is that big a deal. Trust me; it is.

  • Sky Sports, a British version of ESPN, broadcasts League Two matches, providing those clubs with greater media exposure, and thus a bigger audience, than their National League counterparts (without a national broadcast deal) can hope for. And that means a bigger audience for stories about FGR’s greenness, the vegan only food, the mow-bot, etc.
  • With its ascension to League Two, FGR is now, per the schematic above, part of The Football League, the organization that oversees the second, third and fourth tiers. This is important because FGR can take part in two domestic, knock-out Cup competitions, the League Cup (includes the Premier League teams) and the League Trophy (open to League One and Two clubs only) that are not open to National League clubs or below. And that means they will share in yet more additional revenue. The more famous and prestigious FA Cup is open to all levels.

 

FGR Tweet

 

  • The TV deal and the additional Cup exposure will result in a financial windfall for the club, estimated by one source to be between $1-$2 million. That is rounding error compared to the estimated $220 million influx for each of the three teams that get promoted from the second tier Championship to the Premier League. But $1-$2 million can be a big deal in the Forest Green Rovers world. It will allow Mr. Vince to attract a higher level of talent. And perhaps he will be able to move forward on some new sustainability initiatives.

 

The highest profile sustainability-focused project on Mr. Vince’s docket is FGR’s new stadium. To be clear, the world’s first all-wood stadium was in the planning phase before this season started.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Did you say all-wood stadium?”

Yes. Mr. Vince and company is planning an all (fire-retardant treated) wood stadium. In a meadow.

 

FGR Exterior

Computer-aided design of the exterior of the planned all-wood Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Mr. Vince, in a story by George Ramsey that ran Tuesday on CNN.com, said, “The importance of wood is not only that it’s naturally occurring, [but that] it has very low embodied carbon — about as low as it gets for a building material. And when you bear in mind that around three-quarters of the lifetime carbon impact of any stadium comes from its building materials, you can see why that’s so important — and it’s why our new stadium will have the lowest embodiment of carbon of any stadium.”

 

FGR Interior

Computer-aided design of the interior of the planned Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the stadium will be topped by a translucent, sloping roof to reduce shadows on the pitch (field) and aid in grass growth. Venue walkways have been fashioned to allow better ventilation and maintenance of the field.

 

The first 53 seconds of this 6:44 video from TomoNews provides details about Forest Green Rovers’ proposed all-wood stadium.

 

If all goes to plan, the stadium will be the hub of a 100-acre Eco Park. At an estimated cost of $123 million, the park will include facilities for both the community and the club: gyms, all-weather soccer pitches/fields, sports science clinics, as well as a conference center.

The project still needs approval from local authorities, so Mr. Vince asked the fans present at Monday’s promotion celebration to write to the Stroud District Council in support of the stadium—another benefit of promotion to League Two.

But don’t think that Mr. Vince is content to stop at League Two. He was quoted at the celebration by Aled Thomas in Gloucestershire Live as saying, “I think we’ll have a good first season in League Two and will be there or thereabouts for promotion – I’m aiming for League One and then the Championship.”

And the FGR owner is also aiming, with his club’s higher profile, to show his fellow owners that green is good for business and good for football.

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire, a level of chivalry in the United Kingdom.

 


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