WORDS AND PHOTOS BY ALEX DA SILVA -- ILLUSTRATION BY KELLY GARRETT
The concept of bringing people together from all different types of backgrounds and socioeconomics, in celebration of the physical achievements of the human body is not a new idea. In fact, it is a train of thought predating the birth of Christ with some of the earliest stadium designs dating to the 4th century. These sites, nominally found in southern Europe, possess some of the hallmarks of modern stadium design — athlete and spectator separate entrances, tiered seating for optimal viewing, running tracks — and continue to provide inspiration to contemporary sporting architecture.
The father of all modern stadia, the Roman Colosseum, codified several tenets of stadium ideology. One of these symbolic tenets was the repurposing of spa
ce. As in the physical and spiritual reclamation of land from one purpose to another. It was the infamous Roman Emperor Nero Claudius who spearheaded a time that vitalized the arts and their visual spectacle for crowds. Under Nero’s reign the site for the Colosseum was first purposed
, and purposed it was as a “Golden Dome” dedicated to his extravagance and was deemed a personal “pleasure palace”. After his suicide on AD68, his successor Vespasian reconfigured the land to begin the construction of the famous Colosseum. The court poet of the time, Martial, reflects on arguably one of the most famous examples of redevelopment in human history: “reddita roma sibi est”, or “Rome had been restored to herself”.
“Rome had been restored to herself”
What is less clear about stadium construction from antiquity is the environmental impact. Regarding the Colosseum, one can extrapolate environmental impact from various anecdotes about the amount of slave labor (i.e. where thousands of people were temporarily housed), natural resource diversion (i.e. drains built 26 feet underneath to divert river runoff that flowed from surrounding valleys and hills), and the artificial rais
ing of the ground level by nearly 23 feet. However, we can posit from the capacity of these ancient stadiums and the mode of travel at the time for the average person, what kind of impacts these stadiums might have brought.
In welcome contrast, in contemporary times we have much more data on how these symbols of human ingenuity impact our environment. Additionally, the turn of the century presented a unique use-case in this contemporary understanding of how these structures influence the environment. What the turn of the century gave to the world of stadium construction, was the advent of the $1 billion dollar stadium (with the Yokohama Stadium in Japan, built in 1997 part of this group when adjusted for inflation). Major sport oriented renovations and construction reach these figures more often than ever before. For the last twenty years, there has been more than two dozen different sporting infrastructure developments that have cost $1 billion dollars or more each.
However, more than just a signal of adjusted inflation, this is a reflection of the business impetus being placed on state-of-the-art, sport-oriented infrastructure; additionally, sports franchises and businesses see the modernization of their projects as a key to increasing profit. According to Jabari Young from CNBC, various teams are looking to invest $10 billion by the year 2030 in venue upgrades and other forms of development. Though national media revenue via broadcasting rights is a tried and true way to further revenue streams, a new or improved stadium promises ever “lucrative naming rights and sponsorship deals”. This is also not to exclude the real-estate market, which franchises can also capitalize on by utilizing these gargantuan enterprises “as anchors for massive…projects. That development generates even more money for teams.”
This type of development is not in a vacuum. Teams and organizations are responding to the massive influxes of people that attend sports-related events. Additionally, it is this particular tenet of sports stadia that in a sense, paradoxically creates its own environmental issues. To take the NFL as one example, in the year 2021 the average attendance for an NFL game was nearly 68,000 people. Considering there are 272 NFL games every year, this equates to approximately 18 million people over a single 17 game season. That is in the United States alone and does not include the 4 other major North American sports nor the most popular global sport, international football (soccer). According to the European Professional Football Leagues’ Fan Attendance Report (2018), the years 2010 to 2017 saw a cumulative average of over 300,000 people attending matches throughout Europe in a single season.
That is amongst 10 major leagues with nearly 4000 games a year. To put into context, the largest migration in human history according to Britannica was the migratory movement of humans from Europe to North America between 1820 and 1980. This culminated in nearly 37 million people over a century and a half. Therefore, imagine that type of migratory movement of humans (voluntarily I’ll add), effectively every weekend, every year.
This type of intense movement is how the environment becomes collateral damage. Especially, considering that these spectators
have to find a way travel to these institutions. Indeed, it is this specific type of travel that Jonathan Ca
sper — a professor from North Carolina State’s College of Natural Resources — says “is the number one [negative] factor because it’s the transportation to and from facilities that is by far the leading contributor [to stadium related environmental impact].” However, stadiums also impact the environment through other ways like air quality, improper waste disposal, and water / energy consumption. In a separate study from Casper and Jonathan Bunds — another professor from North Carolina State — they measured a spike in air pollutants 20 times the “recognized levels for moderate air quality” from a single college football game at the Carter-Finley Stadium in North Carolina. This spike was measured “three hours prior to the game”
when fans began to arrive. This is just a microcosm of the heavy effects our favorite sporting institutions can have on our environment.
Therefore, imagine that type of migratory movement of humans (voluntarily I’ll add), effectively every weekend, every year.
In light of all of this, what does this mean for us? How can this information be influenced by the nominal sports fan? The goal of this article is not to persuade people to not attend sporting events. However, what this article aims to be, is a small treatise to understand that even the events we don’t attend very often can still impact the environment negatively, and we ought to think consciously of how we consume our live events.
Luckily, several stadiums that are being constructed today, are making explicit and implicit choices to reverse the trend. Stadiums like the Mercedes-Benz arena in Atlanta, the CU Events Center in Colorado, and the Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco have all been LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified based on their architectural adherences to “green building” principles. To continue, other stadiums like the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle are making substantial verbal commitments to pushing the envelope ever farther.
We as consumers of live-sports and events can contribute to these efforts by adjudicating how we travel to these places, what we consume when we arrive, and frankly how we exit these places. Alike most things with the environment, we ought to play our part.