The National Football League (NFL) has been making immense strides towards implementing strategies for energy efficiency and sustainability in recent years, recognizing the money that could be saved on stadium power bills as well as the influence of being stewards of environmentally friendly practices (taking a page out of the books of the number of beers brewed with renewable energy that are served in NFL stadiums!). Whether these efforts are marked by using recycled materials or installing solar panels in stadiums, sponsoring events for the recycling of electronic waste, or using interactive digital media guides instead of printed guides, it seems that NFL teams are constantly working to one-up each other for the title of greenest, most energy-efficient team.
So why keep that hypothetical?!
What if the 2017-18 NFL season played out according to the teams who performed best on a (admittedly pretty arbitrary) ‘green scale?’ That’s exactly what I do in this article, playing out the whole 16 game schedule for all NFL teams, making my way through the playoffs, and ultimately declaring a Super-Efficient Bowl Champion!
Methodology and rankings
A note before starting—this analysis is pretty subjective, could go any number of ways depending on types of data chosen to analyze, and is merely meant to be a fun exercise praising teams who have put effort into energy efficiency. Nothing is meant to be taken overly serious, so don’t be offended if your team rates lowly or there are certain energy efficiency efforts of your team I was unaware of and thus didn’t account for. That said, if there’s additional interesting information I haven’t captured, please do let me know in the comments!
To play out the season, several pieces of data were gathered and then quantified for each team to determine which team was the most efficient. A team’s efficiency score comprised the following:
- The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score of each team’s home city, as determined by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE);
- The level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification achieved by a team’s home stadium, as determined by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), or, when LEED certification was not reached, the presence (or lack thereof) of significant sustainability practices at the stadium;
- The total round trip distance traveled by the team during the 2017-18 season to all eight of its away games; and
- The distance to a team’s stadium from the geographic center of the home city.
These various factors are normalized on a scale of 0 to 100 to determine a team’s efficiency score.
To make things more interesting than just having a single list of teams ranked from 1 to 32 of most-efficient scoring to least efficient-efficient scoring (and thus making the ultimate champion obvious before the games are even played out), each team is awarded a ‘Home-Efficiency Score’ (HES) and an ‘Away-Efficiency Score’ (AES). The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score and the LEED certification factor into both the HES and AES, however the round trip distance traveled (which pertains to teams traveling to their away games) only factors in to the AES, while the distance to a team’s stadium from the city’s geographic center (which pertains to the average distance home-team fans are likely to travel to watch a home game) only factors into the HES.
As such, the HES is the simple average of above factors 1, 2, and 4, while the AES is the simple average of above factors 1, 2, and 3.
1. 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score
Again, these scores are on a scale of 0 to 100 and are awarded by ACEEE. In determining the City Energy Efficiency Score, ACEEE takes into account local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies.
Most NFL teams either play in or clearly represent one of the cities that is scored by ACEEE in this annual list. However, there were a few notable exceptions that had to be addressed separately:
- The Packers play and represent Green Bay, Wisconsin. Green Bay is an extremely small city compared with typical cities with professional sports teams,and wasn’t on the list. The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was used from the ACEEE score card due to it being the closest major metropolitan area to Green Bay and the high concentration of Packers fans throughout the state of Wisconsin.
- The Raiders play and represent Oakland, California (though they are soon moving to Las Vegas, Nevada—but that is for another season so it won’t affect their 2017 score). With Oakland not in the ACEEE list, the next best city to use was San Francisco, California due to the proximity of these metropolitan areas.
- The Bills play and represent Buffalo, New York. There were no representative cities in the ACEEE scorecard in the Upstate New York region. This analysis used ended up using the average of all NFL cities since it seemed fair to avoid rewarding or punishing Buffalo for the lack of data on its performance and instead award it a middle of the pack rating.
The following table summarizes the scores received for each of the 32 NFL teams based on the ACEEE score of their designated cities:
2. Stadium LEED certification or other initiatives
While an NFL team might not have much it can do to influence its city’s ACEEE City Energy Efficiency Score, one thing they can control is how energy efficient their stadium is. Each team will typically play eight games in their home stadium during the course of an NFL season (more if you count preseason and playoffs). Football teams sometimes fall under more scrutiny for the sustainability (or lack thereof) of their stadiums compared with other sports that have dozens of home games per year, because so much land and so many resources are being used for the bigger football stadiums that get used a fraction of the time.
Such factors make the energy efficiency and general sustainability of football stadiums more crucial, and in recent years there have been a handful of stadiums that have pursued LEED certification for their stadiums. LEED is a program from the USGBC that certifies all sorts of buildings, including stadiums, based on their design, construction, operation, and maintenance. New buildings often strive to be LEED certified before blueprints are even drawn up, though existing buildings can also be retrofitted to comply and be certified as a LEED building.
Based on the points awarded (out of a possible 100), buildings can be classified as:
- 40-49 points is LEED Certified;
- 50-59 points is LEED Silver;
- 60-79 points is LEED Gold; and
- 80-100 points is LEED Platinum.
These 100 possible points are awarded based on the categories of Location & Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design. There are an additional 10 points that can be earned based on Regional Priority and Innovation.
As such, the points awarded in this analysis to NFL stadiums that are LEED certified will correlate with the minimum points necessary to reach that level of certification (e.g, a team with a LEED Silver stadium will be awarded 50 points). Additionally, many stadiums do have significant sustainability efforts in their stadiums but they have not yet pursued or achieved LEED status. To give due credit to these initial steps, stadiums who are found to have other efficiency and sustainability initiatives at their stadiums will be awarded 10 points (representing the additional 10 points LEED makes awardable outside of the base 100 points).
The following table summarizes the scores received for each of the 32 NFL teams based on the LEED certification or sustainability initiatives found for their stadiums*:
*The sources for all of these stadium initiatives can be found in the ‘Sources and additional reading’ section at the end of the article. One stadium worth noting is the AT&T Stadium of the Dallas Cowboys. It is possible to find literature citing that they are aiming to reduce energy use by 20% per year, they were still counted without any major initiatives. The reason for this is because any concrete completed projects towards this goal could not be identified, in addition to the fact that at peak draw the energy-use starting point was using three times the amount of energy the whole nation of Liberia can produce—this idea makes it hard to award points just yet until the stated goals are realized.
3. Total round trip distance traveled to away games
Another large energy expense of every NFL team is that amount of travel required for each team to go to each of its away games. Some teams are centrally located compared with their common opponents and thus able to take buses or trains, while other teams find themselves in cross country trips several times a year that require the use of a privately chartered airplane. The traveling process varies team-by-team, but the total number of people traveling to each game ranges from 135 to 200, bringing with them up to 16,000 pounds of equipment (which will travel by 18-wheeler truck for all but the longest of trips). Most traveling is done by privately chartered planes, at a costs high enough that the Patriots found it cost-effective to become the first team to own their own team planes.
All of these factors use up a massive amount of transportation fuel, and the best proxy available for how much energy each team’s travel will account for in the 2017 season is to look at who is traveling the furthest distance to games away from their home stadium (accounting for traditional away games in other teams’ stadiums as well as any games taking place at a third location, such as a number of games taking place in England during the 2017 season).
The following table summarizes the total travel miles for each of the 32 NFL teams during the 2017 season, as well as a score normalized out of 100—where 0 represents the number of miles traveled by the team with the most road miles and 100 representing a hypothetical team that would travel zero total miles:
4. Distance from city center to stadium
The last factor considered in this analysis examines how far fans would have to travel to get to a home game of their favorite NFL team. While the ideal data for this would be to find the average distance that fans who bought tickets, or even just season ticket holders, lived from the stadium of their team. Unfortunately, this type of data set does not seem readily available. Instead, a proxy for this distance traveled that was used in a 2014 analysis I came across was the distance from the city center of each team’s implied/representative city and its stadium. This data (which I have updated for stadiums or teams that have moved since that analysis) would give a rough idea how much (and what type of) game day travel is needed by an average fan in that city—whether they would have to use a lot of fuel drive a long distance (because their beloved San Francisco 49ers are actually 43 miles away in Santa Clara) or if they could walk or use more efficient public transportation to get to their local team (such as the New Orleans Saints who are positioned a mere half mile from city center and the typical pre-game restaurants and bars of their avid fans).
The following table summarizes the distance from city center to stadium for each of the 32 NFL teams, as well as a score normalized out of 100—where 0 represents the number of miles of the stadium that’s furthest from its implied city center and 100 representing a hypothetical team that would travel zero total miles:
Putting together these four factors as described earlier the following final scores for each team’s efficiency at home (HES) and away (AES):
Notes on methodology
Before playing out the 2017 NFL season using these Home and Away Efficiency Scores to determine the winner of all 256 regular season matchups, a couple of notes about the methodology used:
- The average HES is 50.5 while the average AES is 37.6. This setup clearly favors the average home team in each matchup, due to the fact that the ‘city center to stadium distance’ scores are significantly higher than the ‘road miles traveled’ scores.’ This fact is seen as realistic, since in any given NFL game the home team is more likely to win (an average 3 point swing is given to the home team in an NFL game by sports odds makers).
- There are some clear favorites heading into the season, as the HES of the several of the teams with LEED stadiums have a HES higher than the AES of every team, while a number of teams at the bottom of the AES ranking have scores so low they can’t beat the HES of any team.
- Through it all, this is an inherently silly but fun exercise. We could instead just assign point values for all the sorts of factors an NFL team can control and declare the top 10 teams in those rankings—but isn’t it more fun to be a bit arbitrary and go through to declare a champion? Read on if you think so!
Regular season results
I used the NFL Playoff Predictor tool to plug in the results of all of the regular season matchups of the 2017 NFL schedule. This tool then uses the NFL’s rules to determine what teams make the playoffs and in what seeds.
You can see a saved version of what this played regular season would look like on a game-by-game process by following this link, but the final standings for the playoffs come out as follows:
It is worth noting that after the first 7 weeks of the NFL season, the results based on this scoring system were already incorrect 52% of the time. But nonetheless, we have our twelve playoff teams in the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New England Patriots representing the AFC, while the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Giants represent the NFC.
By highlighting the playoff teams in the below table, we can find out what carried teams to the playoffs and what caused teams to miss the playoffs:
A few things stick out:
- The Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons were the only team that overcame a below average ACEEE score to make the playoffs, with the Titans seeming to rely on their extremely high city center to stadium distance score and the Falcons were carried by their new stadium being the only one certified as LEED Platinum while also being so close to city center.
- Every team that has some sort of LEED certification on their stadium had enough of a leg up to make the playoffs. Further, no teams that had zero points from the lack of any significant energy initiative ended up making the playoffs.
- Half of the playoff teams that scored below average on the road miles traveled, while one third of the playoff teams scored below average on city center to stadium distance (including the San Francisco 49ers who’s stadium is the furthest from city center, but luckily for them was certified as LEED Gold).
Playing through the first three rounds of the playoffs, we’ll continue to use the NFL Playoff Predictor tool and our HES and AES figures, as teams with a higher playoff seed still host the games.
The Wildcard Round finds the Broncos, Steelers, Vikings, and Eagles moving on to meet the top four seeds from the regular season.
The Divisional Round finds all four home teams, bolstered by their LEED certified stadiums that aren’t too far from city center, advancing to the Conference Championships.
The pre-season favorites in the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons advance to the Super-Efficient Bowl. Both of these teams are carried by the energy efficiency and the central location of their stadiums, as the ACEEE score for both Baltimore and Atlanta are average while they also have significant road miles traveled as they are both on the East Coast and find themselves traveling to the Midwest and the West Coast.
Again, the two teams left standing at this point are the ones with the highest level of LEED certification on their stadiums, and they both come into this game with compelling story lines.
For the Atlanta Falcons, this marks a return to the Super Bowl after being victims of the largest comeback in Super Bowl history last year. However, last year they had not yet opened the Mercedes-Benz Stadium—the LEED Platinum certification of which propelled them back to the big game. Is this bump in sustainability enough to overcome the ghosts of last year’s devastating loss? Was the missing ingredient to last year’s team a stadium that set the bar as far as energy-efficient stadiums go?
For the Baltimore Ravens, the last time they were in the Super Bowl was five years ago—and this was a notable game in the energy world. It was this Super Bowl where the a power outage caused a half hour stoppage in play, the cause of which was later discovered to be a recently installed relay that was actually supposed to prevent just such a blackout. This lack of energy did not derail the Ravens, as they won the game with a goal line stand towards the end of the fourth quarter. Perhaps this caused a realization that they could win it all even without energy pumping into the stadium, as it was the following season that M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, earned LEED Gold certification. But that LEED Gold Certification is no longer the gold standard in the NFL, with their opponents only this year achieving LEED Platinum.
How will this play out?!
For the Super-Efficient Bowl, since neither team is playing at its home stadium, we should determine an efficiency score without the home or away components. That means the score of the Super-Efficient Bowl will be determined by the average of ACEEE City Score and LEED Points awarded. Using that as a basis we find a champion and final score to the inaugural Super-Efficient Bowl to be….
The Atlanta Falcons have received redemption and won the Super-Efficient Bowl! Despite Baltimore jumping out to an early lead with a higher ACEEE City Energy Efficiency score, but it wasn’t enough to hold back Atlanta with their state-of-the-art LEED Platinum stadium. Let the confetti rain down (but make sure it’s made of recycled paper)!
Because of the year-to-year volatility of several of the metrics used to determine the energy-efficient winners, anyone could come out of the pack to take the title of Super-Efficient Bowl Champion next year. As shown by Atlanta and Baltimore’s success in this inaugural season, though, the key is to get a LEED certified stadium and to locate it as close as possible to the center of your city. The number of LEED stadiums has grown to account for almost 20% of stadiums in the NFL, and that’s after the first one was certified only six years ago. More and more teams seem to be finding the value of a LEED stadium, and now maybe the Super-Efficient Bowl will prompt more to join the trend.
And best of luck to the Dallas Cowboys, who finished last in the league. Worry not, they’ll be awarded the first draft pick in next year’s draft—which maybe they can spend on the top prospect in energy-efficiency!
Sources and additional reading
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.