Sports (and their arenas) will be ruined by climate change, starting with the Super Bowl

Miami, home of Super Bowl LIV, is facing some of the worst effects of climate change already. Not in 50 years — now.

Some examples: “Sunny day flooding” floods South Florida streets regularly. Extreme heat causes outdoor workers to have to pause what they’re doing to get out of the heat. Hurricanes have caused billions in dollars in damage. Ocean warming has acidified coral reefs and negatively affected the fishing industry. Droughts and wildfires cause unique issues, too.

And sea level rise is coming for South Florida — hard.

The temperature outside is nice and balmy right now for Super Bowl LIV, but climate change is front of mind for the NFL and Allen Hershkowitz, environmental advisor to the Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the U.S. Tennis Association and Major League Soccer.

In Miami alone, teams have had to move games because of hurricanes and intense flooding, according to Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins football team (CNBC).

Here’s more on the damages and potential threats to stadiums in Florida:

  • Hard Rock Stadium (NFL, Dolphins, Miami): $500 million to renovate, just in time for Hurricane Irma damages in 2017
  • Hard Rock Stadium: Intense rain causes field to flood in 2018
  • Hard Rock Stadium: Prone to flooding with three feet of sea level rise
  • American Airlines Arena (NBA, Heat, Miami): Sits on the edge of Biscayne Bay, prone to flooding with two feet of sea level rise (experts say this will happen within 20 years or less)
  • Proposed soccer stadium: to be built near Miami airport, which was flooded from heavy rain as recently as December 2019

The Super Bowl is the first big target of climate change. In the last five years, the games have been held in cities faced with some of the worst climate impacts:

  • 2020: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami — extreme heat, extreme weather, drought, sea level rise, coastal flooding
  • 2019: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta — extreme heat, extreme weather, drought
  • 2018: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis — extreme heat, extreme weather, warming winters
  • 2017: NRG Stadium, Houston — extreme heat, heavy downpours, extreme weather, sea level rise, coastal flooding
  • 2016: Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco — coastal flooding, sea level rise

It’s clear that not only will climate change cost these stadiums and teams money — it already has.

But it’s not just football, it’s not just sea level rise, and it’s not just South Florida.

Climate change is transforming sports around the globe, from winter to summer sports, from indoor to outdoor sports.

Let’s start with winter sports.

Due to rising temperatures and a shift in where snow is falling (if it even falls as snow at all), outdoor snow sports are at risk in our warming world. This puts a $20 billion dollar industry at risk in the U.S., as well as the future of the Winter Olympics. Can you say snow machines, anyone?

Ice hockey, the sport nearest and dearest to my heart, is at risk. How can you play pond hockey…. if the ponds don’t freeze? It’s deeper than that, though. The NHL has been very proactive with their green initiatives, but that won’t stop winters from warming, and threatens their beloved outdoor game, the Winter Classic.

Recently, to raise awareness for the climate crisis, hockey players are playing the “Last Game” game at the North Pole (if there is any ice!) on April 20, 2020.

Heat plays a big role in the summer months, too. It’s not just winter, and it’s not just the Winter Olympics!

The 2020 Olympic marathon, originally scheduled to be ran in Tokyo during the Olympics this year, has been relocated to a cooler town of Sapporo because of, you know, deadly heatwaves.

Last year, during the 2019 World Cup, soccer players were faced with bouts of extreme heat and heatwaves as they played in Europe.

The next world cup will be played in Qatar in 2022. Not only is it already facing problems with where the fans will go, as it is a tiny nation, but FIFA (the governing body of the World Cup) has already moved the tournament to the winter months for safety of the players. This was a completely necessary step (in the summer, temperatures average around 120°F), and one that we might need to take more as the world warms.

Australia might have to do the same for the Australian Open. They have implemented an “extreme heat policy” that allows for breaks in the case of extreme heat, based on current weather and medical research.

This year, the players are choking on bushfire smoke, but players have suffered from extreme heat and heat stress in the past. And it’s winter there when they play!

In the U.S., flooding from heavy downpours plays a major role when it comes to disruptions in sports. Fields in San Diego, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Davenport, Iowa all have been flooded in the last three years.

Not to mention that a lot of professional sports stadiums are under threat from sea level rise, too.

What’s next for sports in a warming world?

Allen Herskowitz said it best “Every community that hosts a professional sports venue is going to be affected by global climate disruption.”

The great thing about getting sports teams and big funders involved is the money and weight they will inevitably hold in the climate conversation. Sports also brings a new audience to the table, which is great for the big, structural change we need to tackle the climate crisis.

Only time will tell what will happen to sports and sporting venues. So far, it’s been an adaption game — drop a few million dollars on the stadium renovations (for those that can afford it), and hope that holds. Let’s see how that will change as the world warms.

Cover photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Sports (and their arenas) will be ruined by climate change, starting with the Super Bowl

  1. I try to keep my blog away from the big issues of the day, but I can’t help wonder privately how climate change is going to impact less “super bowl” sports like hiking and backpacking. We’ve had drought and wildfires here that devastated beloved forests, filled the valley with choking smoke (our own mini Australia), and caused two local outdoor stores to go under. It’s hard to think adaptation when the forest you relied on won’t grow back (if it can) for 50 to 100 years. 😦

    1. Yes!! The thing is, climate change isn’t a “big issue of the day,” it’s a problem that’s going to affect everything — including hiking and backpacking! Drought and wildfires will certainly have a huge impact on forests, as will the flooding and heavy downpours that come with warming, as well as extreme heat that will impact hikers. This is a multi-faceted issue that deserves our attention. Thank you for bringing this up!

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