Touchdown? Climate Change Places America’s Most Popular Sport In The Red Zone.

American Football is the most popular sport in the United States, with the National Football League bringing in $16 billion in revenue for the 2019 season. As the 2021-2022 season wraps up, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams prepare to battle it out in the Super Bowl. However, climate change threatens the massive yearly tradition, which could be the hottest on record this year, and the sport overall.

Climate Change Impacts The National Football League Across The Country

  • The full football season ranges from early September through the Super Bowl in mid-February, with most of the season occurring during the coldest months of the year. 
  • National Football League cities have warmed by at least 0.7°F and as much as 5°F over the past half-century.
  • NFL games are notorious for being played in some of the most brutal weather conditions. In fact, only a handful of games in the NFL’s 100-year history have been postponed due to inclement weather.
  • As climate change accelerates, the start of football season may increasingly collide with wildfire and hurricane seasons, as well as extreme temperatures. 
  • Teams and stadiums across the country are already dealing with flooding, extreme storms, excessive heat and smoke from wildfires.
    • In 2014, severe snowstorms forced the Jets-Bills game to be moved from Buffalo to Detroit.
    • As western wildfires raged on and Hurricane Ida made landfall in 2021, half a dozen NFL teams, and more than 20 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs faced potential impacts from the two disasters.
      • The New Orleans Saints were left without a home after Hurricane Ida damaged the Caesars Superdome. The Saints’ final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals was also canceled due to the hurricane.
      • In 2017, half a dozen college football games in the FBS were canceled, and several more postponed and relocated due to Hurricane Irma. 
      • In 2018, Hurricane Florence caused several college and professional football programs to reschedule or cancel practices and games. 
      • In 2019, Hurricane Dorian caused cancellations and rescheduling, and in 2020, Hurricane Delta moved several college football games.
    • Rising sea levels also threaten numerous NFL stadiums, including the Miami Dolphins’ stadium which last hosted the Super Bowl in 2020. 
      • The threat of flooding isn’t unique to the Dolphins – the Jacksonville Jaguars’ stadium sits at an elevation of 3 feet on the banks of the St. Johns River. The New Orleans Superdome is also at 3 feet, and the Jets and Giants play home games 7 feet above sea level in New Jersey.
  • There are growing calls for the football season to be pushed back further into the fall to avoid extreme weather conditions, particularly extreme heat.
  • This years’ contest at Los Angeles’ SoFi stadium could be the hottest Super Bowl on record, with temperatures approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 
    • For the first time in California’s history, the National Weather Service issued heat advisories in February, affecting more than 16 million people across the state. 
  • Heat stroke is a major concern for football players, and August, when training for the season typically commences, is the deadliest month for football players due to extreme heat.
    • In 2001, Minnesota Vikings player Korey Stringer died from heatstroke after football practice on a 91 degree day wearing full padded gear.
    • Fom 2000 through 2018, 30 NCAA football players died from heatstroke during practice.
      • In June 2018, a 19-year-old football player at the University of Maryland, College Park, died after suffering a heat stroke during practice.
    • From 1995-2020, 51 high school football players in the U.S. died from heat stroke during football-related activity. There were three deaths attributed to heat stroke in 2020.
      • Last summer, the death of a 16 year old football player from heatstroke marked at least the fourth high school football player in less than a month to die during a practice or conditioning session.
  • While some teams view their exposure to cold temperatures as an advantage over other teams in warmer parts of the country, cold weather can affect players and actual game play itself. 
    • Cold conditions make handling and throwing of the football harder, as the ball becomes harder and slicker in icy conditions.
      • The air pressure of a football drops by 20% in cold weather. Many footballs are inflated indoors, then brought into the cold, so the pressure in those footballs may drop during the game. 
      • A player’s grip strength can be cut in half in as little as 15 minutes of being exposed to freezing temperatures. This can lead to an increase in drops and turnovers.
      • Reaction times can also drop by 45% in freezing conditions.
    • Cold conditions not only hinder a player’s performance, but can also have negative impacts on their physical health:
      • Cold air irritates the respiratory system, making it more difficult for players to catch their breath. 
      • The cold also stiffens the muscles, which makes it hard to stretch and increases the risk of muscle injuries such as strains and tears.

Both Teams In The Super Bowl Have Felt The Impacts Of Climate Change

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Due to climate change, Cincinnati has warmed by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit between 1970 and 2020.
    • Cincinnati could see a 12.3% increase in its mean annual temperature from 55.5 degrees in 2020 to 62.3 degrees in 2099. 
  • Cincinnati has a major risk of flooding over the next 30 years, and in 2018, flooding of the Ohio River due to extreme rainfall reached the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, flooding the parking lot.
    • About 17,000 or 10% of all properties in Cincinnati have a greater than 26% chance of being severely affected by flooding over the next 30 years. 
    • Flooding will be more likely, as stronger storms may cause average annual water levels in the Ohio River in Cincinnati to surge as much as 25% through 2040 and up to 35% by the end of the century. 
  • Heavy precipitation has significantly increased in Cincinnati over the past few decades. 
    • Overall, river water levels will likely fluctuate up and down more wildly from spring to fall. The fluctuation of river depths and speed is expected to disrupt the lives of many living creatures, such as mussels. 
    • The strain will hurt critical infrastructure. Seesawing river levels are also predicted to mess with drinking water, sewage treatment and regional power plant facilities in a variety of ways.
  • As the Bengals prepare to face the Rams in Los Angeles, Cincinnati this week is digging out from Winter Storm Landon snowstorm that left roads impassable and thousands without power. 
    • There is growing evidence that warming in the Arctic, caused by man-made climate change, is driving periodic extreme cold snaps in the U.S. like Winter Storm Landon and last February’s Winter Storm Uri.

Los Angeles Rams

  • Due to climate change, Los Angeles has warmed by about 0.7 degrees between 1970 and 2019.
    • By 2050, Los Angeles is expected to have about 29 days above 105 degrees per year, compared to 16 days in 2000. 
  • Summer heat in Los Angeles is up to 27 degrees hotter in the city than in nearby rural areas. City summers are on average 2.4 degrees hotter than nearby rural areas. 
  • By 2050, the number of days per year when temperatures in the Downtown Los Angeles area climb higher than 95 degrees could nearly triple, according to a UCLA study.
  • In October 2021, the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders’ matchup at SoFi Stadium was delayed because of severe weather that rolled through the area.
  • As of December 2021, Los Angeles County and parts of Ventura County remain in drought conditions rated “severe” and “exceptional.”
  • In September 2020, Woodland Hills in Los Angeles County hit its highest temperature at 121 degrees.
  • The Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area was ranked the 1st most polluted city in the U.S. by ozone, a title the city has held for 21 of the last 22 years.
    • Downtown Los Angeles experienced the highest ozone pollution level in 26 years in September 2020 at 185 parts per billion.
  • Sea level rise in the Los Angeles region is expected to increase between 5 to 24 inches by 2050, and between 17 to 66 inches by 2100.
    • 8 million Californians live in areas where the land is sinking, including significant populations of Los Angelenos. 
  • Warming temperatures will likely increase the intensity of wildfires, which are a major threat to the Los Angeles region.
    • In 2017, the Thomas Fire burned 281,893 acres in the Los Angeles area, becoming one of the largest fires in California history. 
    • 42% of homes in the Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego metropolitan areas were found to be high or extreme wildfire risk.