“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Baseball: thirsty sport

I follow a few sports, chief among them are Major Leauge BaseballNFL Football, college football, and NHRA drag racing. I'm not a zealot and can't quote statistics as many can but I'm emotionally invested in the outcomes. But clearly, these sports and all others require the use of some form of fossil fuels; would their elimination make a big difference in our overall consumption? As I've mentioned, the "Fermi Problem approach" to such questions appeals to me. As it turns out though, it's a difficult problem, at least for me.

I've completed my Fermi analysis of three sports (Major League Baseball, college football, and NFL football). I did this at a very superficial level, only estimating the fuel used by the fans driving to the games and travel by the participating teams. Such a calculation involves estimating the answers to a myriad of data points, among others: how many games per season; how many fans at each game; how many fans in each vehicle attending the game; how far the average vehicle traveled to and from the game; what is the average fuel economy of the vehicle used; how far and by what means did the visiting team travel to the home team's venue; what is the fuel economy of the means utilized by the visiting team; and others. I didn't estimate the coal burned in field lighting, the natural gas used in heating the hot dogs and nacho cheese, the coal burned to power the HDTVs watched by fans not actually attending the game, and many others.

With those limitations in mind, the results of my speculation are as follows (in decreasing order of fuel used):
  • College Football: 9.0*10^6 barrels/year
  • Major League Baseball: 4.2*10^6 barrels/year
  • NFL Football: 1.0*10^6 barrels/year
I arbitrarily speculate that NBA basketball uses considerably less fuel than Major League Baseball not because an NBA team plays fewer games per season (since visiting teams in baseball typically play several consecutive games at each location) but rather because the venues are smaller and thus fewer fans travel to each game. Similar considerations apply to hockey. I think each of the major motor sports (NHRA, NASCAR, IRL) use much less still, because there is only a single event each active week, though it extends over multiple days. A similar consideration applies to golf.

In each of the sports I estimated, by far the largest fuel use was by fans traveling to the games. This use was typically an order of magnitude larger than that by team travel (anywhere from 8 to 40 times as large). And finally, the use by the three sports I estimated totals about 0.19% of our nation's annual oil consumption of about 7.5*10^9 barrels/year. Let's suppose that the sports I've looked at represent 10% of the oil consumed in all sports, then "sport" would be responsible for about 2% of U.S. oil consumption. I suspect this is high, since the fuel is consumed primarily by individuals and the "average person" I know likely doesn't use 2% of her oil consumption on sports. Thus, elimination of all spectator sporting activities is yet one more way not to get us out of our energy dilemma.


Michael Tobis said...

Your number does seem a bit high though I'm not sure why. On the other hand I wouldn't be surprised if it's much higher in the south where people will travel considerable distances it watch high school games.

Let me point out that many people go to Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks games by train. The same would be true in many of the other subway cities. So that balances out.

As for myself, I think I've spent zero watt-hours on spectator sports over the past several years. I didn't even watch the gold medal hockey game, though I admit I was very pleased by the outcome and I now regret that I missed it.

King of the Road said...

The use of public transportation in such cities as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. may tend to reduce the total, but I assumed 2.5 occupants per car (since fans typically gather to travel en masse). Even 2.5 may be low now that I think about it. In any case, mass transit isn't dramatically better than a fully occupied personal vehicle with respect to "seat miles per gallon."

Even that is a complex comparison though, since light rail is typically used and is powered by electricity.

But for an order of magnitude estimate, I think it's not so bad. The distribution of "gallons used per year in sporting events" is likely not normal since no one uses less than zero gallons, and a significant number of people use an awful lot of fuel driving their RV's, etc. I know a few such people.

But thanks for making me think about it.

Charlie said...

One other obvious omission from your data is the opportunity cost of being at a sporting event. First, your consumption of resources at the event are restricted to the public resources expended by the facility. Second, since many of these events are held in the evening, many residences are probably not being lit, TV's and computers are turned off at home. Third, and probably most important, is what other activities are not performed when people go to sporting events. I would venture a guess that your 2% estimate seems high because sporting events are a subset of "recreational/discretionary" activities which may fluctuate by activity, but are in total relatively constant for a given individual/family.

King of the Road said...

I didn't include the power used to light the stadium (which they do even for day games in many cases). I did find a site (here) that states that a football stadium with a capacity of 75,000 fans will use 65,000 kilowatt hours in the course of a game. This is 0.91 kilowatt hours per person.

Elsewhere, I've determined that my family of four uses electricity at the rate of about 2.1 kilowatts, or about 500 watts per person. but much of that is refrigerator, pool filter, and other things that don't need me there to use power. Let's speculate that about half is electricity I select to use because I'm there (lights, television, computer, etc.). Let's also assume I'm out of the house for six hours to attend the game.

Thus, I'd avoid the use of 6*250 (6 hours times 250 watts) or 1.5 kilowatt hours of electricity while using 0.91 kilowatt hours at the stadium. In other words, my personal use of electricity would be reduced by about 40%.

While it's true that cutting out stadium style sporting events would not result in saving all of the energy I calculated for the reasons you mention, in a future of more scarce energy resources at higher prices I anticipate a gradual downgrading of the energy intensity of recreational activities. It's interesting and good to determine what those energy intensities are.

Thanks for reading and commenting.