The Super Bowl is inarguably the biggest event on the American calendar when it comes to sports, television, party food, and more. While worldwide, the conclusion to the NFL season is outshined in number of viewers by events with more global appeal like the World Cup, the national hype and excitement behind the Super Bowl is unparalleled. Given that’s the case, the leadup to the Big Game is usually filled with plenty of fun facts and figures, from the collective surge in toilets flushing at halftime (90 million!) to the number of chicken wings consumed on Super Bowl Sunday (1.4 billlion!) to even the lost productivity from coworkers who call in ‘sick’ the day after the Super Bowl ($4 billion!).
But what’s driving the festivities, both live in the stadium and at Super Bowl parties across the country? It’s the electric power industry that makes sure it all goes off without a hitch (most of the time, but more on that later). Within the city hosting the final game of the NFL season, immense power must be sent to the stadium to keep the necessary equipment and infrastructure humming. And across the country, having all of the televisions tuned into the same event at the same time creates some compelling power trends that can be quite educational.
So, as we all prepare for what promises to be one of the best Super Bowl matchups on paper we’ve ever seen—pitting last year’s Super Bowl MVP quarterback, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, against the man with more championship rings than anyone else in league history, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucaneers—it seems only appropriate to hone in on the number 10. That’s the unprecedented number of Super Bowls that Brady has reached. And to celebrate that, let’s look at the 10 most compelling energy insights, stories, tidbits, and trends about the Super Bowl.
Among the most commonly discussed power sector stories related to the Super Bowl is how the traditions of the games creates certain trends in grid-wide consumption. In particular, the utilities in the city where the game is being played and the regions where the participating teams are from see the biggest impact. Numerous studies have been conducted to identify and quantify the impact on power consumption trends, both because it’s a fun exercise and because it can provide usable intel for utilities seeking to plan for Super Bowl Sunday.
Typically, grid operators find that the hours leading up to the Super Bowl experience greater demand than a typical Sunday. This trend is likely due to preparations ahead of game time, including cooking food, watching the pregame, getting certain chores done earlier in the game, etc. During the game, though, aggregate power demand drops compared with a typical Sunday. The reason for this change is that people tend to gather together to watch the game, whether at a bar or at a large neighborhood party or otherwise. That means many customers’ homes are left empty with reduced power demand compared with a typical Sunday evening at home.
In one notable example to quantify this impact, the Washington Post noted that pre-game hours experience a 2.4% reduction in typical power consumption, followed by a 5.0% drop during gametime and even a 3.7% drop after the game ends.
If the overall trends of getting ready for and watching the game have predictable power trends, then of course so too can such patterns be identified over the course of the game itself. ISO New England, operator of the home grid to the New England Patriots, studied the minute-by-minute power trends observed during Super Bowls 49 and 50 (one of which featured the Patriots and one of which had the rare occurrence of not featuring Tom Brady at quarterback). In doing so, these grid observers found that charting significant moments across game time provided some illuminating insights:
Right before kickoff, the ISO-NE grid experienced a peak in energy usage, possibly from everyone popping the potato skins and jalapeno poppers into the oven to be ready later in the game. A mini-peak of power usage is then experienced at the beginning of halftime, because as much as people may be excited to see The Weeknd perform this Sunday (or Katy Perry and Coldplay, for the two Super Bowls studied in the above graphs), people do tend to leave the couch to go up and do something else without missing any game action, such as turning on the laundry machine and the high energy-intensity that would bring. Then the end of the game sees the drop off reach its peak acceleration as TVs are turned off and people (at least on the East Coast) head to bed. And by comparing the trends in a Super Bowl that featured the Patriots and one that did not, ISO NE is able to reinforce the idea that all of these trends end up more pronounced in regions where the local team is vying for the Lombardi Trophy.
While the teams and NFL representatives, the host city officials, and every stakeholder in the game is hoping for a flawlessly smooth experience that will leave everyone buzzing about the event (and maybe want to hold future blockbusters there), it’s not impossible for the worst to happen as it relates to power supply. Look no further than 2013 when in a matchup of the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers was notoriously interrupted when the lights went out in the Superdome in New Orleans. In the early minutes of the third quarter of the game, a power outage left the stadium in the dark for over half an hour.
While from a football perspective, much speculation flew around about whether this event ended up changing the course of the game, New Orleans and Entergy (the local utility) officials were more focused on explaining that this event was not the result of negligence or oversight, one that should not take away from the shining example the Super Bowl week festivities provided. What retrospective study in the weeks that followed uncovered was that the result wasn’t as salacious as some had thought (initial fears were terrorism-related while the Twitter-sphere wanted to blame Beyonce’s elaborate halftime show). Officials noted that the power was out on exactly one half of the stadium, meaning it was a hardware failure with the power supply, specifically the switchgears that fed power into the Superdome. A great writeup was done by Sports Illustrated for those who want to get into the technical weeds, but it’s an unfortunate reminder that even with all the preparation in the world that the unexpected can come and throw best laid plans to the wind.
Remaining for a moment on the power supply at the site of the Super Bowl, when the players take the field on Sunday it will be at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. An increasing trend in the world of pro sports stadiums is to build in solar power generation, for the sustainability of it, for the economic savings, and for the assistance in boosting power supply reliability. Unfortunately for solar power fans in Tampa, Raymond James Stadium doesn’t have any solar panels installed.
In fact, of the five Super Bowl host sites before it, Tampa stands out for this let down in clean energy. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara has 375 kilowatts of solar, NRG Stadium in Houston has 600 solar panels to reach 180 kilowatts, the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis was the first LEED platinum sports stadium thanks to its passive solar design, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has a whopping 4,000 solar panels with a total capacity of 1,600 megawatts.
Last year’s game was played in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, which does not have any solar power integrated, making Miami and Tampa show that perhaps Florida’s nickname of the Sunshine State is tourist-alluring slogan than it is promise on sources of power generation. Perhaps future Super Bowls should be considered to be played in Philadelphia and Washington, the two home stadiums with the greatest solar power capacity built in.
Let’s assume, though, that all goes well day of the game and Super Bowl blackouts are relegated to a thing of the past. On Super Bowl Sunday, just how much energy generation are we dealing with each year?
At the stadium itself, a commonly cited figure is that a total of 15,000 megawatthours can easily be consumed. To contextualize that massive figure, this amount of electricity would be enough to run 1,400 average U.S. homes for an entire year.
Most of the fans are not in actual view of the field, though, as they are watching the Super Bowl on television. In estimating the total power cost of these collective consciousness tuning into the big game, GE estimates that 11,000 megawatthours are consumed. That’s astounding in how much energy it totals, but also that the actual stadium itself still consumes more power.
Combined at 26,000 megawatthours, that power consumption accounts for 18,383 metric tons of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, the same as nearly 4,000 cars on the road for a year or enough that 24,000 acres of U.S. forest would be needed to sequester it.
Those emission numbers are staggering. So, in this era of decarbonization and climate action, how is the NFL looking to add sustainability to the super bowl menu? In Tampa this year, sustainability has been atop the mind of Super Bowl host committees. In partnership with Tampa Electric (TECO), the local utility, the Super Bowl representatives are looking to use solar blocks from TECO’s Sun to Go program to offset the energy use of the stadium.
Additionally, numerous non-energy focused initiatives are trying to ‘green’ the big game, including the Sustainability Committee sponsoring activities like cleaning up local green spaces, building a compost center, planting trees, and more. And hey, with fewer fans allowed due to COVID-19 protocals, perhaps it will actually be one of the less energy-consumptive games in recent memory.
Even for people who don’t care for football, the Super Bowl can be a cultural moment for a different reason: the commercials. The biggest and most iconic global brands flock to the small screen for the Super Bowl to spread their message, but for a price: companies will need to cough up $5.5 million for a 30-second spot.
So, with a hefty price tag attached, do energy messages get included in these coveted ad slots? In recent years we’ve seen some energy-relevant content. Last year, for example, electric vehicles were a major topic, as automakers touted new and improved EV models that they designed to appeal to the masses.
The year before, Budweiser adopted a clean energy message by celebrating that its beer production was powered completely by wind power. While that claim has plenty of holes in it, since it’s not that production was directly powered by wind and rather wind-based carbon offsets are the basis of their claim, the use of that message by such a major brand still demonstrates 1) the commercial benefit of embracing clean power and 2) a growing focus on renewables in major corporations.
What energy-focused products, companies, and services will be featured this Super Bowl Sunday? For that, I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
An energy focus can also come on a more micro scale, as energy efficiency and conservation become a trend of the common consumer. As people plan any Super Bowl parties (keeping COVID safety measures in mind first and foremost, of course), the Marines offer energy saving tips such as gathering with neighbors so all the energy use is consumed in one place, easing off the thermostat (guests will likely be warm enough from body heat and cooked foods), keeping the oven closed during cooking to eliminate wasted energy use, and turning off lights in the other rooms while everyone is congregated in one place.
Even better for COVID safety and bonus energy savings, holding the watch party outdoors can keep everyone socially distanced while also reducing the need for heating up the interior of the house.
And some additionally energy-saving tips for cooking Super Bowl snacks from BC Hydro include using smaller cooking vessels and appliances, keeping the fridge and freezer closed as much as possible, and skipping the preheating of the oven.
And lastly, while mentioned earlier that the energy usage after the game tends to drop compared with comparable Sundays, it’s worth noting that the end Super Bowl evening comes at a different time for the city of the Big Game’s winner.
Case in point, PJM Interconnection noted after 2019 when the Eagles won the franchise’s first Super Bowl that the demand stayed high while television viewers stayed glued to the postgame events and then celebrated the city’s first Super Bowl win by staying up later than they would on a normal Sunday, keeping grid operators busy late into the night.
If Brady has his way, though, that would be a load the Tampa grid and local utility TECO will be ready for as host city—they’ll already be on high alert. And if the victory goes to Kansas City, well the local utility Evergy and local grid operators dealt with this situation just a year ago, so they’ll be well prepared, as well.
So, that just leaves one question, TECO vs. Evergy—I mean, Tampa vs. Kansas City, who ya got?!
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