Powering the Big Game

If you are a fan of football on the national level, you probably dedicate a few hours a week to watching the games so that you can keep up with your favorite teams and cheer them on to victory. Once the season begins, you are glued to your chair as you watch to see the few teams that will make it to the playoffs.

Close up view of tasty snacks and beer prepared for watching sports on TVIf your team falls out contention for the playoffs, you stick to your diehard fandom and shut off the TV or you agree to compromise and cheer on your 2nd favorite team until they seize victory. The playoffs are even more intense, with millions of viewers all across the globe tuning in to see what the final outcome of the entire season is going to be. Who will be the team that goes home with the Lombardi Trophy, the glory, but more importantly the bragging rights?

You don’t have to be a sports buff to know that Super Bowl broadcasts are some of the most-watched in history. Keep in mind that it’s not just the fun in watching football that leads to the popularity of the Super Bowl. There are pre-game and halftime rituals where fans are treated to entertainment and excitement from some of the world’s most famous celebrities, icons and musicians. When you combine high-energy football with A-list faces, it’s not hard to see why the Super Bowl attracts so much popularity.

Varsity football game between Matawan and Red Bank. Friday Night Lights. Football laying on field before varsity football on a Friday nightIf you are a multinational company and you want to get your product onto one of the Super Bowl’s few commercial airslots, just think of the money you will have to pay for a mere 30 seconds of exposure. One commercial could be all it takes to go from unknown to a household name!
All of this talk about viewership and popularity begs one subtle yet important question: Where does the NFL and its sponsors find the electricity to power this event? In other words, how much electricity is being consumed in this one day alone?

The Super Bowl’s location is not decided the year before the event takes place, but rather 3-5 years is the timeframe in which the NFL will select a location for the Super Bowl based on bids and proposals from numerous cities. A confidential 153-page document outlining the requirements and expectations of the host city was leaked in 2014. There are numerous requirements, including everything from the installation of ATMs to the level of security provided, but this excerpt provides a stunning look into the minimum amount of power needed to keep the Super Bowl up and running:


“The NFL requires the Stadium be equipped to provide at least 6,000 kVA electrical

loads within the stadium and 5,200 kVA electrical loads on the site premises

(including those areas inside the secured perimeter to be designated for or

programmed for fan entertainment activities such as Game Day Fan Plaza, NFLOL

and ail NFLOL venues, but excluding NFL Expelience and Tailgate- see VII.F and

VIII.E respectively). These electrical capacities are based on historical electrical

loads required to host the Super Bowl and shall be used by the NFL at their discretion

for functions including broadcasting networks, media, facility operations and team

related functions, NFL hospitality functions, pregame ceremonies, and the halftime

show. The NFL and its designated contractors will conduct extensive power load

testing in preparation for the Super Bowl, with associated costs waived or paid for by

the Host Committee.

Unless otherwise specified in this document, the NFL will pay for electrical costs as

noted in the I.B.6 regarding utilities. While the NFL will pay for power consumption,

access to power supplies, whether existing or temporary, will be provided at no cost

to the NFL. Further, any supplements to the existing power system necessary for

compliance with specifications in this document will be provided to the NFL,

broadcasting networks, and the media for the Game and related events at the Stadium

at no cost. This includes all costs associated with the distribution of power, including

all cabling, wiring, etc. as well as costs associated with temporary power sources (i.e.

generators) proximate to operational areas and compounds”


To put the highlighted numbers in context, your average sized house is probably running on around 20-25 KVA. The Super Bowl therefore requires a minimum amount of electricity that would be used to provide 448-560 homes with the necessary power to keep them running. Based on historical experience, it is far more likely that even more power is consumed on the night of the actual event.

How much energy is needed to power the stadium

Michael McDonald, an assistant professor of finance, took it upon himself to provide a rough calculation as to how much energy is being consumed by the Super Bowl in total. What makes his perspective unique is that he doesn’t just factor in the power required to operate the stadium alone (50 MWh). He also factors in the energy consumed by TVs watching the event (75 GWh) along with the air travel for those flying from out of the city or state (280 MWh). This leads to an estimated total of $25 million in energy consumed (76 GWh).

There is no question that this event is extremely expensive for the country as a whole, and for the NFL. Efforts are currently being made to figure out ways in which the Super Bowl can continue to expand in its outreach and entertainment value while simultaneously cutting down energy costs.

Super Bowl XLIXSuper Bowl XLIX was a start in the right direction when they started using light-emitting diode (LED) light fixtures to provide all of the lighting needed for the big night. This resulted in 75% savings while providing better detail and resolution. The fact that LEDs do not need a 15-20 minute warmup is what makes them so much more efficient than their high intensity discharge (HID) predecessors.

Light fixture warm-up time is important.  When fixtures don’t need to warm up, this allows for faster recovery in the event that the power gets shut down. There is no better example of this principle in action than when Super Bowl XLVII suffered a 22-minute power outage that resulted in a total interruption time of 34 minutes.

While there were no injuries that took place and the game still went on, there was a very heavy investigation that took place into newly installed equipment that was manufactured by Entergy. It turns out that the culprit wasn’t an old circuit breaker or a blown fuse, but rather a faulty relay device that was designed to prevent power outages from happening in the first place.

American football player silhouette on dark spotlight backgroundWhile there was a lot of attention paid to this power outage (and some players even went as far as calling the blackout a conspiracy), this is not the first time in history where an electrical accident has happened at a large stadium. 32-year-old worker Muhammad-Ali Maciel Afonso was killed in an electrical accident while building the World Cup stadium in Cuiaba, Brazil to be used for the 2014 World Cup. Although this is not a stadium-wide issue, it did result in the temporary ceasing of construction and subsequently the final job was rushed in time for the tournament. This small event points out that working to provide a massive amount of electricity to a concentrated area for a set period of time is a dangerous job.

Recently, a pre-season Canadian football game between the B.C. Lions and the Saskatchewan Riders at the Mosiac Stadium was delayed for an hour due to the power going down. What was the cause? It turns out that somebody had misused a confetti canon and aimed it at a power line. The result was that the power lines touched and the fuses were blown. A brief look back in time reveals that this is not the first incident where the stadium has experienced issues with power outage. Going all the way back to 1982, there are instances where power outages have occurred or the scoreboard began to malfunction.

A stadium lighting tower with around fifty floodlights seen from below looking up the stand and into a stormy, gray skySometimes, Mother Nature tends to be very finicky and chooses to intervene where it is least convenient. Elements such as earthquakes and fogs tend to do the trick. In the case of the latter, it involved the third game of the World Series between the Oakland As and the San Francisco Giants. The Loma Prieta earthquake caused the MLB to postpone the entire series for a grand total of 10 days. This stands in sharp contrast to the other historical blunders where games were delayed for no longer than a day.

Fortunately, people all around the world have learned from these mishaps and have started to take the necessary measures to ensure that power outages during important events like the Super Bowl are prevented from occurring in the first place. Even if there isn’t a 100% guarantee that an electrical mishap won’t occur, the odds will be significantly lowered.

Organizers are wising up and choosing to buy their equipment from reliable electrical suppliers with decades worth of successful service. Energy-efficiency is beginning to become a top priority for national and international leagues as it saves them a significant amount of money when it comes to the costs of operating stadiums during prime-time events. Backup measures are examined more thoroughly so that attendees can watch the games safely and workers can do their jobs properly.

So, when you sit down to watch the Big Game or any major sporting event, take a second to sit down and think about all the energy and electricity that is required just to make it happen. Just by using your TV, you are already contributing to this massive use of electricity. Even if you are using a laptop or your smartphone, you are still using a lot of power in the way of wireless Internet and cellular data to stream the event onto your screen.