Energy Consumption of an NFL season

John Gold
December 14, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2012

Fig. 1: Methods of energy consumption


The National Football League (NFL) is the most profitable sports league in the world. TV contracts are negotiated in the billions of dollars; hundreds of millions of people watch the Superbowl annually. Fantasy football attracts millions of fans, constantly checking their smartphones for scores. And of course, there are the 60,000-80,000 fans that attend every game. But all these methods of football consumption also lead to electricity consumption, and this report will attempt to find a comprehensive number for the total energy usage as a result of the NFL.


There are 32 teams in the NFL, and each plays 16 games a season for a total of 256 games. For the playoffs, there are four games in the wild-card round, four games in the divisional round, two conference championships and then the Superbowl. The average viewership of a game is regular season game is 17 million, the average viewers of a playoff game is 37 million, and 100 million people watch the Superbowl. [1] Over the length of a season, that is nearly five billion viewers (many of them repeat viewers of course). It's hard to find an "average" television, with the variety of types (LCD, LED, plasma) and sizes (ranging from 20-60 inches), but for the purpose of this paper I will use a 37 inch LCD TV. These consume roughly 100 watts, and although we do not know how long each of these people "watched" a game for, we will assume one hour (a football game usually lasts three), we get about 500 million kilowatt hours (kWh). [2]

Fantasy Football

One of the more popular trends for fans of all ages is fantasy football. It consists of building a fantasy team from players, and competing against other people based on various statistics, such as touchdowns, yards, and interceptions. This wasn't possible before the Internet, and has taken off in just the last ten years. In 2008, there were 30 million people with fantasy football leagues, and in total, over 1.2 billion minutes were spent on fantasy football websites. [3] Similarly to televisions, power consumption for computers varies a bit. Various factors include screen size, and whether the computer is a laptop, desktop, or a smartphone or table. For the purposes of this paper, I will use 25 watts for the average consumption, which is assuming the use of a laptop. [4] This leads to the consumption of .5 million kWh of electricity from computers. All of this time was spent on the Internet, which also requires electricity to maintain servers and other backend equipment, though I could not find any data on this.

Live Games

And of course, there are the games that fans attend in person, which requires transportation to and from the stadium. The total attendance for the 2011 regular season is about 17.1 million fans. The postseason (minus the Superbowl) is 10 more games, and with the average attendance of 70,000, means about 18 million people saw an NFL game live in 2011. [5] Some of these fans used public transit to get to games, and not all of them came alone. There is some estimations involved in these numbers, but allowing for 2 million fans to use public transit, and the average car to have 2 people, that means there were 7.5 million cars driven round trip to NFL stadiums. If the average stadium is 20 miles driving distance, and the average car gets 20 mpg, each car uses 2 gallons per game, giving us 15 million gallons total. [6] Multiplying that by 33 kWh, we get 495 million kWh.

I am missing any data on the electricity used by the stadiums such as lighting and video boards, as well as the stadium staff, food and drink, hotels for away team players, and other miscellaneous costs. These numbers do not include the transportation costs for the Superbowl, which people travel from all over the country to see.


The fact that energy consumption from travel is about equal to energy consumption from television watching is somewhat surprising. The 18 million people watching games live is equal to the billions of people watching on television and a billion minutes spent on fantasy football each year. I believe that 1 billion kWh of energy is a good estimate for the amount consumed by the NFL each year. Yes there are certain factors that I have not accounted for, things like scouting players, and the production and consumption of retail merchandise. However, these were difficult to find data on and were more indirect than the scope of this paper. 1 billion kilowatt-hours barely registers as a percentage of US energy use, but at the same time it is not insignificant either.

© John Gold. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "More Than 200 Million Watched NFL This Season," Wall Street Journal, 5 Jan 12.

[2] T. Crosbie, "Household Energy Consumption and Consumer Electronics: The Case of Television," Energy Policy 36, 2191 (2008).

[3] J. A. Fortunato, "The Relationship of Fantasy Football Participation with NFL Television Ratings," J. Sport Admin. Supervision 3, 74 (2011).

[4] A. Mahesri and V. Vardhan, "Power Consumption Bbreakdown on a Modern Laptop," in Power-Aware Computer Systems,, ed. by B. Falsafi and T. N. Vijaykumar (Springer, 2005), p. 165.

[5] K. Clark, "Game Changer: NFL Scrambes to Fill Seats," Wall Street Journal, 2 Jul 12.

[6] "Annual Vehicle Distance Traveled in Miles and Related Data - 2010," U.S. Federal Highway Administration, VM-1, February 2012.