SI Vault
William Johnson
December 03, 1973
The U.S. energy shortage suddenly reached the world of sport and recreation as the President put brakes on weekend driving
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December 03, 1973

No Fueling, The Crisis Is Here

The U.S. energy shortage suddenly reached the world of sport and recreation as the President put brakes on weekend driving

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Snowmobiles, which are in some disrepute as environment wreckers anyway, are in deep trouble already. Says Bill Snyder, president of the Pennsylvania State Snowmobile Association and owner of a franchise in Marienville, Pa., "Sales have been nil in the last two weeks. If we go to gas rationing, there'll be a lot of our people going bankrupt. If things keep up like this, it could ruin snowmobiling as a recreational industry in Marienville." (Marienville took in more than $440,000 in revenue last season from snowmobiling.)

Auto-racing people feel especially vulnerable to a fuel shortage, but for a different reason: a frustrated public's potential antagonism. Just to start, there is all that fuel the racers burn up at 180 mph when everybody else has to drive at 50. "We're a perfect target for everyone's resentments," says one spokesman. "It's just too easy for people to look out there and see those cars going around and around getting about two miles to the gallon and blame everything from gas rationing to cold living rooms on auto racing."

A fuel-company official in Chicago came up with figures last week indicating that the U.S. motoring public consumes about 96.6 billion gallons of gasoline in a year; of that, no more than 650,000 gallons (.00067 of 1%) is used in an average year of auto racing, or about the same amount of gasoline as is pumped by a single average service station in one year.

Almost as soon as the first whispers of fuel shortage reached their ears, five major U.S. racing associations banded together and swore to "inventory the situation within motor sports and prepare factual information to develop fair and reasonable regulations if they are thought to be necessary." Late last week this group, by this time known as the Automobile Competition Committee of the U.S., came up with its first set of statistics. ACCUS unfolded a 24-page report that included a complex list of figures purporting to show how much fuel was consumed in the practice and enjoyment of a whole series of sports and recreations—including auto racing. The figures will certainly be disputed—although, says ACCUS, the White House had a look at the list and did not dispute it. The auto-racing group insisted that these were the gallons consumed in the following leisure-time pursuits in the past year:

Vacation travel 5,416,140,827
Motion pictures (excluding drive-ins, oddly enough) 749,578,653
Football 564,043,166
Basketball 238,394,571
Horse racing 97,522,973
Auto racing 93,639,696
Rodeos 88,000,000
Bowling 40,000,000
Baseball 33,657,289
Wrestling 27,108,185
Golf 14,560,000

ACCUS said that its figures included spectator travel for all sports, but team travel only for football and auto racing. It also added the light wattage for NFL night games into its "gallonage." Citing General Electric and the Florida Power & Light Co. as its major sources, ACCUS figured that NFL night games average 1,373 kilowatts per hour, 5,492 kilowatts per game and 71,396 kilowatts for the season. This they estimated as the energy equivalent of 4,760 gallons of petroleum fuel. In breaking down the fuel consumption of U.S. football, the auto racers figured that the NFL consumed—through team travel, spectator travel and stadium lights—the equivalent of 46,708,700 gallons a year; college football 141,097,216 gallons; high school football 376,237,250.

This is only one set of statistics in a gathering storm of figures being brought to bear on the energy crisis by sports executives. Another such exercise seems to prove that playing a night game beneath powerful stadium lights actually causes less of an energy drain than would occur if the event were canceled or held in broad daylight. In Austin, for example, a temporary energy shortage last year resulted in a controversy over whether the University of Texas should continue to play night games in Memorial Stadium. J. Neils Thompson, president of the Southwest Conference—who also happens to be a professor of civil engineering at the university—figured out that a four-hour night football game in the 60,916-seat stadium would consume 2,473 kilowatt-hours. That, said Thompson, is the same amount of power required to operate 1,860 color (or 2,610 black-and-white) TV sets for an evening. Thompson then calculated that about 10,000 TV sets would remain off because of the crowd at the game and thus, he concluded, "There is nothing to be gained if we stop playing at night." A similar study in Seattle produced a similar result: a power-company expert estimated that an average crowd in Memorial Coliseum for a football game was 6,000 people, and that about 80% of them, or 4,800, would have stayed home if there were no game to go to. About half of the 4,800, he estimated, would have left a "partial family" at home using light, heat, TV, etc. But that meant that 2,400 had left dark and empty houses for four hours while they were at the game. They would have used more energy, he said, by staying home. The result? A net saving of power for the night. Another power company in a major league Midwestern city came up with the same general conclusion.

Whether the public makes up its mind about energy priorities on the basis of such computations remains to be seen, but it is a fact that the amount of power devoured by a single sporting event is enormous. Jim Appell, general manager of the Los Angeles Forum and one of the country's top lighting experts, figures that the power used to put on a single hockey game—including ice-making equipment, lighting, air conditioning, hot showers, parking-lot lights, scoreboard, etc., etc.—would total no less than 800 kilowatts. San Francisco's Candlestick Park uses about 300,000 kilowatts in a baseball season, enough to heat, light and run 45 homes for a full year.

So far, the crisis has not brought a real crunch to sport, yet many people are recalling the gray days of World War II when gas rationing forced the cancellation of the Indianapolis 500 and many other sporting events and the relocation of some horse-racing meetings. Officials both in college and professional circles are discussing consolidated schedules, fewer night games and an increasing emphasis on scheduling more games between teams in the same geographical area. It is ironic that sport must look to some hard sledding at the very time when there is sure to be a greater natural demand for the outlets of sport and recreational activity. Whatever else happens, it is not likely that leisure time will decrease in the days ahead; more likely it will increase. But the energy shortage will force changes in the way that time is used: more emphasis on activities near the home—tennis at municipal courts, for instance, or golf. Bicycling will surely continue to boom, as will other non-power-consuming activities such as fishing or sailing if travel is not involved. And the house itself will be even more of a sports center, with the television set as the focus. We are likely to become more troglodytic because of the fuel shortage, rather than less.

Meanwhile, Edgar Rosenbloom, the business manager of the hapless Baltimore Colts, had a cheerful scheme for solving his team's lack-of-energy crisis, both electrically and athletically: "We can save 50% of the power used in the stadium lights," said Rosenbloom. "All we have to do is turn the lights on when we get the ball and turn them off when our opponents get it." In Baltimore, that saving could exceed 50%.

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