America’s Pastime, Made In China

Two things that often aren’t mentioned in the same breath are sports and the environmental movement.  Taken together, they are somewhat contradictory.  Sports require a lot of resources for both fan and player, and for the sake of what?  Entertainment?  Economic stimulus for a city?  The spirit of competition?  However, one particular sport and the environment are beginning to come together. 

Back in 2009, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group based out of New York, and Major League Baseball (MLB) teamed up to work on “greening” the sport.  The NRDC started with the biggest consumer of all, baseball stadiums.  Stadiums operate for at least 4 months out of the year and see millions of fans walk through the gate every season.  

Some of the highlights include solar panels and biodegradable cups in Cleveland, wind turbines and biomass burning in Philadelphia, and a $60,000 recycling program and composting in Seattle.  However, the most impressive achievement goes to the Washington Nationals; whose new stadium, which opened in 2009, was the first LEED certified stadium in Major League Baseball.  Both the Minnesota Twins and Florida Marlins followed suit with new LEED certified stadiums in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

In many ways, baseball stadiums embody the obstacle of “greening” an institution whose practices and traditions do not mesh with the green movement; certainly stadium construction and energy needs are an obvious top priority for environmental updates.  But, a less obvious aspect of baseball exists whose environmental, social, and economic effects need to be addressed, merchandising

In 2007, MLB signed a seven year long contract to give team apparel rights to VF Corporation, the owner of apparel manufacturing giant Majestic.  Other than the actual uniforms worn by players, which are made in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, the production of Majestic merchandise happens almost exclusively in China.  This shouldn’t come as any great surprise because most clothing items are made abroad, but baseball is America’s pastime. 

Sports franchises pump millions of dollars into local economies, which is why having a sports team is desirable; but on a more philosophical level, sports teams represent the competitive spirit of an entire city or state.  A fan wearing a piece of team apparel sports his/her team’s colors as a means of monetary support for his/her team and pride in his/her team and city.  Why should sports merchandising not be localized to the city/state of the fans that love and support their team?

The localized production of sports merchandise provides added benefit to being home to a sport franchise.  A sports team’s city/state would see the creation of thousands of well-paying jobs from the production of apparel products.   Additional ancillary businesses would see increased profits as a result of localized merchandise production; for example, team T-shirts could be produced with locally grown cotton, which would provide a huge profit boost to local growers.  MLB merchandising produces $3 billion of sales annually; in each city/state with an MLB franchise, those revenues would be directly invested back into local markets through merchandising employees.  This creates a more sustainable local economy.

Also, environmentally speaking, localized apparel production is a more sustainable option.  The shipping of apparel via boat, plane, train, or truck, creates millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions which would be spared in the localized production of sports merchandise.  Additionally, merchandise producers would have to adhere to stricter American environmental standards, as opposed to more lax standards in developing countries.  This alone saves countless tons of unnecessary pollution in foreign environments.

Lastly, from a social standpoint, localizing merchandise production is a more humane option when you consider that many foreign sweatshops harbor unsafe, unhealthy, and hostile work environments for their employees.  Furthermore, foreign sweatshop jobs often do not pay employees well enough for them to afford basic necessities.

Ultimately, fans have control over their franchises; and, if they want, they can have control over where their franchises’ merchandise comes from.  Indeed, Major League Baseball has a contract with VF Corporation but that doesn’t mean that fans need to buy their product.  A true fan of a team and city would boycott MLB merchandise as it is made now.  A true fan would demand that his/her city have the rights to their own team’s merchandise; and that the production and sale of that merchandise directly benefit his/her team and city.  It is time for America to take back its pastime.

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