We’re Sharing Our Sports Sustainability Playbook. Here’s Why

Today’s guest columnist is Steve Cannon, vice chairman of AMB Sports and Entertainment.

When I was CEO of Mercedes-Benz North America, our focus was on creating world-class, customer-focused experiences that were authentic, engaging, and built loyalty across our customer base. As part of creating that experience, we took a multi-pronged strategic approach focusing on culture, mobilizing people, adapting processes and leveraging technology. 

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I brought that mindset with me when I started my tenure in 2016 as CEO of AMB Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of Arthur M. Blank’s for-profit businesses. Those included the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons; the soon-to-be launched soccer club, Atlanta United of MLS; and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in 2017. I found the way we approached our customers at MBUSA was very similar to how Arthur had built his businesses. I knew when Arthur said he would do something, it would be done and done right.

The new stadium he was building in downtown Atlanta would be no different. The goal was simple:  Create a world-class stadium that would catalyze positive transformation in and around downtown Atlanta and signify a long-term commitment and investment in the city. As I settled in my new position, it was evident that the expectation for all leaders was to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations but push the limits of what was possible in stadium design, fan experience and sustainability.

Sustainability has always been a focus for Arthur and the entire AMB Family of Businesses. Building a highly sustainable stadium is no easy task, either from an investment standpoint or operationally. We were challenged through the construction phase to meet the highest standard set forth by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). We met that challenge, and in October of 2016, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was recognized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for its commitment to reduce carbon emissions, increase climate resilience and engage fans through sports and events.

In 2017, Mercedes-Benz Stadium became the first professional sports stadium in North America to achieve LEED Platinum construction certification. It felt good. We had done what we set out to do, and showed the industry that it could be done.

We were not new to the concept of reimagining how to do things, breaking the traditional mold and changing the game. In May 2016, we announced that MBS would feature fan-friendly pricing, a rarity in the NFL—$2 for a hot dog, $2 for refillable soda, etc. We changed the traditional concessions model, and our fans were the winners. The positive feedback from fans in every metric, including speed of service, price and quality, was overwhelmingly positive and has landed us in first place of the NFL’s “voice of the fan” survey every year to date since we opened.

In 2019, we did it again by becoming the first stadium to transition to a fully cashless transaction model with the goal of decreasing transaction times and allowing fans to get back to the game quickly. Our more efficient processes yielded savings close to $350,000.

After each of these successful launches, we were contacted by other teams in our leagues to learn more: why we did it; how we did it; and whether we were really seeing success. As part of our culture, it is incumbent on us to give back to our industry and share best practices, so we shared what we learned.

At the height of COVID-19, venues were struggling to get their heads around how they were going to bring fans back safely, and many were exploring going cashless. In May 2020, AMBSE hosted a virtual seminar on the success of our cashless operation for over 1,000 attendees across every professional sports league and some at the collegiate level. Additionally, we reached colleagues in other industries, such as movie theater franchises, that were in the business of hosting mass gatherings. We handed them our playbook, and in 2021, many were part of a mass transition to cashless transactions across all industries.

After working through COVID and getting back to normal operations, MBS re-engaged its sustainability efforts and turned its focus on implementing operations to create a zero-waste environment. As part of its sustainability initiatives, Mercedes-Benz Stadium developed and implemented a variety of green practices. In 2022, MBS was successful in diverting more than 90% of its waste from landfill. In 2023, MBS became the first stadium globally to achieve official TRUE Platinum certification for zero waste.

Staying true to our culture of giving back, this May, AMBSE’s Green Team is proudly hosting an online seminar to help our colleagues across sports interested in learning how to start their zero waste efforts. It’s an opportunity to see and hear our playbook in full. While we are very proud the NFL ranked Mercedes-Benz Stadium and our organization No. 1 for overall gameday satisfaction in 2022, I’m equally proud to be part of an organization that is doing its part for the environment and is eager to share its blueprint.

We, as business leaders and stewards of our planet, must think critically about how to redesign processes, and that effort requires retraining, new tools and strong leadership. It is our responsibility to share what we know in the hopes of inspiring others to create a positive impact on our environment for our families and future generations.

Everyone can do it, and we are here to help.

Cannon, the 2020 NFL Salute to Service Award recipient, is vice chairman, AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE), a for-profit holding group under the Arthur M. Blank Family of Businesses. Cannon, working closely with owner and chairman Arthur M. Blank, has responsibility for the overall business strategy, oversight of AMBSE, Atlanta United, and key strategic growth initiatives. Prior to joining AMBSE, Cannon served as president and chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz USA and was responsible for leading operations that generated record sales with annual revenues exceeding $20 billion.

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