LINCOLN — After Nebraska football’s first touchdown this fall, the skies above Memorial Stadium may not be empty, but they won't be full of red balloons.
NU Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced on his monthly radio show Monday night that, due to helium shortages and supply chain issues, the school would not hand out red balloons before games. Typically, the balloons were held by fans until NU scored a touchdown.
The tradition — which had come under fire due to the environmental impact of the red balloons — stretched back more than 50 years. In November 2021, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student government voted to end the tradition, though its vote had no binding effect on what NU chose to do.
"Some of the production of it is really challenged, and it's hard to get," Alberts said Husker Sports Radio. "So we've been asked by the university - the helium we are getting as a university, we need to use for medical purposes at UNMC in Omaha. And so we are, this year, not going to be providing the red balloons."
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Alberts said NU is working "really hard" on some alternatives, and may have some digital representation of the balloons on video boards for the 2022 season.
Helium supply is limited, Alberts said, across the globe.
"I think some of the helium, if I'm not mistaken, is over in Russia," Alberts said. According to a story from Radio France International in March, Russia was expected to produce up to one-third of the world’s helium supply because of a new plant going on-line last year. Russia has been sanctioned worldwide – and had its exports limited – due to its invasion of Ukraine.
A Physics Today article in April also noted that two plants in Qatar were closed for scheduled maintenance, which also reduced the helium supply. Liquid helium is used in, among other things, MRI scanners.
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