Ralph Nader announced today that his League of Fans project would push for legislation that would forbid any professional league from prohibiting community ownership. Nader made the announcement as part of the release of the second report from his League of Fans’ Sports Manifesto. The report is titled, Transition to Community Ownership Model Needed to Empower Fans.
“The fundamental problem in pro sports is that we’ve given free reign to owners through a self-regulated monopoly system — including anti-trust exemptions — which allows owners to pursue a profit-at-all-costs agenda at the expense of fans,” said Nader. “This system has resulted in owners playing one city off another in the quest for new taxpayer-funded stadiums and other freeloading. A community ownership model, like the Green Bay Packers’, works. It’s a better way to structure and administer professional sports. It should become an optional mainstay of sports policy in this country.”
The National Football League (NFL) has formally banned any more Green Bay Packers ownership structures. Former commissioner Pete Rozelle changed the NFL constitution in 1960 to prevent another franchise from going to the Green Bay model. Article V, Section 4 of the NFL constitution, the “Green Bay Rule,” says that “charitable organizations and/or corporations not organized for profit and not now a member of the league may not hold membership in the National Football League.”
Major League Baseball (MLB) owners have also historically prevented community ownership arrangements, although they haven’t formalized a ban in their constitution. However, there are numerous community ownership structures thriving at the minor league levels of professional baseball, including the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Rochester Red Wings, and Memphis Redbirds.
“Virtually all of the problems of pro sports in America stem from the monopoly privileges of the leagues,” said Charles Euchner, author of Playing the Field: Why Sports Teams Move and Cities Fight to Keep Them. “Team movement, high ticket prices, absurd TV deals, competitive imbalances, and conflicts with labor (which produce unsustainable salaries), and poor treatment of minor-league players all stem from the leagues’ ability to control the product from top to bottom. Community ownership of teams offers one worthwhile strategy to attack this problem. Leagues oppose community ownership because it would undermine their pursuit of total control over sports at all levels. But we all know it works. League of Fans has decided to take up this fight. It’s a tough battle, but one worth waging. Pro sports should have to either adhere to the rules of the marketplace or allow community involvement in the games. Right now we have the worst of both worlds — heavy community investment, with all the benefits going to monopolistic leagues.”
A community ownership model inherently makes the best interests of the game and its fans paramount, as opposed to the profit-at-all-costs ethos that run the current system.
“The best way to make pro sports owners care about the fans is if the fans are the owners,” said Ken Reed, League of Fans’ sports policy director and author of the Sports Manifesto. “The clear answer to franchise blackmail, and many other problems in pro sports, is a community ownership model. For one, without the greed inherent in the current self-regulated monopoly system, there would be significantly less labor strife resulting in fewer work stoppages.”
Nader and Reed contend that the current ownership structure in professional sports results in the economic self-interest of the owners driving policymaking and operational decisions in pro sports at the expense of what’s best for the game and its fans.
“Ownership of a pro sports franchise is different than ownership of any other business in this country,” argued Reed. “Sport in this country is a cherished cultural practice. Major league teams are subsidized by, and linked with, their communities in many unique ways. As such, owners of pro sports franchises have the civic duty of looking out for the best interests of the team’s stakeholders, most importantly the fans. The community ownership model is designed to do just that.”
Nader said American pro sports are heavily weighted in favor of one stakeholder group: the owners.
“A system that allows for decisions and policies to be made on the basis of the economic self-interest of a small group of wealthy owners is poor public policy,” said Nader. “If we the people unify around the cause of community ownership in pro sports, we can get it done.”
In addition to a transition to a community ownership model, the League of Fans report calls for 1) a ban on blackouts from publicly-financed sports venues; 2) profit-sharing for cities that have publicly-financed sports venues; and 3) the establishment of fan and taxpayer councils in cases where owners utilize taxpayer-funded stadiums and arenas.