League of Fans

Founded by Ralph Nader, League of Fans is a sports reform project working to improve sports by increasing awareness of the sports industry's relationship to society, exposing irresponsible business practices, ensuring accountability to fans, and encouraging the industry to contribute to societal well-being.

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League of Fans is motivated by people, just like you, who are upset with what has become of our sports and would like to make a difference. We work with concerned citizens, sports fans, civic groups and communities to increase awareness of the sports industry's relationship to society, influence a broad range of issues in sports at all levels and encourage the cooperative capacities that make the "sports powers-that-be" capable of helping, not just dominating, our society and culture.

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We often think of sports as outside the realm of everyday citizen concern. But the many benefits to society that sports can provide are sometimes undermined by a different set of values, often based on the quest for higher and higher profits at the expense of fans, taxpayers, communities, culture and social justice.

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Ralph Nader's op-ed urging Cleveland Browns fans to organize


Letís give fans a voice on the Browns
by Ralph Nader

Where there was once poverty, now there are three-piece suits, middle- and upper-class families pacing the sidewalks, Porsches, BMWs and Cadillacs filling the parking lots. You are no longer afraid to walk the streets at night. As long as itís a night of a ball game. Because now the downtown area is beautiful again. It is safe again. As long as you stay within the area circling Jacobs Field and Gund Arena.

There are a number of cities that have built new stadiums to beautify their downtowns. After Jacobs Field and Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built in Baltimore, Maryland, many followed. They followed because the Indians and Orioles began winning and the fans showed up in droves. They followed because they could charge more for tickets and concessions. They followed because the fans, themselves, became a more respectable bunch - more affluent, and camera friendly.

They followed because they learned that most owners and cities can pillage the public for tax money and there is little the people can do about it for now.

In the early stages of this stadium boom the public was hardly outraged. They didnít feel they needed someone watching out for them and their money. They didnít think that was necessary because, in part, the owners and local politicians were not telling them how much it would really cost them to build a new stadium or keep a team in town.

After seeing the gesture of goodwill by the state of Maryland towards the Orioles, Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, got an idea. He had asked Cleveland for a new stadium with no result. And after Richard Jacobs, owner of the Indians, received his, Modell felt neglected.

In 1995, after countless denials from the state of Maryland, shady meetings between minority owner Alfred Lerner and John Moag of the Maryland Stadium Authority (the deal to move the Browns was signed on Lernerís private jet), and a high-priced, tax-funded sweetheart deal, Modell announced the move.

As in Baltimore and Cleveland, a number of new stadiums have either been built, are works in progress or are up for approval around the country. The taxpayers are being told one thing while the owners and local politicians are hiding the true figures, like in Cleveland, where the original price for the Gateway project was said to be $343 million, and ended up being around $500 million.

And with the new Browns stadium, the fans are already suffering. The latest reports show that private seat licenses (PSLs) are being forced on 41,000 seats at the new stadium. How are many of the old die-hard Browns fans going to afford the license to buy a ticket? Many of them wonít. The new Dawg Pound may consist of people in suits instead of Browns Jerseys and dog masks.

A decent way to ensure good-will ownership towards fans would be to have fan favorite and Northeast Ohio native Bernie Kosar be majority owner of the franchise. But with the way things are going it now looks like Lerner, the same man who many believe played a crucial role in moving the Browns to Baltimore, will own the team in majority.

The real question now is, why not let the fans own the Browns? Like in Green Bay, the city can purchase the Browns, and then have a public stock optioning of the team. Instead of being held hostage by a new owner and wondering if the team will be around in five or 10 years, Browns fans, like Packers fans, can wake up each morning knowing their team is not migrating.

The problem here is that there are few outlets for fans to systematically express themselves on this topic. Few owners or other sports powers are listening to these ideas of fan ownership of teams and eliminating PSLs because they donít have to.

Thatís why we are starting a fans group. A watchdog group that will try to compel owners and professional sports powers to hear the concerns of the fans. The group is in its earliest stages but, with your help, we can try to prevent people like Modell from manipulating the teams that are rightfully ours. We can make them listen if we unite.

If you agree, send your thoughts and suggestions to Ralph Nader, c/o Fans, at P.O. Box 19367, Washington, D.C., 20036.

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