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 on the taxpayer giveaway for a new football stadium in Cleveland

NFL defeats Cleveland 200 million to 1
by Ralph Nader

The recent orgy of forcing taxpayers to subsidize the multimillionaire owners of sports corporations shows no signs of abating as cities grovel to outbid one another. The bids normally range from $200 million to $400 million packages, and the giveaway contracts do not require any share of profits or any other kind of payback to taxpayers.

Always, mayors and governors justify this corporate welfare as producing jobs. But the cost to the taxpayers of producing a few jobs is tremendously inefficient; the same money, if it is to be spent, could be put to much better uses and paybacks.

Last month in Cleveland, the city council, by a vote of 13-8, approved a proposal to spend more than $200 million for a new football stadium to house a new team in place of the Cleveland Browns, which were moved by their owner to Baltimore.

The council's debates had more than a tinge of the pathetic. Councilwoman Helen K. Smith, who opposed the deal, asked how this amount of money could be taken from the needs of Cleveland's neighborhoods and financially strapped schools.

Now briefly switch to another contemporaneous scene in Cleveland. The day before the council gave away the store, Cleveland school officials released a budget reduction plan that wiped out interscholastic athletics in the city's high schools. Superintendent Richard A. Boyd declared, "Cleveland public schools are in the worst financial shape of any school district in the country."

It gets worse. This stadium giveaway is the fourth major Cleveland corporate welfare extravaganza over the last few years. These are the retail complexes serving the well-to-do, built on the backs of middle and lower income Cleveland taxpayers for enormously wealthy developers. The city politicians get on their knees, with the mayor leading the kowtowing, and say, "Anything you want, our masters, name your price."

Again, Smith put it concisely: "I've been in this council the better part of 16 years, and every year the mayor says that Cleveland's neighborhoods will be his priority next year." But the neighborhoods were always passed over; the priority was always the next big giveaway to developers.

What's going on in Cleveland is going on in cities large and middling throughout the country. Corporate socialism is running amok. Developers, factories, mall builders, sports teams and other corporate welfarists are bleeding the local tax base dry, while small businesses and homeowners pay the bills.

These shameless corporations are rich and powerful and have their avaricious hands in the public trough, buying or bullying local politicians to give in to their demands. What a mockery of private enterprise!

Every week brings news of another corporate takeover of public policy. In 1990, the California Air Resources Board, to fight smog in the Los Angeles basin, gave the car companies eight years (until 1998) to make 2 percent of their vehicles sold in the state electrically powered. But on March 29, the board surrendered and repealed its mandate, under massive pressure from the auto industry.

The pitiful Cleveland City Council, though, still has some fight left. In its contract with the National Football League, the city managed to win one concession -- the team, and not the city, must provide lawn mowers and snow blowers at the new stadium. Cry or laugh, it's your choice.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate