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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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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League of Fans' testimony against a taxpayer-subsidized baseball stadium in Washington DC


Testimony of Shawn McCarthy, Director of League of Fans Before the Committee on Economic Development, District of Columbia City Council, April 2, 2003

Chairman Brazil and Members of the Committee my name is Shawn McCarthy, thank you for the opportunity to speak today regarding the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

I work in Ralph Nader's office as director of a project called League of Fans, an effort designed to increase awareness of the sports industry's relationship to society and to encourage government institutions to act responsibly in the interest of their citizens when dealing with the sports industry.

Along those lines, we feel that the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission is failing the city it represents by concentrating its efforts on gigantic high-profile projects involving narrowly tailored subsidies of corporate welfare rather than focusing on improvements, activities and programs designed to spread benefits broadly and enhance the well-being of the entire city.

Now, the Sports and Entertainment Commission has entangled itself in a plan for a new stadium to attract Major League Baseball, an egregious corporate welfare program that would benefit narrow business interests at the expense of the taxpayer, and I should add, at the expense of other important concerns, such as our public education, our housing, our health care, our libraries, our local democracy and our reputation all of which are in poor condition in D.C.

Corporate welfare programs for major professional sports leagues and individual franchise owners do not survive on the merits. Rather, they become entrenched and continue to grow because strong and well-organized business interests, with huge monetary concerns at stake, aggressively work to defend and expand them often hand in hand with Mayors, City Council members and municipal sports commissions with whom they maintain mutually advantageous relationships.

As with other forms of corporate welfare, these negotiations with Major League Baseball are predicated on pitting cities against each other in bidding contests that are structurally biased in favor of Big Business, in this case a baseball franchise. It is a race to the bottom that the District cannot afford to enter and a blackmail in which the Sports and Entertainment Commission should have no role. By choosing to sell Major League Baseball's arrogant extortion to the public, the Sports and Entertainment Commission is choosing to exacerbate D.C.'s disparities of wealth, influence and power that run counter to a functioning local political system in which the people rule.

Mr. Chairman, I am a sports fan who has paid close attention to the stadium deals that have taken place across the country over the past decade. I have watched professional sports leagues and individual owners manipulate cities into heavily-subsidizing their part-time corporate entertainment at the expense of daily human needs and public necessities. And along with the economic values of greed and overreaching that Major League Baseball uses to exploit, they also use our unyielding loyalty as sports fans against the cities where we live. If I have learned one thing through watching city after city fall to their knees under the weight of the demands for corporate welfare made by professional sports leagues and franchise owners, it is that if we truly are sports fans, we must be fans of our cities first.

A final note before closing. The people here today to testify on the Sports and Entertainment Commission's role in pushing for a publicly-subsidized stadium represent the beginning of a consumer - taxpayer - environmentalist - worker - small business - and sports fan coalition that is consolidated on this issue and will only grow in numbers and in power. We are unopposed to a baseball franchise in Washington D.C. But if Major League Baseball wishes to come in here and reap the benefits of our giant population, huge media market and loyal sports fans, it will be on our terms.

We already have a stadium for a baseball team to play in which the Sports and Entertainment Commission runs. As a venue that works for our city, I'm inclined to think that the Sports and Entertainment Commission should do a much better job in defense of RFK Stadium. If Major League Baseball doesn't think it's good enough, then they can gain our approval as to what improvements to make or where to build a new stadium with PRIVATE capital, raised independently, to finance the entire project. No Tax Dollars. No Exceptions.

It is not in the spirit of sport that Major League Baseball pits cities against each other for the best taxpayer-squeezing deal, and is certainly no reason for Mayor Williams and the Sports and Entertainment Commission to encourage the D.C. Council to dangle our tax dollars in the faces of some of the country's wealthiest individuals and to rationalize the neglect of their fundamental responsibilities to the people of the District.

I'd like to thank the committee again for the opportunity to speak today.

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Washington Post op-ed by Brent Blackwelder, president of the Friends of the Earth and Ed Lazere, director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute: Three Strikes Against a Stadium (4/6/03)

Friends of the Earth: Testimony against a taxpayer-subsidized baseball stadium in Washington DC - PDF file (4/2/03)

DC Fiscal Policy Institute: Testimony against a taxpayer-subsidized baseball stadium in Washington DC - PDF file (4/2/03)