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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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 Finance and Revenue, District of Columbia City Council, June 12, 2003

Chairman Evans and Members of the Committee my name is Shawn McCarthy, thank you for the opportunity to speak today regarding the "Ballpark Revenue Amendment Act of 2003."

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.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Washington D.C., Mayor Williams has entangled himself in an egregious corporate welfare plan for a stadium that would benefit narrow business interests at the expense of D.C.'s taxpayers and the services for which their hard-earned tax dollars are supposed to support. 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 Major League Baseball.

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 them at the expense of daily human needs and public necessities.

As a sports fan I feel sick and used by all of this. Owners have taken advantage of the popularity of sports and the loyalty of sports fans like myself, using us as ammunition against the cities where we live. Here in D.C., the favorite for ownership is Fred Malek and his Washington Baseball Club, worth $3 billion. The Washington Baseball Club is currently trying to get baseball fans and others to buy into their exaggerations and misinformation about the costs and benefits of a stadium and team -- however great the actual costs to the city and however great the actual benefits to Malek and company.

As part owner of the Texas Rangers along with George W. Bush and several other investors, Mr. Malek gained his expertise in stadium shakedowns. In 1991, his ownership group demanded that Arlington, Texas taxpayers give them $135 million to finance a new stadium while threatening to move the team if Arlington refused to pay the ransom. After the stadium was built and the Rangers' value had tripled as a result of the taxpayer subsidies, Malek's group sold the team. Another one of Malek's former ownership partners with the Rangers, William DeWitt, Jr. now heads a group that owns the St. Louis Cardinals and is threatening to move that team if taxpayers don't pay for a new stadium. Mr. Malek has the same ownership pedigree and will never be in this for Washington D.C. or its sports fans.

Mayor Williams appeared on Capitol Hill last week, where he predicted a loss of residents, businesses and jobs for the District and asked for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid after closing the $457 million budget gap, largely through slashed city services. The next day, the General Accounting Office issued a discouraging report that found a cycle in which the heavily indebted District neglects important improvements in public schools, health, safety, and transit, while fighting the loss of residents and businesses.

What state of affairs have we come to when the D.C. government's neglect is highlighted by a Congressional study as Mayor Williams dangles $339 million in front of a monopoly sports league and billionaire potential franchise owners? It is a state of affairs in which public agencies have become beholden to private power.

I hope that this committee and the City Council as a whole resist such irresponsibility.

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


Sign the petition opposing a taxpayer-subsidized stadium in DC!

DC Fiscal Policy Institute: Would a Publicly Financed Baseball Stadium Pay Off for DC? Economic Research Suggests the Answer Is "No" (6/9/03)

DC Fiscal Policy Institute: DC's Stadium Financing Proposal Would Cost the City $900,000 for Every Job Filled by a DC Resident (6/9/03)

Principles that Should Guide Efforts to Bring Baseball to the District - PDF file (5/03)

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)

Testimony before the Committee on Economic Development, District of Columbia City Council (4/2/03)