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 cites past stadium tax deal blunders as warning to stadium referendum voters in Denver, San Diego and Miami

If history has taught us anything about subsidizing professional sports stadiums, the taxpayers of Denver, San Diego and Miami have an easy decision to make November 3.

Thanks to grass-roots efforts, these three cities have referendums on their ballots this fall to decide whether or not taxpayers should pay for new stadiums, complete with high-priced luxury suites which most fans will never enter, for mega-millionaire owners to house their teams.

Nearly half of the country's 115 major professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey teams are currently seeking to build new stadiums or arenas, according to Aaron M. Barman, managing director of Prudential Securities Inc.'s Project Finance Group, a unit of Prudential Insurance Co. of America. He points out that major league owners are seeking new, modern stadiums and arenas primarily in an effort to install luxury seats and skyboxes to increase revenue streams.

In Denver and San Diego, the Broncos and Padres are counting on the euphoria of the former being football's Super Bowl XXXII champions and the latter being baseball's 1998 National League champions to give them the necessary votes on election day to build new stadiums.

Padres President Larry Lucchino recently claimed that San Diego's stadium financing proposition is being helped by "the passion we've seen the last several weeks." But he added that the project "is more than just a ballpark," which has become the slogan of the team's $1 million campaign for this ballot measure.

The main problem in every city is that the true numbers are never revealed until after the elections.

Two cities that recently built parks are feeling the effects of crony capitalism. In Cleveland, where the original price for the Gateway project, which included Gund Arena for the Cavaliers and Jacobs Field for the Indians, was said to be $343 million, the taxpayer tally ended up around $462 million. With the new tax funded Brown Stadium, Clevelanders will be forced to pay at least another $280 million.

In San Diego for example, the new stadiums promise more of the same hidden burdens for taxpayers. The San Diego Port District plans to account for a $21 million financing gap for that city's new stadium by "sharing" infrastructure costs with the city and the Padres, including building pedestrian bridges, widening streets and improving intersections as part of the $411 million ballpark project. The Port District claims that the stadium would turn a warehouse district into a "vibrant economic center." Critics dismiss the move as an attempt to manipulate public opinion in the final days before the citywide vote.

Some cities do see through the smokescreen before the vote, however. Cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have each rejected efforts to divert tax money into stadium construction. And, in Columbus, the city still got its NHL arena, when private companies offered to pay for it just days after the vote failed.

The stadiums will come, as one did in Columbus. But they do not have to be at the expense of taxpayers. It is time for communities across the country collectively to stand up to the owners who have millions and sometimes billions of dollars to finance their own stadiums. Tell them that if they want their stadiums, they can pay for it themselves. The nation's cities have many unmet needs, including playgrounds and other recreational facilities for its children and adults, that should have priority over corporate welfare kings.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate