In Chapter 4 “Zombie Leagues & Zombie Owners” of Dave Zirin’s book “Game Over”, he discusses the faceless or perhaps more accurately soulless owners that seem to be so dominant in professional sports today. Zirin gives numerous examples of how professional sports has been stripped of its innocence of being just a sporting competition, and turned into a vehicle to be used to enrich its already rich owners. He also mentions how owners have largely failed to be accountable to the communities they have used to subsidize their personal lifestyles. Zirin goes on to identify numerous examples of how regions have provided corporate welfare to sports entities that make billions of dollars. He calls for reforms for how professional sporting franchises are governed.
At the end of the day, is it the owners that are really to blame?
What can be done to halt these practices from continuing for future generation?
Should more sporting franchises emulate the Green Bay Packers and offer shares to fans? If so, Is this a better way to organize and administer professional sports?
Zirin highlights some of the drastic self-destructive, financially irresponsible measures that some areas have gone to maintain their sport franchises. However, it must be remembered that private sports ownership has been around in professional leagues, as long as the leagues themselves have been in existence. In their infancy, professional sporting leagues were tenuous, unstable properties. It was the capital of private owners that built professional sports leagues into the strong entities that exist today. Without them, there very likely would not be a professional sports world like the one we have today. As in any other entity in a free society, sport owners are allowed to pursue profits through any means necessary. A profit motive has served as the impetus for owners to look for new ways to increase revenues, and as a by-product, sports leagues have made enormous strides both for athletes, in terms of earning power, and for fans who are able to consume sports in ways unimaginable even a generation ago. What an owner choses to do with his or her profits is frankly nobody’s business but their own.
In the article, Zirin points out the many ways that owners have extracted financial help from cities either through direct subsidies, or through infrastructure construction. Zirin feels that as a result of this support by the community, the owners owe fans proper consideration when they make decisions that involve the team. However, Zirin does not at all mention that is was elected civic, county, or state officials that allocated these funds to the owners in the first place. The owners were simply exercising their rite to pursue the best deal possible for their entity. It was the politicians who failed in their duties to the taxpayer, and endorsed them. Until regions decide to turn down the seemingly continuous demands from owners, this cycle will continue. People who are unhappy with the actions of their owners in stewarding their favourite team can vote with their feet by not attending games, not purchasing merchandise, or giving any of their hard earned money to ownership that is not fully living up to expectations. Voters can also make their voices heard at the ballot box to hold those responsible for giving out corporate welfare to profitable, multi-billion dollar business entities. This would serve as a warning to the next person to take office not to continue such practices. In addition, there are other outlets for sporting fans to satisfy their sporting desires. There are plenty of non-profit sporting properties that would welcome increased support from the local community with open arms. When this happens, both owners and elected officials will have no choice but to reform their actions, or move on to let somebody else take their place.
Everyone believes the shinning star example of professional sporting ownership to be the Green Bay Packers. However, it should be noted that the Green Bay Packers are the last vestige of the “original” NFL that was a struggling, small organization that based in small midwest towns. The Packers have an almost century old tradition in a unique marketplace that cannot be easily duplicated. The sense of a community “owning” a team is multiplied several times over in a small market like Green Bay. This is simply not the case in larger markets. More importantly however, the type of stock that is offered by the club is largely symbolic and does not have any real value. The shares do not go up or down and the stock cannot be sold. Perhaps the worst feature is that shareholders have absolutely no say on how the team is operated either on or off the field. If team management decided to run the team into the ground, shareholders could do nothing about it other than not spending money on the club, just like fans of teams with private owners. Furthermore, the ownership structure of the Packers did nothing to save the citizens from Green Bay from being asked to provide financial help to extensive renovation of the Packers home stadium Lambeau Field.
It seems as much as team ownership by private individuals or a community model differ, at the end of the day, the outcomes are eerily similar.
Zirin, D. (2013). Game over how politics has turned the sports world upside down. (pp. 73-90). New York: The New Press.