Is it time for all professional sports franchises to be owned by the public and not by individuals?
That sure sounds nice after hearing what is in the heart of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Ouch!
While most owners stay behind the scenes and let their teams be the focus, they are usually viewed as local benevolent heroes, so to see what lies behind the curtains with Sterling is a shock. All team owners own something that has a meaning in each community beyond the typical business.
Seeing that an NBA owner can have the same characteristics as a KKK member is a wake up call for everyone. In addition to insulting everyone, Sterling’s racist comments lead to a question: what is the duty of teams owners to the communities they represent? Of course, hopefully all owners will rise above the ‘Sterling’ standard. But is it OK for owners to be just business people involved in maximizing profit for their entities? Is it OK for them to be more interested in profit than in winning games?
Sports teams hold a special place in the communities they represent. Many residents love these teams. Sports unite people of all races and generations. So why should individual human beings own these teams, individuals who can be like Donald Sterling?
How does a person come to own a team these days? Location, location and location. Larry Ellison tried to buy the Warriors, but somehow the NBA did not select his enormous bid and instead chose current owners and partners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. Well surprise surprise, now Guber is also an owner of the Dodgers! That’s right: the Dodgers and the Warriors share an owner.
Speaking of the Dodgers, their previous owner, Frank McCourt, somehow got chosen to buy the Dodgers in 2004 after successfully inflating the value of the parking garages he owns. He then ran the team like a cheapskate and did not fully pay many employees, including Vin Scully! The team declared bankruptcy in 2011 and McCourt was forced to sell the team. However, in the end McCourt still personally made $2 billion in just a few years, according to Forbes, through his association with the Dodgers and the perfect timing of the booming television contracts.
To the say the least, the system of choosing a new owner does not appear to be the most organized system going on right now. As with most things in our society, it’s who you know.
Or is ownership acquired by right of birth, like royalty? When Eddie DeBartolo was stripped of his ownership of the 49ers for bribing the governor for a gambling license, the 49ers were given to his sister, who ran it with her husband. The 49ers were horrible for a few years, and finally in 2008 they bequeathed the team to their 28 year old son, who had the youthful look and level of experience of a boy prince. Luckily for the 49ers, things have gone well after this change, but it could have been a real mess if things further unraveled behind a 28 year old team President with very little work experience.
There are many stories from the past few years that show just how flawed the current system of ownership is. For example, because of revenue sharing between teams, the Pittsburg Pirates found they could field a horrible team with a very low payroll and still make more profit than many of the other teams. Shouldn’t winning be the goal of each team, and not profit maximization? Other examples: Al Davis and his “commitment to exodus” when he left Oakland; Georgia Frontiere taking the Rams from LA, and Art Model leaving Cleveland heart broken and the dog pound without a team.
This is where the Green Bay Packers model looks so appealing. In Green Bay, no single individual owns the Packers, but rather they are publicly owned and are a nonprofit organization. As their annual meeting of shareholders notice reads, “Green Bay Packers Inc has been a publicly owned, nonprofit corporation since August 18, 1923”.
The profits from the team are invested back into the team, and the entity is governed by a board of directors and a seven-member executive committee. The 112,120 stockholders of 4,750,937 total shares do not receive dividends; they are just symbolic owners who get to show off their stock certificates.
Of course, who knows how these committees get selected and what evils may lurk in their hearts. But from the outside looking in, things sure do look good in Green Bay when comparing it to Sterling’s world.
For those who say that this type of public model would not be efficient or be competitive, you might want to ask the Steelers team in 2010 who lost to the Packers in the Super Bowl.
The racist comments by Clippers owner Donald Sterling shows what horrible human characteristics an NBA owner can have. Sterling is now a stain on society. It is shocking to think of him owning and profiting from an NBA franchise, while, according to a 2013 report from Tide Sport, 76.3% of all NBA players are African Americans. As he profits off a league and his team, it’s time for the league and the entire system to prevent this from happening again. It’s time for all teams to be owned by their communities.