A Sterling Example of Why the Community Should Own the Team

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.

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4 thoughts on “A Sterling Example of Why the Community Should Own the Team

  1. I have a pretty rough edge when it comes to all this racism stuff. Always feels to me like there’s more smoke than fire. Politically, I’m somewhere between Chris Rock and Reagan. Ie all over the place. Frankly, I think Chris Rock is as *honest* about race in this country as any American has been. His bits are obviously intended to be funny, but they’re actually spot on. Sometimes he’s calling out blacks, and sometimes he’s calling out whites… Everyone in his audience kinda looks around at each other, shrugs, and nods. “Yeah, I guess that is true…” While they are laughing WITH each other, of course. (Thus his success.)

    In that personal context, I think the race card gets played WAY TOO MUCH in this country. Especially in sports. In my entire sports career of multiple sports for multiple years, I have only two incidents that involve race at all… But, I realize that’s just MY narrow experience with it.

    When I listened to first clip of the Sterling tape I thought “Here we go again. The race card…” Initially, the part I heard sounded to me like a guy who didn’t want his girlfriend to be seen in public with ANYONE. I didn’t hear anything specific about blacks. In fact, he said “Magic is someone to be admired….” And then I heard later Magic commenting “he shouldn’t own a team…” and I was like, “Dude, that’s a ridiculous statement, given what I heard.”

    But then I listened to another clip of a different part of the tape, a little later….. WOW. I was shocked, too. In a way I didn’t expect to be shocked (in 2014). Here’s a guy (Sterling) who appears to take his social philosophy from the mid-1800s. He must consider these guys on his team to be “slaves” in way? Yeah, they’re getting compensated for their work, But HE’S the master running the show, calling the shots, from his remote location. I was really shocked. Now, I have to agree with Magic. There’s NO WAY he can continue as an owner in the NBA. And it doesn’t matter what the leagues says; his support from the community — whites, blacks, and everyone else — is OVAAAAAAA. I am sure his entire contact list spent most of Sunday next to the shredder erasing any association they had with the guy. WHAT A TOOL!

    * And listening to the way he talks to his girlfriend, he should be punched in the face.

  2. So, if I am to understand…..People with “evil in their” hearts should not own a professional sports franchise and much less make a profit? But instead, the “community” should own them (read “pay lots of taxes”) and if they want to “invest” money in them they get a little piece of paper to show off to friends.
    How about the players play for free?

    • Denise, I’ve been a fan, and in agreement with most, of your commentary for a long time. But in this case, you make no sense.

      “Community ownership” and taxation are not related in any way. I think you’re confusing government ownership with community. Last time I checked, the Packers’ players were getting paid.

      The NBA, like every pro sports league, relies heavily on public participation and endorsement. Statement of the obvious. Subsequent to that, everyone involved is subject to a “professional and personal conduct” agreement that governs their behavior, in the public eye. EVERYONE is subject to it. When players do stupid things to piss off the public, league officials involve themselves, and can hand down penalties. So, it’s nothing new for the league to get involved in a situation where an individual involved with the league is penalized for conduct unbecoming…

  3. Denise, thanks for being such a loyal reader and for bringing up some excellent points.

    I’ve been wanting to write about sports ownership for a while, Donald Sterling just served as a shocking contrast. What has influenced my perspective is seeing the Raiders leave Oakland as a kid; and then watching the Giants almost move to Tampa Bay in the 90’s. Sports teams seem to take on the collective consciousness of the community over time. Our teams remind us of our childhood and seeing this taken away is something I find sad. I agree that every business owner should be free to relocate their business as they see fit for whatever reason they want, so that’s why I like the Green Bay model for sports.

    I agree that every business owner should be able to maximize their profits at all times as they see fit. I’ve noticed the last few years that sometimes winning and profit maximization can conflict. For example, that Pittsburg Pirates example from 2008 is disturbing (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=5484947). In that article David Berri, president of the North American Association of Sports Economists said, “Teams have a choice. They can seek to maximize winning, what the Yankees do, or you can be the Pirates and make as much money as you can in your market. The Pirates aren’t trying to win.” How many business environments have “revenue sharing” where all the competitors pool their money together and then share part of it?

    I like the Green Bay Packers ownership model a lot (I just don’t like the Green Bay Packers team at all).

    I’d like to continue this discussion with you at AT&T park soon.

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