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Football Franchises as Civic Assets

At the core of every sport is a game in infancy, perhaps merely an intense showcase of innocence celebrated through unbridled hope, enthusiasm and sorrow. The National Football League’s quintessential savior to the modernly perceived cynicism of professional sports must be the Green Bay Packers. For even in the heart of winter, Wisconsinites can religiously bask in the warmth of Lambeau Field and illuminate an entire state with unflinching pride. It may be a dying breed of venues where a fan can purchase a bratwurst and beverage with plenty to spare on team paraphernalia. Games have been sold out for over thirty years. Season tickets are willed from generation to generation. (The waiting list has reached nearly 40,000 names long). And if a naïve outsider were to softly inquire to whom the team belongs, the homogenous enthusiasts, armed with “cheese-wedge” head gear, would respond in unison, “We do!”

The Packers, whose 1998 stock sale gave the community a minority stake and raised more than $24 million (120,000 shares) for an individual capital improvements fund, have made a staunch commitment to keep the franchise in Green Bay for eternity. Try convincing a Packers fan that there is life after football.

So, the relocations of the Browns (now Ravens) to Baltimore and the Oilers (now Titans) to Nashville, when compared to the aforementioned utopia, seem perplexing to an idealist. USFANS President Frank Stadulis would decree that franchise owners have absolutely no right to shift their assets to another city, even if the move equates to dramatically higher financial incentives. “USFANS believes that all communities should have the opportunity to own their hometown professional sports teams, as well as be allowed to form and own new teams if they choose,” Stadulis said.

It should come to little surprise that Stadulis vehemently supports U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s bill aptly entitled, “Give Fans a Chance Act of 1999” (H.R. 532 for those of you scoring at home), which essentially requires franchise owners or leagues to provide advance notice and welcome purchasing proposals from local municipalities before relocating a member club out of the immediate community.

The report from Blumenauer on the House Floor earlier this year included a declaration that fans “continue to pay more for tickets, more for parking, more for taxes, more for seat licenses, more for concessions that make it less affordable, less comfortable for the community

and ever more lucrative for the few who profit. It does not have to be this way.”

But this provincial rhetoric undermines the reality that the masses, not the few, have benefited from franchise facelifts. Perhaps, Blumenauer missed Cleveland, Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas (to name a few) – cities with either relocated or expansion sports teams that have illuminated millions of people – on his cross-country voyages. Higher prices have raised fans’ expectations, which have forced franchise executives to improve the quality of their product. In turn, fans and city officials have reaped the benefits of having more accommodating facilities, luxurious amenities, exciting experiences, and a direct upgrade on the local economy. All of these interdependent mechanisms have improved the market value of the franchise, and sometimes its potential value elsewhere.

There are some remarkable examples of cities embracing their local teams, sometimes after a temporary parting. Cleveland Browns fans welcomed back their beloved team, after a nearly four-year absence, in typical form. On the eve of the Brown’s 1999 home opener, Clevelanders were spotted eating hot “Reuben delights” at Sportsman Restaurant (open since 1947 and always maintained its team’s orange and brown motif), talking football with buddies alongside the Cuyahoga River, and celebrating at Harpo’s Sports Cafe with a few extra rounds of drinks. Yes, Cleveland has validated that the Browns are there to stay.

Defining a professional sports team as a “rooted civic asset” remains an unresolved debate, even in Congress. However, the prospects of governmental intervention are clearly catastrophic. The liberal agenda, as evident from H.R. 532’s 14 co-sponsors (13 Democrats and one pro-labor Republican), would literally dismantle any incentive for entrepreneurial individuals with sufficient cash flows to invest in professional sports. Local governments would replace the private sector and reach the Peter Principle before change of ownership was completed.

Private investors are responsible for the innovative advancements in sports entertainment, yet some fantasists think that ownership is a pedestrian task. Blumenauer supports local governments keeping the franchise local at all costs, although not a sound business decision, because the city owns the “game.” Ironically, his colleagues passed the Curt Flood Act of 1998, which rescinded Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, subjecting the league to a level playing field as a “business.”

And so, the general public is again left with more questions than answers. Is sport a game, a business, or both? And if so, how does this notion affect a local city looking for inventive tactics to keep its franchise at home?

Stadulis contends that franchise relocation can be remedied via fan ownership, and here’s why: 1) It creates a tighter bond and pledge between fans and hometown teams; 2) Fan loyalty entitles fans to the right to own their teams; 3) Revenue comes from fans who deserve access to annual reports, decision-making; 4) Fan ownership keeps the team at home; 5) Fans have a direct impact on how games are played and how players behave.

In spite of a socialist disposition, this argument and its supporters inexorably fail due to the seemingly harsh, yet visible, reality that sport is as much of a business as it is a game. Hence, the prevailing theory of capitalism reveals that natural market forces will dictate the efficacy of sports franchise management.

Fan ownership, under the USFANS platform, would yield disastrous results in nearly every case. Stadulis lobbies for fans to determine how the teams’ revenue is spent and ensure reinvestment strictly for “team needs,” not for “ticket price increases.” First, once a customer pays for a ticket, a financial transaction has occurred and the revenue belongs to the owners of the enterprise. Second, owners increase ticket prices because their customers are willing to pay higher premiums, irrespective of how much owners spend from their annual budgets. Team owners, like any successful businesspeople, are trying to maximize profits.

Imagine the change from private to public ownership in, for example, the NFL: enraged fans storming into a stadium for their quarterly stockholders meeting. Many of them will experience a rude awakening when discovering that league rules prohibit team shareholders from publicly criticizing any football official, member club, its management, players or coaches. Even more taxing for fan ownership is the Commissioner’s prerogative to fine any shareholder up to $5,000 and confiscate owning privileges for betting on the outcome or score of any NFL game.

Fans, like any potential entrepreneurs, could feasibly make this sacrifice. But, why would they do it?

Stadulis is right for all the wrong reasons. Fans already own their teams and control the financial success of those teams by acceptance or resistance. Their voices are unmistakably heard in the stands every home game, and the owners listen because they want to make money. Fans determine the price of peanuts, popcorn and beer. Fans determine the price of tickets. And in most instances, fans determine whether a franchise stays or goes. Ask the city of Los Angeles.

Before the liberal politicians revisit the issue of protecting those who cannot fend for themselves, perhaps they should more carefully ascertain the impetus to franchise relocation. Some cities, occasionally responsible for losing their respective teams, fight back without congressional support.

The Browns have come home to the “Dawg Pound” with an emphatic statement that fan loyalty is proportional to the majority’s fortitude in solidifying the team as civic asset. Now, that’s how the game is played.

© 2007 LineDrives.com, Michael Wissot,

Source by Michael Wissot

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