Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dave Zirin on the Green Bay Packers and the road not taken in professional sports

Edge of Sports columnist Dave Zirin is now blogging for The New Yorker, and his first piece, Those Non-Profit Packers, reminds us of the the way professional sports didn't go, toward non-profit ownership, with the unique example of the Green Bay Packers:
In 1923, the Packers were just another hardscrabble team on the brink of bankruptcy. Rather than fold they decided to sell shares to the community, with fans each throwing down a couple of dollars to keep the team afloat. That humble frozen seed has since blossomed into a situation wherein more than a hundred thousand stockholders own more than four million shares of a perennial playoff contender... Shareholders receive no dividend check and no free tickets to Lambeau Field.

....The Packers’ unique setup has created a relationship between team and community unlike any in the N.F.L. Wisconsin fans get to enjoy the team with the confidence that their owner won’t threaten to move to Los Angeles unless the team gets a new mega-dome. Volunteers work concessions, with sixty per cent of the proceeds going to local charities. Even the beer is cheaper than at a typical N.F.L. stadium.
And while a member of the Packers board thinks costs today would make it tough to duplicate the ownership structure, even if the N.F.L. allowed it, Zirin sees a counterargument:
It may be exorbitantly expensive to run a team, but people don’t buy N.F.L. teams as a civic service. Being an N.F.L. owner is like having a license to print money... In the United States, we socialize the debt of sports and privatize the profits.

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