What Pro Sports Owners Owe Us

I once had a coach who could spit tobacco hard enough to break a window. He smelled like an old hamper, and only wore pants that came with an elastic waist. Still, every last one of us loved the guy. He always said, “Sports is like a hammer, gents. And you can use a hammer for all kinds of things. You can use it to build a house, or you can use it to bash somebody’s head. Choose wisely.”

In the twenty-first century, the heads of far too many sports fans have been bashed by far too many hammers. Our collective migraine comes from the idea that we are loving something that just doesn’t love us back. If sports were once like a playful puppy you would wrestle on the floor, it’s now like a housecat demanding to be stroked and giving nothing in return.

Sports fans are fed up.

It’s the extra commercials tacked on to a broadcast, as companies attempt to use the games to brand our subconscious. It’s when you decide to finally take the trip to the park, look up the ticket prices, and decide immediately to do something –anything — else with your time.

And so you go a year without making it to the ballpark and fail to even notice. Or you don’t feel the same urgency to watch every minute of every game for fear you might miss something magical.

If a car’s brakes failed, you wouldn’t blame the driver. You’d blame the manufacturer. And when we feel bludgeoned by the state of professional sports, it’s the owners who need to answer for this sorry state of affairs.

Players play.

Fans watch.

Owners are uniquely charged with being the stewards of the game. It’s a task that they have failed to perform in spectacular fashion.

In fact, with barely a sliver of scrutiny, they are wrecking the world of sports. The old model of the paternalistic owner caring for a community has become as outdated as the typewriter. Because of publicly funded stadium construction, luxury box licenses, sweetheart cable deals, globalized merchandising plans, and other “revenue streams,” the need for owners to cater to a local working and middle class fan base has shrunk dramatically.

Fans have become scenery for television broadcasts.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News once wrote, “You are owed nothing in sports, no matter how much you care. You are owed nothing, no matter how long you’ve rooted or how much you’ve paid to do it.”

I couldn’t disagree more. We are owed plenty by the world of sports.

We are owed loyalty.

We are owed accessibility.

We are owed a return on our massive civic investment.

And more than anything, we are owed respect.

We aren’t owed this respect because it’s the kind or human thing to do.

We aren’t owed any love because we cheered ourselves hoarse and passed the precious rooting tradition down to our children.

We are owed it because the teams are ours as much as they are theirs. Literally.

By calling for and receiving public funds, owners have sacrificed their moral, if not financial, claim of ownership. Cities and city councils that allow their funds to be used by private franchises should, in turn, have some say in the relationship between team and fan.

That means lower ticket prices.

That means an end to the $8 beer.

As sports fans, we have to accept that we do, in fact, deserve better, but as the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

If we aren’t making demands, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

  • This piece runs in the August issue of the Progressive magazine.
  • Dave Zirin is the author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love (Scribner). He can be reached at: edgeofsports@gmail.com. Read other articles by David, or visit David's website.

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    1. mary said on August 11th, 2010 at 5:39am #

      This author often writes about the bonanzas known as the Olympic Games.

      I have just watched a film report about the preparations for the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

      Corruption is rife. Homes are being demolished. One road, 17 miles long, which is being tunnelled from the coast to the mountains is costing £5 billion alone. The total cost is reported to be £20 billion, the most expensive ever. Outrageous.

      Here in the UK we are stuck with a £10 billion bill for the 2012 games. What a nonsense. The ‘ legacy’ of football stadia and affordable homes that we were promised is dematerializing day by day.