“I’d like to thank Dan Snyder for inspiring this book,” Dave Zirin began. His DC audience, apparently dotted with disgruntled Skins fans, loudly protested this inauspicious introduction. Snyder, I later learned, was just one of many team owners who treat “their fanbase like a baby treats a diaper.” They’ve taken billions in taxpayer money, only to betray those same people, their teams’ fans, by jacking up prices and funneling cash into private projects.
Zirin, who blogs at The Edge of Sports, is the sports writer for The Nation. He was at Busboys and Poets last night, promoting his new book Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Game We Love.
Snyder, Ken Kendrick, the Dolan family, Dick DeVos, and the late George Steinbrenner all topped the list of Zirin’s worst team owners. Kendrick, who owns the Arizona Diamondbacks, not only backs his state’s absurd immigration law but has funneled cash – using the Diamondbacks arena, a public venue – to Republican candidates he supports. The Dolans, who own the Knicks (and Cablevision) boast high profits as they drive their once-respectable name into the ground. DeVos uses his billions to fund the Dominionists, a radical right-wing group that wants to put homosexuals and “women who seek abortions” into prison. And George Steinbrenner, who Zirin calls the bridge between the old and new ways of running sports teams, began this era (helped along by his chum Rudy Giuliani), during which $30 billion was spent on public stadiums in the last 30 years.
All across the country, cities desperately in need of public funds instead capitulated to sports team owners – Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Detroit, instead of job-growth programs or infrastructure improvements, got new parks in the last 10 years, funded by taxpayers. In exchange, these cities get a few hundred low-paying, non-union jobs. Of course, if Detroiters cough up large sums of money to go to Tigers games in Comerica Park, they can drown their sorrows in overpriced beer.
I’m an avid college and pro sports fan myself. One who, at the tender age of 13, was betrayed by Whalers owner Pete Karmanos as he ruthlessly broke his promise to keep the team in Hartford (never mind that it was due to low ticket sales), instead moving them to the hockey-fan desert of North Carolina. Despite events like this, it’s hard to separate the wrongdoings of team owners from the emotional ties fans have to the teams. But even I managed to set aside my blind fanaticism and think, yeah, this is a problem.
It’s not like we can’t do something about it – we even have a model to follow. The best sports owner, according to Zirin, is Green Bay, WI, where everyone in the city is a shareholder of the Packers. Zirin later outlines a “Fans’ Bill of Rights” – tickets should be affordable for the working class; the game blackout deal with cable companies should end; and mass-produced, watery beer should cost less than $8.
In Bad Sports, Zirin evokes George Costanza, Keyser Söze, and Homer Simpson to drive his points home. But, at the risk of sounding like the guy from “Reading Rainbow,” you don’t have to take my word for it.