Sports, Politics, and Disenfranchised Fans

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Sports — that’s another crucial example
of the indoctrination system, in my view.
For one thing because it — you know, it
offers people something to pay attention
to that’s of no importance. [Sports] keeps
them from worrying about things that
matter to their lives that they might have
some idea of doing something about.
—Noam Chomsky
Analysis about sports like Chomsky’s has gained ground in
progressive ideology. However, sports are not activities “of
no importance…that keeps [the people] from worrying
about things that matter in their lives.” From the presence
of baseball players like Larry Doby and Jackie Robinson
who began shattering Jim Crow by breaking baseball’s
color line to the immortalized black gloved solidarity fists
of Olympic track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos
in the 1968 Summer Games to the current activism
against war and capital punishment by Washington Wizards
player Etan Thomas, there is a rich history of social
and political activism in athletics. Sport and politics also
continue their collision in ways that impact citizens’ lives
from increasing costs for fans to stadium funding issues.
Fans spent a record $32.06 billion in 2007 on tickets,
parking fees, concessions and on-site merchandise. This
amount notes an increase of over 4% since last year. The
average ticket prices for the National Football League
(NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey
League (NHL) have all risen 5-10% this year. These growing
prices and the significant economic downturn have
begun to alienate fans from attending games. As Boston
Red Sox fan Kent Haines said, “When you combine the
cost of the tickets with the effort it takes to get our fannies
in the seats, watching on TV with my wife and kids sounds
pretty good right now.” The fan sentiment is echoed by
Raymond Sauer, an economist from Clemson University:
“Many old time fans who aren’t so well to do have been
priced right out of the market…They’ve created a set of
disgruntled fans who used to go to games but now watch
on TV. They’ve (been replaced by) richer, corporate fans.”
In the face of the economic downturn and empty seats,
franchises have taken a variety of steps to cut costs. The NBA
laid off 9% of their workforce to cut costs. Several NASCAR
tracks have trimmed ticket prices for the 2009 season. The
Oakland Athletics are reducing average ticket prices by 5%
for 2009 after experiencing a 13.4% decline in attendance.
The hockey franchise St. Louis Blues have offered a “name
your price” promotion to entice fans to attend games.
While average fans have been “priced out of the market,”
numerous college and professional sports teams are
spending billions expanding stadiums, building luxury
suites and raising parking and ticket prices. These suites
and premium seating range in costs from $200,000 to $1
million for a season with concessions being extra. This
movement can also be seen locally with the $121 million in
private funds spent to refurbish half of Memorial Stadium.
The wealthy donators of private funds have “replaced” fans
that used to watch games from those seats. Half of Memorial
Stadium has access to elevators that carry fans to the
upper stadium levels while the other half has the foot
power ramps. The private funders have plush seats, covered
seating, and reserved parking; while the general public
has access to smaller steel benches and remotely located
unreserved parking. “Richer, corporate fans” have displaced
regular fans, locally as well as nationally.
While Memorial Stadium was refurbished with private
funds, there has been an epidemic of new stadiums being
built with demands that local taxpayers pay the costs. Former
part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise,
George W. Bush, used eminent domain to take thirteen
acres from private homeowners to secure land on which
The Ballpark at Arlington was built. Taxpayers largely
funded the building of $600+ million stadium for the
Washington Nationals. The New York Yankees have bonded
so much taxpayer money to pay for their $1.3 billion
new Yankee Stadium that the IRS stated the franchise
could no longer demand more money from taxpayers.
Also, in a measure that clearly shows the intersection of
sports and politics, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s son
is demanding $85 million in taxpayer funds from the city
of Portland, Oregon to build a new sports complex for
minor league sports teams that he owns.
Fans are being asked to foot the bill for stadiums to
watch their beloved sports, yet many of these same fans
have been priced out of using the facilities they are subsidizing.
When we are living in a country that is spending
billions to bail out greedy Wall Street banking institutions
and cutting social program/school funding while millions
of people are impoverished and without health care,
demanding taxpayers make stadiums a priority for funds
is almost criminal.
In order to justify the raiding of the public coffers for private
profit, the millionaire/billionaire ownership of sports
franchises by stating that these stadiums will provide an
economic stimulus to the community. However, there is
substantive evidence that stadiums do not have a positive
economic impact. Sports economists Dennis Coates (University
of Maryland) and Brad R. Humphreys (University of
Alberta) researched whether or not the building of new stadiums
brought a boost to the local economy. In their
study—which spanned nearly thirty years and examined
almost forty attempts—they couldn’t find a single example
of a sports franchise assisting a local economy.
These issues may primarily be sports related but they
are inherently political issues also. Discounting sports as a
venue for political issues does a disservice to sports and
advocating for political issues. Sports fans proudly support
and advocate for our preferred sports teams. The
presence of sports teams has intangible positive effects on
our communities. But, owners and corporate sponsors
should not hold fans hostage or treat us like clueless suckers.
It is time for sports fans to stand up and fight back in
the name of what we love.

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