Pittsburgh commenter JRoth supplies the ballpark figure for that city's economic boost from the Steelers' Super Bowl win: $25 million. And that's without any home games in the playoffs.
So in addition to the morale boost home teams can provide — the civic pride and unity — home towns also have an economic stake in their teams' fortunes.
Part of the reason that Pittsburgh is a great sports town is their color scheme. Seriously. The hometown Steelers, Pirates and Penguins all share the same team colors, and that black and gold scheme has been adopted by more than a few local businesses unrelated to professional sports. It's almost like these are the city's school colors, and the effect seems to be an even greater sense of civic identity and civic pride.
When it comes to civic identity and civic pride, though, Pittsburgh can't compete with Green Bay, Wisc., home of the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are the only big-league franchise whose name does more than indicate where they happen to play home games. Their name is possessive. They are the Green Bay Packers, and they belong to the community:
The Packers were incorporated in 1923 as a private, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. Article I of their bylaws states, "this association shall be a community project, intended to promote community welfare … its purposes shall be exclusively charitable." The team can move only through dissolution, in which case the shareholders get only the $25 a share they put in. A board of directors, elected by the stockholders, manages the team.
This nonprofit status has been threatened only once, in 1949. The Packers needed to raise more than $100,000 to avoid insolvency. Co-founder Curly Lambeau, coach since 1919, member of the board of directors, and current stadium namesake, found four men willing to invest $50,000 each if the team would become a profit-making venture. The board refused, instead choosing to authorize 10,000 shares of common stock at $25 a piece, 4,628 of which were issued. To insure that not one individual or company had too much control, the maximum number of shares per shareholder was set at 200. Instead of four owners, the team now had over 4,000. Lambeau resigned.
The loyalty of these fans and owners is legendary. Games at Lambeau Field have been sold out for over thirty consecutive seasons. Streets are literally deserted for three hours on autumn Sunday afternoons. The waiting list for season tickets is 36,000 names long, for seats in a stadium that holds 60,000. It is common for season tickets to be willed from one generation to the next and to be hotly contested in divorce proceedings.
The above is from the New Rules Project, which has long advocated community ownership of professional sports teams. The benefits of Green Bay's structure — for both the Packers and the community — would seem like a model for other professional teams. And it would be, except that the major sports leagues explicitly forbid this kind of community ownership (the Packers have a grandfathered exception in the NFL). Home towns are encouraged, or even extorted, to provide municipal funding for new stadiums, but they are not allowed to invest that funding by purchasing a share of the ownership.
Pittsburgh fans may bleed black and gold, but despite their name the Pittsburgh Penguins don't belong to the city. They belong to the owners, who are threatening to move the team to Oklahoma City unless city and state officials cough up some protection money. (Nice hockey team you got here. Shame if anything happened to it. …) That the team owner running this racket is, in this case, longtime Penguins great Mario Lemieux adds insult to injury.
A few hours east, in the state capital, officials have made sure this kind of thing never happens with their home team. In 1995, they purchased the city's AA affiliate for $6 million. Now the Harrisburg Senators really are the Harrisburg Senators, and they're not going anywhere.
New Rules has more on the community-ownership of minor league teams in this article, "Don't Bribe 'Em, Buy 'Em." That article also mentions the AAA Syracuse Sky Chiefs (now just the Chiefs) and the Rochester Red Wings. I saw a Chiefs/Wings game a few years back in Syracuse and witnessed two community-owned teams going head to head. That was a sight none of the big leagues offers. Or allows.
In this case we really do need new rules. Communities have a stake — economic as well as emotional — in their home teams' fortunes. And as stakeholders, they ought to be allowed to be shareholders too.