Only a game (cont’d.)

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.

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  • Simon St.Laurent

    What exactly are the leagues afraid of?
    It doesn’t seem like the situation in Green Bay has created much turmoil or trouble for the NFL. (Apart from some jealousy over their season tickets’ value, maybe.)
    I guess the loss of a lucrative racket might be a sad thing, but I don’t see an argument that it’s actually bad for the leagues or for the sports.

  • LL

    If the Penguins move to OKC, they’re idiots. First, OKC already has a hockey team. Didn’t know that? Exactly. Oklahoma is dominated by football (college) and has no major league pro teams of any kind. The Hornets don’t count. That’s temporary. Taxpayers ponied up major dough to build a “major league-caliber” baseball stadium (and it is indeed, quite lovely, deliberately reminiscent of Baltimore’s park) on the BS hope that it would attract an MLB team. It didn’t, and it’s been about 10-15 years now. OKC is not a big enough market to attract a pro team. I’m sure the corrupt powers that be in OK are promising all kinds of sweetheart deals to get the Penguins there, and maybe such an arrangement would benefit the owners in the short term, but in the long term, they’d just end up moving again once they find out most people in OK don’t care about hockey and no one from anywhere else is going to drive to OKC to watch the Penguins play.

  • Carl

    What becomes of any profits made by the Packers, then?

  • Alexela

    I don’t think it’s necessarily Mario’s fault. As an owner who only wound up with the team because they owed him so much money, it’s not morally incumbent on him to keep the team anywhere in particular, and I think he’s done a log to keep the pens in PA. I put it on the NHL. At the risk of boring the crap out of non hockey fans, they already seem willing to interfere to keep the Pen’s anywhere but Canada because they know their marketing Godsend Crosby would be a waisted asset in a place where hockey is already popular… This tells me that they’re already thinking long term, and if they are doing that, then they have to know that there’s no WAY the pens would be as profitable in Oklahoma or Kansas City as they can be in Pittsburgh. If the only thinking holding them back from profitability now is a new stadium, then the NHL could involve itself in trying to gather together money to build one. Surely it would behoove them to take steps to protect their best markets. That they aren’t doing this means that a) the internal politics would be tricky, but moreso b) it’s more profitable to blackmail cities into forking over cash directly. Shame on the NHL.

  • Alexela

    err… he’s done a loT, not a loG. and “thinking” is “thing”.. Literacy? never heard of it.

  • Chuchundra

    Pittsburgh has already bankrupted itself to pay for stadiums for the Steelers and the Pirates. The city fathers have mortgaged their future to pay for grand cathedrals dedicated to selfish millionaires and meanwhile can’t afford to fix the roads or pay police salaries.
    Now the Penguins are there with their hand out? It’s not just shameful. It’s immoral.

  • Alexela

    Tho to be perfectly fair though, Arenas are considerably more lucrative to their host cities than are actual cathedrals these days.
    The better comparison is to theaters. In economic terms modern professional sports is functionally equivalent to entertainment. There are a small number of stars who make ridiculous amounts of money (Mick Jagger, Brad Pitt, Jaromir Jagr), to get paying bums into seats, and park paying eyes in front of television commercials. There are also untold hordes of hopeless wannabes laboring for a pittance on minor league franchises / day time television.
    Cities will spend a fair bit to lure movie production, and opera houses, and what have you into town… though a lot of that isn’t so visible. It’s the same principle with stadiums, only with higher stakes.

  • Amanda

    As a new Pittsburgh resident but not much of a pro sports fan (I do like the sports — keeping up with the team affinities and so on, not so much), I don’t have much to say. Except to add in this little shout out from another Pittsburgh area slacker. Holla.

  • Jeff

    The above is from the New Rules Project, which has long advocated community ownership of professional sports teams
    Glory, Hallelujah, YES! Someone needs to stop this blatently criminal extortion process.
    Failing a city actually owning a team, I think that the city should lease the land to the NFL, with opt-out payments equal to the break-even point for building the stadium (plus penaties, perhaps). Essentially, the city is guaranteed every dime they put into the new sports complex, plus on-going revenue for every year the team plays there past the break-even point.
    However, since average corporations are being allowed out of the new accounting rules (“they’re too haaaaaaaaard”, doncha know?), I doubt we’ll ever see Art Bell (chief thug of the Oakland Thugs) standing in the dock.

  • Amanda

    I will add that my fiance, a lifelong Pirates fan, would be oh-so-happy if it were instead the Steelers that threatened to move — Pittsburgh folks aren’t sufficiently loyal to their baseball team, says he, while they shower oodles of attention on their football team.
    It’s possible, just a little, that he could be bitter, just a little, about the fact that the Pirates pretty much suck — something even a baseball beginner like me knows enough to understand ;)

  • VorJack

    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.
    To be fair here, there was some of that back when the Packers decided they needed to expand Lambeau Field. They wanted the residents of the county to vote themselves a .05% sales tax increase in order to pay for it. There were some muttered threats about being forced to close down or move elsewhere if they didn’t get a larger, more profitable stadium.
    Then there was some truly saccharine advertising; pictures of kids running and playing, underneath runs the tag, “Tell them you voted Yes.” I was actually fine with the tax before I saw those bill boards. They were trying so hard to push my buttons I felt like pushing back.

  • Steve

    Steve from Harrisburg, PA here: Unfortunately, Harrisburg is in financial distress right now. After some layoffs and hiring freezes, and lots of back and forth between city council and the mayor, one of the “solutions” to the financial crunch was putting the Harrisburg Senators on the market. So the city still owns the team, but not for long it seems. Sad, but true.

  • Grey Duck

    First, OKC already has a hockey team.
    The Blazers are a hockey team in name only…
    Though you’re right about Oklahoma being a football state with little patience for much else. (Except maybe basketball in the off season. Maybe.)

  • Lurker

    Forgive my ignorance, but how are the American associations actually run? In most European countries, we have a separate legal entity called “non-profit organization”. It is essentially a corporation, meaning that it is a legal person but it has no owner. Instead of owners, it has only members, who are required by law to have one vote each. In case of dissolution, the organization’s funds go to a purpose prescribed in its charter, never to individuals. The eventual profits of the activities can go only towards advancing the purpose of the organization and may not be given to the members. On the other hand, the members carry no liability for the actions of their organization. For example, my native country Finland has some 100.000 non-profit organizations of this type for a population of five million. Don’t the American laws provide for any other organizations but for ones with owners?

  • everstar

    This is why I can’t help but love the Packers, even though my father (a lifelong Vikings fan) views it as a small blasphemy on my part. When the Minnesota state government got hit up for three different stadiums (two professional, one collegiate), part of the pro-stadium argument was that having professional sports teams contributed to the “big town” feeling of the Twin Cities. But what I saw it coming down to was people having invested time and money and enthusiasm and passion in the Vikings and the Twins, and then basically being blackmailed on those feelings by some guys who were annoyed with the fact that the Metrodome doesn’t have enough skyboxes to suck up to their big business buddies.
    I really wish they could truly be the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, but that’s not likely with those rules in place.

  • A Texan in Bavaria

    Lurker: we do have non-profit organizations of all sizes in the US, but it seems like there is more “club spirit” in Germany (and obviously in Finland, as well). For one tiny example, there are Schnupfervereins in Germany, including one in a little town about 10km from me. A “Schnupferverein” is a group of (mostly) men and (a few) women who take powered tobacco usage to the next level. The one near me holds a tournament each year with separate men’s and women’s divisions. The results are published, with pictures, in my city’s paper.
    I wish I were kidding, but you do have to admire the devotion and sense of community…

  • GailVortex

    “Powered tobacco usage”??
    I have seldom been accused of a lack of imagination, but no reasonable activity which could be described by that phrase springs to mind.

  • cjmr’s husband

    I can’t think of any kind of tobacco usage that could be turned into a tournament.
    Texan, please enlighten us.

  • wintermute

    > …take powered tobacco usage to the next level.
    What is the current level? I share Gail’s bewilderment, unless it’s something to do with cigarette boats?

  • hapax

    Not a Texan (or a Bavarian), but I suspect it’s a case of great expectorations here…

  • cjmr’s husband

    Powered expectorations? Eeeewww.
    (actually, “Eeeewww” is my reaction to all uses of tobacco, but that’s beside the point)

  • Kylroy

    “What exactly are the leagues afraid of?”
    That the owners will be exposed as a useless, money-siphoning drain on the sport. George Will (of all people) has pointed out “Millions of people go to baseball games every year, and not one of them goes to watch an owner.” Especially now that the players are multimillionaires and have the resources to create their own league if they wanted to, it’s imperative that the owners convince players and fans that their presence is good or at least unavoidable.

  • the opoponax

    wait, maybe “powdered tobacco”? i.e. snuff?

  • Matthew Boyd
  • Jeff
  • Constantine

    Pittsburgh has already bankrupted itself to pay for stadiums for the Steelers and the Pirates.
    It seems that Pittsburgh teams need new stadiums once every 25 years or so, which strikes me as a much higher rate than teams in other, larger cities.

  • Fledermaus

    then they have to know that there’s no WAY the pens would be as profitable in Oklahoma or Kansas City
    Seattle is ripe for an NHL takeover – between the Canadian transplants and people from the midwest it would be huge. If only former Sonics owner Barry Ackerley hadn’t screwed the city over by making Key Arena’s seats come in some 18 ft. too far to fit an NHL rink. I hate that guy!

  • Steve

    Fledermaus: 18 feet or 18 inches? 18 feet seems like quite of lot of seats to sacrifice in hopes of MAYBE attracting hockey.

  • Nfl Packers

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