Fans Who Own Their Teams
The idea of fans owning their own sports teams has never gained much ground in the U.S., in part because the sports leagues have generally prohibited it (with the approval of the U.S. Government, which grants antitrust exemptions to the major leagues). The salient exception is the Green Bay Packers, renowned for being owned by its loyal fans. In England and Europe, however, the issue is less about whether fans can own a sports team but rather how to make it work well. In the Guardian (UK), Dave Boyle has a provocative analysis, “Would Your Football Club be Better Run as a Cooperative?”
Boyle has been the CEO of Supporters Direct for the past three years, an organization founded in 2000 to "promote sustainable spectator sports clubs based on supporters' involvement and community ownership.” The fact that Supporters Direct even exists shows how much more advanced the UK is on cooperative ownership of sports teams! In any case, Boyle writes:
What's the point of a football club? If we look at the motives of its owners, we'd get some strange answers. It could be a millionaire's pension fund, a property development opportunity, a shot at a capital gain, a millstone, a tax dodge, an ego-trip, a nest-egg, a birthday present, a promotional tool, a political tool; the list is far from exhaustive.
No club was ever founded with this in mind, of course. They began life as genuine clubs, open to membership from the community of players, and later supporters, who had an interest in their success.
But over time – mainly for the need to raise capital to build stadia – clubs became companies, and lots of members gave way to a smaller number of shareholders. They coalesced over time and soon clubs were dominated by a small handful of people, most eventually becoming the private property of a single person.
This seems at odds with the true nature of the enterprise, which has an inherently public character. Football's magic is to take all the emotions that define what a club means to one fan and make it equate to those of every one of the hundreds, thousands or millions of people who share the same allegiance. Football serves a deep human need for community, and that – plus the unscripted drama of the game – explains its success. We love our clubs because of what they are, not for what they do for their owners or employees.
That's why a co-operative form is a perfect fit with football, because in a co-op economics flow from purpose, not the other way around....
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