Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Couple Thoughts On Ownership

I've been spending most of my nights reading the 2012 Baseball Prospectus, because I'm already married and don't need to talk to other girls ever again. The Los Angeles Dodgers' and New York Mets' chapters are, predictably enough, consumed with the teams' recent ownership struggles. If you need to get up to speed: Frank McCourt, owner of the Dodgers, has a bunch of shady business deals surrounding the team, and the ownership has become a central point of contention in his divorce from his wife (as always, Wikipedia has a good, simple primer). As for the Mets, well, their owner, Fred Wilpon, invested with Bernie Madoff. So that's just become it's own kind of country song. So yeah, the Dodgers and the Mets sure have some real winners in their front office.

I know that fans always hate the owners, and even if that didn't fit nicely into my 99-Percenter sensibilities (which it totally does), I'd be fine with that. In fact, I encourage it! Bitching about how the people running the team are fucking up and insisting that YOU know so much better is another one of those fun parts of sports (on the other hand, listening to someone else say that is one of those obnoxious parts of sports, but oh well). And, as we'll discuss below, it may be important, too.

McCourt and Wilpon seem kinda different from other owners...but maybe not enough. They didn't simply trade away a beloved shortstop or raise beer prices. They took affirmative financial actions that weren't really related to the teams, but implicated the teams nonetheless. They did it just to enrich themselves, and when it all went tits-up, they affirmatively hurt their teams. You can't say that about every owner. But unfortunately, you can't say this is just a "few bad apples" problem, either.

Because sports are a business, and very few owners become owners out of a weird sense of athletic altruism. They're all trying to make some money off of this. This isn't always a bad thing; honestly, the best way to make money in sports is to build a winning team.  But it does mean that there's always a risk the owner will screw the team and the fans in pursuit of a bigger payday.

As fans, our options in dealing with this kind of thing are limited. It'll be a warm day in Green Bay before I buy a fucking Packers jersey, even though they have the most progressive ownership structure in the NFL. And if everyone refuses to support a team when it fucks up, they run the risk of taking it to far and losing the league altogether. But maybe we can start by separating out "mere" bad management- unbalanced trades, backloaded contracts, etc.- from affirmative acts of greed, like trying to put the team up as collateral in some other business deal. 'Cause bitching about that first category is our privilege as fans. But bitching about the second may well be our duty.

1 comment:

  1. While it would be really nice to see leagues move towards a league-wide ownership structure like the Packers have, I don't see how they do it in one fell swoop. They'd have to do it incrementally as teams sell.

    What they might could do I wonder is have the league organizations and the city corporations in which the teams are housed sue some of these owners for breaches of fiduciary duty. I think you could construct a legal argument for a level of entanglement with public contracts to build the stadiums for the teams, as well as the leagues saying "hey you may be in charge of the team, but we are in charge of all the teams." Kinda like a homeowner's association still has power over individual homeowners.