I have made the decision to help launch a new organization called the Sports Fans Coalition. And I was inspired to do it by none other than Mike Lupica.
With all due respect to Mr. Lupica, the New York Daily News sportswriter motivated me by writing the most wrongheaded statement ever written by any sports journalist in history. He wrote "You are owed nothing in sports, no matter how much you care. You are owed nothing no matter how long you've rooted or how much you've paid to do it."
This is so flagrantly wrong. Whether we consider ourselves sports fans or not, the athletic industrial complex owes us plenty. More than anything else, we are owed a say in how the business of sports is run.
We aren't owed this because we cheer ourselves hoarse. We haven't earned it because we pass the rooting tradition down to our children like a rare heirloom. We don't deserve it because it would be a kind and respectful act for sports owners to bend an ear toward our concerns. We are owed it because team owners have had their hands in our pockets for far too long. By calling for and receiving public funds and taxpayer dollars, the owners of professional sports teams have an obligation to hear what we have to say.
$30 billion in public subsidies have gone into stadium funding over the last quarter-century. It
has become a substitute for anything resembling an urban policy in the United States. Pro sports owners, aided and abetted by political lackeys of both parties, have taken us for a collective ride. It may have seemed like fun and games in the go-go 90s. But now that the
credit is being crunched, the time for games has ceased.
You might think that in these tough times, stadium deals would be a thing of the past. But even more of these deals are coming down the pike. Let's be clear: the ride stops now.
The problem is that the organization simply hasn't existed that can agitate for the voice of fans on Capitol Hill and build a grassroots movement in the streets. Now it does, and that's the Sports Fans Coalition: a non-profit organization made up of sports fans who want to demand a seat at the table. Its goals could not be more simple:
- Fair return to the fans for public resources used in sports, and
- Fair access to sporting events at the game and in the media.
- Oppose public subsidies to sports teams. But if subsidies are used:
such funds must be tied to (a) affordable seating throughout the venue and other benefits to the public; and (b) no media "blackout" of sporting events at that arena and no blackouts of local games. Sports fans must be able to view their local sporting events, regardless of what company provides their TV service. If a college or university receives public funds, such funds must be tied to (a) affordable seating throughout sporting venues; and (b) that school participating in a bona fide national championship.
I was asked to sit on the board of this venture and I accepted without a moment's hesitation. To be clear, I don't receive one solitary dime for doing it. I am doing it because I speak in cities around the country. Everywhere, I meet fans who love sports but hate what they have become. They love sports but they cannot stand the idea that they are being taken. It's a very real anger. I am relishing the idea of telling people that they don't just have to take it. I want to shout it from the rooftops: now there is a vehicle by which we can organize and fight for a fair deal from the world of sports.
Already I know we are making an impact because we are making all the right enemies. Before we even started, the cable companies went on a full-court press to tell media outlets that we were "astro-turf"; a front built on satellite dollars trying to take a chunk out of their profits. It's a lie that speaks volumes about the fear that they have that sports fans might actually attempt to develop and organize a voice.
We are owed loyalty. We are owed accessibility. We are owed a return on our massive civic investment. And more than anything, we should make it plain to the owner's box and say that we are owed a little bit of goddamn respect.
For more information, check out sportsfanscoalition.com.
Follow Dave Zirin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/edgeofsports