Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bad Sports

The title refers to how professional sports are organized in the US, not necessarily the sports themselves or how they are played. The condition of sports is not today’s most pressing problem, but nonetheless serves as a metaphor for how much of America is dominated, for ill effect, by the corporations and the related mindset.

Back in the 1920’s professional sports in America were exempted from anti-trust laws. Normal rules against collusion, price-fixing, limits to competition and extortion do not apply.

In American sports, small cabals of owners make all relevant decisions. If they so choose, those decisions can be totally oriented towards their own personal benefit. They are not required to give any consideration whatever to the public good.

That is how the process of awarding cities with major league franchises becomes how much a city is willing to subsidize the owner. At a time when support of all manner of public services and infrastructure are suffering, owners demand and receive brand new stadiums. While Average Joe is called on to subsidize wealthy owners and spectacularly paid stars, his children go to substandard schools for lack of tax revenue. And if the people don’t cough up? They move the team to a city where they will.

A most disgusting example was the money extorted from the people of Washington State back in the 90’s by Paul Allen, owner of one of the Seattle franchises (don’t remember which one). He couldn’t get the city to meet his demand for a new $500 million stadium, so he financed a statewide ballot issue asking the people of the state to pay for it. He spent $5 million of his own money in the process of getting his subsidy enacted (it passed by a small margin).

As co-founder of Microsoft, he is one of the world’s richest men. At the time he was worth around $20 billion. So do the math: 500 million is 2.5% of 20 billion. For an amount of money that he wouldn’t even notice missing from his stash he could’ve gifted the stadium to the people: he could’ve been magnanimous, a local hero. For him it was peanuts, loose change. I don’t put him down so much for gaming the system (actually I do since I think almost everyone at his level of wealth is prima facie an asshole) it’s really the system that needs to be reinvented.

This is very similar to ‘race to the bottom’ economics. If Cambodia, which is still a very poor country by world standards, wants a factory to locate here, they have to provide infrastructure subsidies and tax breaks. So then they have a new factory, but little money to pay for the extra costs a new plant engenders nor the services needed by the workers. And here workers earn so little - $60 to $90 month – they pay no income tax, so there’s no pay back, outside of the employment itself, for the city.

Poor countries compete with subsidies for the rich so the latter can save a few pennies on their next pair of panties or cheap plastic doodads. In world trade lingo: A level playing field for all… corporations, that is. And a system totally skewed in their favor.

It works the same in America. When Boeing, not a struggling corporation by any accounting, wanted to move its headquarters, it didn’t just look around and pick the city it liked the best, it set up a bidding war between cities to see who would fork over the most cash. The Poor feeding the Rich again.

That could not happen in Europe since they have strict rules against those kinds of subsidies. Locations are chosen wholly upon their intrinsic merits. Europe also has a lesson in organizing sports that the US would well heed. In the UK, for instance, instead of having several co-equal football leagues, there is a premier league and lesser leagues. Each year the two worst performing teams in the top league get relegated down one rung to a lower group, while the two best teams in the secondary league move up.

With this type of system, there’d be no need or logic in limiting the number of teams, any city that wanted to could have one. There’d be no need to bribe wealthy owners with tax money. New teams would start at the bottom and work their way up.

The US is so big it would have to be organized differently than the UK, probably taking regions into account, but the principle would be the same.

Another negative facet of the anti-trust exemption that owners enjoy is their ability to determine what types of entities are allowed to join the club, so to speak. For instance, except for the Green Bay Packers football team which was grandfathered in; municipal, community or foundation owned teams are not allowed.

The team may be called the Chicago this or that, but the minute the owner thinks he can make more money elsewhere he won’t hesitate to move the team. His loyalty is to his bottom line, the city involved is ultimately irrelevant.

I enjoy sports and think it’s a worthy endeavor for society, but the way it’s organized in America today almost totally turns me off.

1 comment:

Ted Pilger said...

Hey Stan! I had a case of that toe fungus. I think I got it from an inherited pair of slippers from Florida. Anyway, I googled about it and it's a bitch to get rid of. I found a sure fire natural home remedy using hydrogen peroxide, tea-tree oil and vasoline and as a final resort, clorox. But I never needed it. I considered first an old remedy I had heard of for "stinky feet" and it worked! After nail-clipping away some of the dead nail I simply filled up a little basin with rubbing alcohol and would soak my feet every night while watching TV. After a few weeks I could see things had changed and I stopped and waited while the nail grew back. It's been fine ever since.