The week that Newt Gingrich called for non-profit sports team ownership

And then there’s this:

Yes, that’s the Newt Gingrich, not Fake Newt Gingrich or The Real Newt Gingrich or any of those. Apparently the Donald Sterling scandal was enough to get the guy who thinks that the solution to corporate tax dodging is to lower corporate taxes to a rate they won’t cheat on to decide that for-profit ownership is wrong for the Los Angeles Clippers, because hoops belongs to the people, man. (Though given Gingrich’s past history with not-for-profits, maybe he just means a shell corporation that would pay a local rich guy to run the team.)

Anyway, it all gave ThinkProgress’s Travis Waldron a good opportunity to go on about the benefits of public and not-for-profit ownership of sports teams, which can only be a good thing:

Even if you don’t care how many games the Clippers or any other privately-owned team wins, even if you hate sports, there are benefits to fan ownership. A fan-owned team has direct ties to its community, and so it’s next to impossible that the team could pick up and move to a new city if its current home decides not to give it massive public subsidies for a new stadium. That both avoids the ugly problems that occur whenever cities fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and keeps teams from playing hop-scotch to new cities. A private owner would have moved the Packers out of Green Bay decades ago. Instead, they remain in a tiny town in Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin.

Of course, the Packers did manage to get Green Bay (actually Brown County) to fork over $295 million in subsidies in 2000 by threatening to play hopscotch to a new city (or to have the NFL force them to move, or something — the threat was never quite clear), so it’s not a perfect point. But still, public ownership does have its benefits.

Socializing sports could work, but wouldn’t necessarily end stadium subsidy demands

So Alex Pareene of Salon wrote an article on Friday in which he argued that the only solution to the problem of greedy, dumb sports team owners is to nationalize sports teams. It’s a legitimate argument — certainly no worse than nationalizing Facebook, especially since there you’d face a conundrum over which nation should do it — and there are plenty of examples of public- or community-owned teams that have operated successfully. But then Pareene pulls out the favorite object lesson of socialized sports everywhere, the Green Bay Packers:

We already have an example of what this would look like in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, a publicly-owned team operated as a non-profit corporation. It has been a stunning success, with the person in charge of all football decisions having that authority not because he made a lot of money in direct marketing or real estate, or because his father owned the team, but because of his experience and expertise in football. Nationalized teams would be free of unscrupulous, meddling owners. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t continue to be massive money-makers, though now that money would be going toward the communities that follow and love the teams, and not random lucky billionaires who usually don’t even live in the same state.

First off, the Packers aren’t “publicly owned” in the sense of being owned by the public; they’re a not-for-profit owned by more than 100,000 people, which is an odd model, but probably was marginally less odd back in the 1920s when the team was first set up. Fans buy shares in the Packers, and get nothing back except the right to elect a board of directors — not altogether unlike how some European soccer teams operate, albeit through a slightly different mechanism. The team plows profits back into operating costs and a reserve fund, which currently sits at around a quarter-billion dollars.

All of which is well and good, but when Pareene suggests that Packerizing all of pro sports would help eliminate “extortionate threats to move that encourage public funding,” he’s forgetting something:

On Sept. 12, 2000, Brown County voters by a 53-47 percent margin agreed to tax themselves for the $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field, a project that Green Bay Packers leaders said was crucial to the future of the franchise…

D. Richard Parins, president of the [Brown County Taxpayers Association], said the Packers and their supporters won the campaign by threatening that the franchise would leave town otherwise. That so frightened football fans, he said, that they agreed to embrace the tax increase.

Admittedly, this might be harder to pull off if all sports teams were owned by the public, since it would make it harder for team execs to argue that they need subsidies because all the other kids are getting them. But it is a reminder that greed and self-interest aren’t the sole property of rich owners, even if rich owners are really good at them.

To really address that, you’d need to take up Pareene’s other, less flashy suggestion: national “legislation banning public funding of arenas for teams in the big four leagues.” There’s even model legislation ready to go! Though I suspect that Pareene’s suggestion that a presidential candidate could become “an instant presidential front-runner” by pushing for such a law overlooks the connection between presidential front-runnership and corporate fundraising…