Like so much else under the laws of today’s Gilded Age America, our sports franchises are public assets that we have allowed to be owned by private rich people. That is, to vastly understate the case, wrong, wrong, wrong.It is true, as Mr Wasserman notes, the Green Bay Packers do not have an owner, meddlesome, opinionated, or otherwise; and the team cannot relocate to another city because the articles of incorporation require the team to be liquidated should it fail to make its nut. Even so, the taxpayers of Wisconsin are on the hook for some of the improvements to Lambeau Field, in much the same way that students enrolled at Mid-American Conference universities have to put up with activity fees and week-night games in order for conference teams to come closer to making their nut. And there's plenty of potential for municipal franchises to become playthings of rent-seeking politicians. It was bad enough that retailer Herb Kohl ran Don Nelson off the Milwaukee Bucks, imagine what Senator Kohl might be able to do. Want that appropriation for freeway improvements, or a passenger train? Fix that team first. In summation: public ownership of entertainment businesses with winner-take-all tournaments confers no immunity from positional competition or rent-seeking. It's unlikely that the Archdiocese and the American Legion will get the proceeds from the sale or liquidation of a municipal team.
However nice or otherwise they might be, these owners have been gouging out public subsidies for stadiums, tax breaks and too much else over the decades. How else does a franchise like the Clippers leap in value from $12 million when Sterling bought it in 1981 to $575 million today?
It’s time to take these teams back. We are the rightful owners, not the latest random robber baron to want his or her very own courtside seats, where the players, coaches, fans and broadcasters can kiss the owner’s ring. Not the latest temporarily solvent corporation that wants to stick its logo in our faces while talented young men and women play their hearts out.
On the other hand, taxpayers do have the option of telling the rent-seekers of pro sports to stuff it. That's how the Seattle Super Sonics went to wherever they went to.