Sports are a really strange cultural phenomenon if you stop and think about it. People invest time and money to play or simply observe games that are relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of life.
Despite this seemingly mindless concept, people love them.
Heck, I love them.
Sports are driven by rabid passion, from coaches to players to fans. This enthusiasm has given rise to massive industries that have ballooned far beyond the confines of simple games. These are billion-dollar enterprises which, like any potentially profitable undertaking, have been turned into ways for the elite to vacuum up money.
My question is this: If sports are driven and, moreover, profitable because of the passion of players and fans, why are teams and franchises owned by individuals?
In other words, why does “franchise ownership” exist at all?
Witness Oakland. Last year, The Town hosted three historic sports franchises with broad fan bases and vibrant local support. In 2020, that number will be reduced to just one.
The Golden State Warriors are staying in the Bay Area, simply hopping over to San Francisco, but there is still a sense of loss as the curtain closes on the legendary Oracle Arena.
Then there are the Oakland Raiders, who have been violently pulled toward Las Vegas against the wishes of the team’s supporters by owner Mark Davis. Many of those fans have developed a deep sense of resentment toward the club, and the feeling of betrayal will brutally hack through what could have been a lifelong commitment.
This move simply exemplifies the point. It’s not like players on Oakland’s roster are clamoring for a move and the fans are clearly against it. It’s Davis who is single-handedly dragging his franchise across the country, just as his father, Al Davis, did before him, when the Raiders left for Los Angeles before returning again to Oakland.
Fans aren’t the only group wronged by owners. Players are victims of selfish decision-making as well. The NFL’s national anthem scandal is another perfect example. Colin Kaepernick’s protests led to his release and eventual exit from the NFL as owners elected to ice him out. NFL players who followed his example were also criticized.
The point is that owners of professional sports teams hold positions of control in an industry that they have not created and have little stake in. Oftentimes, management is left to professionals who could be hired by anyone, while the owners, who usually have very little in the way of expertise, will typically make decisions which are detrimental to the team.
So who should be in charge? Owners do, at least, provide a clear chain of command. They hire and fire general managers, make the big-picture decisions and, well, own the team.
But no one person should be calling the shots. Ultimately, it is the players and the fans who care most about the team. They are the ones who should own sports.
Ownership should be divided between those who play for a sports franchise and the community that follows it. Both groups have a vested interest in seeing the team do well, and both bring different perspectives to the table that are essential for success.
There are precedents for this. The Green Bay Packers are a community-owned, nonprofit franchise. Fans have bought stocks at various offerings, which is how this massive franchise has managed to stay in the tiny town of Green Bay.
The two largest fútbol clubs in the world, Real Madrid and Barcelona, are also fan-owned. It goes without saying that both are extremely successful, having won seven of the past 11 editions of the Champions League.
But players should also have a slice of the pie. They are, quite literally, the team — it is the players who make the sport. They deserve to own that which they produce.
In baseball, current free agency trends point to shorter and smaller contracts as clubs’ leaderships refuse to spend more. In soccer, owners place restrictions on club expenditures instead of spending profits back on the team.
Management and the interests of the franchise could be maintained through a balance of power between the fans and players, each implementing policy that the other side may be impartial to. General managers and team presidents could be hired by the fans and players alike, balancing the interests of the present and future and providing a leadership that controls the direction of the franchise.
The system proposed is, doubtless, imperfect. Nevertheless, it makes little sense that owners with no real stake in the industry control it. Players produce the sport, and fans consume it. Owners have no place in that chain and are largely unnecessary.
It is highly unlikely that the Oakland Raiders would have up and moved without the mandate of one individual owner. Ultimately, owners can only damage the franchises that players and fans care about so deeply.