Less Than Sporting
Reducing the exorbitant amounts paid to athletes and owners would help the average fan—and the government should do it.
But this kind of approach need not be restricted to taxpayer-supported stadiums. All stadiums could be forced to sell tickets to the four major sports at affordable prices. If that sounds outlandish, it’s important to keep in mind how skewed the balance of government intervention in sports, in favor of ownership, has long been. Baseball’s antitrust exemption bequeathed to the owners the privilege to avoid the kind of market competition that defines so many American industries. The last serious legislative challenge to it, in 2001, was soundly defeated, even though it proposed to affect only one portion of the exemption, that dealing with restrictions on teams’ ability to move to new locations. (That bill, the Fairness in Antitrust in National Sports, had some serious progressive bona fides, counting Congressman John Conyers and Senator Paul Wellstone as its sponsors.)
The second ambitious intervention would affect the television market. So much of the money related to sports today is tied up in cable television contracts. In a time of dwindling mass television events, sports have proven to be among the last consistently lucrative genres. Recent sports deals that have attracted widespread headlines because of their size were tied directly to cable television money. The Los Angeles Dodgers sold for an eye-popping $2 billion because of the enormous value of an impending cable contract. And the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols for a quarter of a billion dollars because they too were counting on future cable television revenue.
If the goal is reducing sports-related money and maintaining if not improving the everyday fan’s experience, then government intervention should mandate that all sporting events should be available on local-access television. Fans should not be forced to buy expensive cable packages in order to see their local teams play—teams that, in many cases, they have already assisted through public funds. By reducing the costs of being a fan, we can also reduce the total amount of money spent on sports. The players and owners can afford it (to be clear, the amount of money that will flow to our athletes and owners would likely still surpass that in leagues overseas). And our social priorities could benefit from the adjustment.
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