The National Football League has achieved something remarkable in this country.
It has convinced the public that stadiums are like roads and sewer pipes — vital pieces of infrastructure businesses need to thrive. Thus, like streets, the public must pay to build and maintain them.
This is not the way they do things in that bastion of socialism, Europe. There, soccer clubs, not governments, often own stadiums. In fact, competition between teams occurs not only on the field but in the construction of stadiums. With public stock offerings, fans rally together and fund bigger and better stadiums.
They do this so that they can generate more revenue and invest more money in players and compete against their rivals.
Apparently, that’s just a little too much capitalism for the great capitalists who own football teams in the United States.
The problem, though, with the government building football stadiums is if you want a stadium, you have to convince the government to build it.
In more conservative states like Texas, ironically, this is easier. You only need 50 percent of the voters to give the OK for a tax hike.
But in California, you need approval from two-thirds of voters. It’s a hurdle rarely overcome.
So what are we sports fans to do?
It’s time to stop thinking of this as a collective problem and start thinking of it as a capital one. When real capitalists want to invest in their businesses, they seek investors and sell shares of their companies.
A recent article in the Northern Illinois University Law Review looked at the laws, at other countries, and at history, and concluded that professional sports teams in this country are sitting on a “sleeping giant” of additional capital.
All they have to do is sell shares to their fans. Look at the 2011 Super Bowl champions. Desiring to improve famed Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers just sold stock to its fans. Fans have bought more than 250,000 shares of the stock at $250 apiece. They can’t get enough of the stuff.
Don’t fret. Look to Europe again: What’s its favorite sport?
Ah yes, soccer. San Diego would be a natural soccer hot spot. The binational possibilities are extraordinary. Picture a little soccer stadium on the Chula Vista waterfront.
Major League Soccer, unlike the NFL, is one giant LLC — a partnership. You pay to join it. The going rate is $40 million and if you join, you get to “operate” a team.
Unlike the NFL, MLS requires ownership groups to also own their stadiums, with some exceptions. That offers a possibility: “If a given stadium were owned entirely by the club’s ownership group, then hypothetically ownership could decide to go public with that asset,” said MLS spokesman Will Kuhns.
In other words, we could get a team and the team could sell shares in the stadium it will own.
When I asked him if the team itself could have one majority owner and, say, several thousand shareholders, Kuhns wrote me a simple email: “Not sure on that one.”
That’s better than a no!
My point: The government has had to buy stadiums for sports teams because sports are politically popular.
But rather than leverage that popularity to force taxpayers to foot the bill for stadiums, sports barons should tap into their capitalist souls and sell shares. Grow their businesses the American way.
Don’t think it will work? Let’s test it with a bid for a Major League Soccer team at $40 million.
Anyone out there want to be majority owner at $21 million? For the rest, I’ve got $1,000 and I bet we can find 18,999 people like me.
This also ran in the March 2012 issue of San Diego Magazine.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org. Please contact me if you’d like at email@example.com or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
Like VOSD on Facebook.