Sports Stadium Madness: Is Fan Ownership the Answer?

Published February 27, 2012

The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank whose researchers have questioned government subsidies to sports stadiums since the mid 1980s, has released a new Policy Brief proposing fan ownership of teams as a solution to “sports stadium madness.”

Author Joseph Bast, president of the institute, notes “sports stadium subsidies impose a huge cost to society. Unearned rent being held onto by professional sports franchises, made possible largely by public subsidies for new sports stadiums and arenas, is a huge injustice and deadweight loss to the nation.”

“Unearned rent,” a reference to the work of economist Henry George, is created whenever private individuals use force or fraud to restrict competition, Bast notes. The solution, he says, is to remove the privileges that enable individuals and corporations to generate and keep unearned rent.

In the realm of professional sports, removing those privileges means fan ownership of sports franchises, ala the Green Bay Packers. “Because it is owned by the fans, the team will never relocate,” Bast writes, “so it can’t demand subsidies.” The Packers are the least-subsidized professional sports team in the country, he notes.

“The spread of fan-owned teams would break the subsidy culture that now grips all of the major sports leagues,” Bast concludes.