Owners, Franchises, and Fans

What exactly are sports franchises?  Are they a purely for-profit enterprise?  Are they a non-profit trust?  Are they a city utility?

This question always comes up when franchises start a) asking for more money via ticket prices or b) asking for a new stadium from cities.

Most franchises float somewhere between the for-profit business and private utility providers.  They are usually owned by an individual or group of individuals, but they are tied to the populace of the city in which they reside.  They also ask a lot of the local governments when it comes time to build and pay for a place to play.

Are fans simply customers who should be charged as much as the market will bear for tickets, food, parking, and memorabilia?  Or are they partners in a trust with the owners to provide a galvanizing entertainment to the community as a whole?  Should government treat franchises as corporations who want government help to build a headquarters to stimulate economic growth and tax revenue or as a utility providing a service to its citizenry that the citizenry demands?

Badly run franchises get no loyalty from fans and no support from local government.

You want to raise ticket prices?  Ultimately, fans want to win and if the ownership of the franchise is seen to be doing everything in its power to win, fans will put up with a lot.  Fans will go along with higher prices if they think the franchise is going to use the additional revenue to pay for better players that give them a chance to win.  At least up to a point because sooner or later basic economics come into play and the market will not support ticket prices that are too high no matter how well the team is playing.  Additionally, if fans see you raising ticket prices to simply maximize your profits while not improving your chances to win, the threshold for what the market will bear is a lot lower.

Franchises are seen as trusts between owners, fans, and local governments when they are well run and winning.  That allows them to ask for more money from fans and governments.  When the franchises are poorly run and losing, they are seen as drains on the economy and gouging fans simply for profit’s sake.

Fans are more than just customers.  Customers ultimately don’t care where they buy their eggs and milk from.  They want the freshest product at the best price from the grocery store regardless of the name of the place.

Fandom is different.  The name of the store does matter because that name means it is a part of your community.  These are your guys.  Fandom is fooling yourself that those players are playing for you (in some ways they are, but mostly they are playing for a paycheck).  Fandom is looking back at the history of a franchise and marking your age with the greatest moments from that history thereby tying you to the history of the franchise.  Fans give owners the responsibility to take care of that franchise and their shared personal histories.

Owners who don’t get that and run their team as if it were a grocery store are not bad business men, they are bad sports owners.  They may not win a lot, but they will make tons of money.

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