Everyone from the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association to the players and the fans seems to agree: Donald Sterling should not own the Los Angeles Clippers.
Last week, Sterling’s girlfriend recorded Sterling in a racist diatribe, in which he requested that she not associate with African Americans in public. The audio was released to the paparazzi website TMZ, and within 72 hours Sterling was banned for life from all NBA activities. The commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, recommended the league’s 29 other owners vote to force Sterling to sell his team.
The legality of forcing Sterling to sell is open to question, but the rapid unfolding of events raises an important question: who should own the Clippers?
There’s been rumors of Oprah Winfrey being interested. But a couple of Clippers fans, Tim Nguyen and Russell Curry, have an idea that would not only take the team from Sterling, but move it in the direction of economic democracy too: Clipper fans should own the team. Nguyen and Curry are organizing fans to raise the money, buy the team, and make the Clippers a nonprofit organization.
The effort is real. The two started a campaign with the crowd funding platform Crowdtilt to raise the money for a bid. The goal? $600 million. That might seem lofty, but as Mr. Nguyen says in their campaign video: “If the people of Egypt can overthrow a corrupt government, why couldn’t we, as NBA basketball fans, overthrow Donald Sterling?”
It wouldn’t be the first time fans owned a major sports team. The Green Bay Packers are a publicly owned nonprofit organization with no majority shareholder. The public can buy shares (currently over 360,000 people are Packers’ owners), and with shares comes the right to vote on directors for the organization and participate in an annual meeting.
The model can also be found in European Football. In Germany, for example, all teams in the top league are at least 51 percent publicly owned, according to what German Soccer officials call “the 50 + 1 rule.” The rule means that Bundesliga teams “all have the same majority owner—their fans.” Some, like Borussia Dortmund, are 100 percent owned by the public.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the economics of professional sports is completely out of touch with the individual fan. The numbers can be staggering. According to Forbes, the Clippers have a value of $575 million, making them the 13th most valuable team in the NBA.
But where does that $575 million come from, if not the fans? Ticket sales, advertising deals, television rights, it all depends on the support of the fans. And what is the average annual Clippers revenue, per fan? $10.
This is case Nguyen and Curry are making: For $10 bucks apiece, would you buy the LA Clippers?