One advantage of the St. Louis Rams football franchise moving to currently NFL-vacant Los Angeles (along with possibly the San Diego Chargers and, more remotely, the Oakland Raiders) is that it removes the threat of moving to Los Angeles that every NFL franchise in a marginally major league city has possessed for the last 20 years: “Submit to our extortionate demand for a taxpayer-subsidized superstadium or we’re relocating to giant Los Angeles!”
An NFL team is a natural monopoly. (Currently, only the New York and San Francisco Bay metro areas have more than one franchise, although Los Angeles had two from the early 1980s through 1995, when it suddenly went to zero because L.A., for all its faults, at least isn’t neurotic about being a Major League City). And NFL owners are extremely clever about extracting monopoly profits from their hosts.
I’d like to see a federal law outlawing professional sports leagues’ ban on community ownership. If the people of, say, Cleveland, are dead set upon staying a Major League City, let them buy shares in their teams and take on the risks and rewards of ownership.
The Packers are the only community-owned team in American major league professional sports. Rather than being the property of an individual, partnership, or corporate entity, they are held as of 2015 by 360,584 stockholders. No one is allowed to hold more than 200,000 shares, which represents approximately four percent of the 5,011,557 shares currently outstanding. It is this broad-based community support and non-profit structure which has kept the team in Green Bay for nearly a century in spite of being the smallest market in all of North American professional sports.
Green Bay is the only team with this public form of ownership structure in the NFL, grandfathered when the NFL’s current ownership policy stipulating a maximum of 32 owners per team, with one holding a minimum 30 percent stake, was established in the 1980s. As a publicly held nonprofit, the Packers are also the only American major-league sports franchise to release its financial balance sheet every year.
There’s actually a good reason why the Green Bay Packers are everybody’s third or fourth favorite NFL team. The ownership of the Packers is an example of the Wisconsin talent for figuring out a clever cooperation-competition balance.
Similarly, if you drive around the Wisconsin countryside, you’ll notice it’s full of prosperous, well-tended family farms. One reason for this is that Wisconsin dairy farmers figured out a long time ago that milk-buying was something of a natural monopoly, so whoever wound up owning the trucks that drive around and pick up the milk everyday would make the lion’s share of the profits from the dairy industry. So, the farmers set up co-ops they jointly own to do the milk marketing for them.
This is kind of a German thing. Americans, especially the Scots-Irish, tend to be too ornery to play nice with each other the way Wisconsin dairy farmers and Packers fans do, so whoever can finally put together a big company gets ungodly rich (e.g., the Waltons of the Ozarks).