How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers by Gregg Easterbrook is a fine article, adding to the not nearly large enough pile of articles criticizing the U.S. professional sports civic extortion racket. With a bonus explicit connection with copy regulation. I’ll quote just the directly relevant paragraphs:
Too often, NFL owners can, in fact, get away with anything. In financial terms, the most important way they do so is by creating game images in publicly funded stadiums, broadcasting the images over public airwaves, and then keeping all the money they receive as a result. Football fans know the warning intoned during each NFL contest: that use of the game’s images “without the NFL’s consent” is prohibited. Under copyright law, entertainment created in publicly funded stadiums is private property.
When, for example, Fox broadcasts a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game from Raymond James Stadium, built entirely at the public’s expense, it has purchased the right to do so from the NFL. In a typical arrangement, taxpayers provide most or all of the funds to build an NFL stadium. The team pays the local stadium authority a modest rent, retaining the exclusive right to license images on game days. The team then sells the right to air the games. Finally, the NFL asserts a copyright over what is broadcast. No federal or state law prevents images generated in facilities built at public expense from being privatized in this manner.
Baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and other sports also benefit from this same process. But the fact that others take advantage of the public too is no justification. The NFL’s sweetheart deal is by far the most valuable: This year, CBS, DirecTV, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and Verizon will pay the NFL about $4 billion for the rights to broadcast its games. Next year, that figure will rise to more than $6 billion. Because football is so popular, its broadcast fees would be high no matter how the financial details were structured. The fact that game images created in places built and operated at public expense can be privatized by the NFL inflates the amounts kept by NFL owners, executives, coaches, and players, while driving up the cable fees paid by people who may not even care to watch the games.
Easterbrook’s idea for reform also involves copy regulation (emphasis added):
The NFL’s nonprofit status should be revoked. And lawmakers—ideally in Congress, to level the national playing field, as it were—should require that television images created in publicly funded sports facilities cannot be privatized. The devil would be in the details of any such action. But Congress regulates health care, airspace, and other far-more-complex aspects of contemporary life; it can crack the whip on the NFL.
If football images created in places funded by taxpayers became public domain, the league would respond by paying the true cost of future stadiums—while negotiating to repay construction subsidies already received. To do otherwise would mean the loss of billions in television-rights fees. Pro football would remain just as exciting and popular, but would no longer take advantage of average people.
This idea would have many loopholes (team owners are excellent at extracting public subsidies even for “privately financed” stadiums), but would be a step forward. It is good to see the principle of public funding means public domain applied in new domains (it is as yet a mostly unrealized, but accepted by many activists, goal for domains such as public sector information, cultural heritage, and academic publication).
While on the topic, another mostly good recent article is Death of a sports town: What does a city lose when its pro teams leave? Oakland just might find out. Two caveats. A questionable story about a kid who sees a football player turned police officer as a role model. Any reliance on such a coincidence for role models shows just how badly Oakland and many other cities are policed — residents should be demanding performance and compliance from police such that most officers are obvious role models for youth. The article also repeats the specious claim that “pro sports are the city’s plumb line, cutting across class and race and elevation.”
I’m going to try something new today. Over at his blog, Mike Linksvayer dedicates his posts to the public domain. That means I don’t have to give attribution to his work, but obviously I’m doing so. I think he’s wrong that art brings all classes and cultures together. How many “red necks” or “thugs” do you see at the opera? How many women wearing Prada do you see enjoying the finer arts of graffiti or break-dancing? I also think he’s wrong about groceries. There are plenty of people that can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods (or choose not to because of their anti-union policies).
But that’s not the point. The point is that we as sports-enthusiasts need to highlight amateur athletics and player-owned and supporter-owned clubs to combat these stereotypes about athletics. Not all athletics are bad.
It is worth thinking about how sports can destroy communities and relationships though, even if you don’t think it’s happening in your life or even if the positives outweigh the negatives. Either way, please enjoy what is probably a different view than your own.
Whitfield is wrong about art and groceries. Yes, various forms and genres have fans concentrated with various demographics. But there are also huge and increasing crossovers, especially when it comes to popular art. It’s acceptable and unsurpriing for anyone to be a fan of anything. With regard to groceries, I know plenty of wealthy people who shop at Wal-Mart (or locally, Grocery Outlet) and plenty of poor people who shop at Whole Foods (or Berkeley Bowl), and even more who shop at all. Note the trend in both culture and shopping is exactly the opposite of stadium attendance — increased mixing vs increased stratification.
Whitfield is right about the point. Athletics is good. How can arrangements which do not destroy communities and increase inequality compete with the extortion racket?
Whitfield also republished a shorter article on pro sports civic extortion (original) of mine, and on another of his blogs, on post on the federated social web (original). I appreciate the experiment, which the latter is tiny bit relevant to, mentioning that blog technology (and culture) failed to compete with “social” silos, or failed to form the basis of the “social web”, depending on whether your glass is 90% empty or 10% full. One of the things blogs generally failed to compete on is “sharing” links, sometimes with brief commentary. One can do that with a blog of course, and people do, but it isn’t central to blogging.