Our Public Policy Agenda is set by our Members and Board, depending on what matters to sports fans and whether advocacy in front of the government could make a difference. To start, we’re tackling the following issues:
- If a sports venue is built with public funds, such funds must be tied to (a) affordable seating throughout the venue and other benefits to the public; and (b) no media “blackout” of sporting events at that arena.
- If a college or university receives public funds, such funds must be tied to (a) affordable seating throughout sporting venues; and (b) that school participating in a bona fide national championship.
- Sports fans must be able to view their local sporting events, regardless of what company provides their TV service.
Be sure to read our blog to stay up to date with the latest issues.
Chances are, your home teams play in arenas that were built in part with public resources.
There are the stadiums built with cash from the government, like the new Nationals ball park in Washington, D.C. And then there are places that got roads, rights of way, and other public goods for the stadium. Those deals were cut behind closed doors between team owners, leagues, and government officials. One question: did anyone ask YOU what you’d like to get out of that deal?
Team owners will tell you that the taxpayers got a great deal because the new businesses around the arena, for example, eventually pay more in taxes than the government paid in subsidies. Very often, that’s just not the case. In fact, in study after study across the political spectrum, publicly funded stadiums are a net loss for our communities. When taxpayers fund stadiums, owners win and we lose.
We start to get a little ticked off when ticket prices are announced. Your tax dollars went into building that stadium; your government helped to cut the deal; but you can’t afford good seats. Not nosebleeds, but some good seats.
OK, you say to yourself, I can’t afford good seats. I’ll just watch the game on TV at home. But the sports industry beat you to it. The NFL, for example, requires a “blackout” of games within a 75-mile radius of the stadium where tickets have not sold out. And this is backed up by federal regulations, enforced by the FCC, that prohibit cable or satellite from carrying a game if the local broadcaster has secured the rights. 47 C.F.R. 76.111, 76.127.
So let’s get this straight: First, your money and resources are used to build your home team’s new venue. Then, the tickets are priced too high for you to afford. Then, you want to watch the game on TV. But because you’re not alone and there are many fans who can’t afford tickets, the stadium doesn’t sell out. And that means, with the blessing of federal lawmakers, you’re not able to watch the game on TV.
Final score: sports industry wins, sports fans lose.
In the NCAA, you would have a hard time finding any college or university that does not receive public funding of one kind or another.
State universities probably received a large land grant from the government a long time ago to get started, but also receive state subsidies today. Many colleges and universities receive federal funding in the form of grants or loans. See The Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1002 et seq.).
SFC does not question whether institutions of higher education deserve such funding or provide valuable public service as educational and research institutions. But SFC does believe that sports programs play a big part in helping to finance higher education and that it’s the fans who keep those programs flourishing. Put it all together, and the fans should have some say in how collegiate sports are organized and governed.
Just like professional sports, though, as described above, ticket prices are too expensive for a lot of fans. If public resources are being used to help sustain higher education, as are sports programs, then the sports fans who help to keep that system humming ought to at least have affordable seating, not just in the nosebleed sections but really good seats, at the games.
And what happens when college sports fans call for a real college football playoff instead of a contrived bowl game system like the BCS? Nothing.
Final score: collegiate sports win, sports fans lose.
Your local sports teams probably got a lot of your public resources to get their arena built, as described above.
But you might be shut out from watching those games on TV just based on who provides your pay-TV service. If you live in New York, Philadelphia, or San Diego, for example, you can watch some of your local teams on TV in beautiful High Definition, but only if you subscribe to cable. If you subscribe to satellite or get TV from your phone company or a new provider, you’re probably out of luck. That’s because your cable company either owns the team, owns the venue, owns the network carrying the games, or some combination of all these things. So the cable company wants you to pay it to see the games, and not pay any of its competitors.
You might think that there ought to be a law designed to prohibit that kind of anti-competitive behavior. There is. In 1992, Congress passed a federal statute that requires cable companies to sell the programming that they own to their competitors on fair terms. 47 U.S.C. 548. By making that programming available to cable’s competitors, Congress helped bring in a new age of competition against cable from satellite, phone companies, even small startups.
There’s just one problem: the law has a loophole. A cable company can get around this requirement to sell its programming to its competitors if it uses a certain kind of technology to deliver its signal. Big cable has made sure that this loophole stays in federal law.
So you can guess how this story ends: big cable companies use that loophole to keep your local sports programming away from you, unless you sign up for their service. It doesn’t matter if you think cable is too expensive, or if you just hate your cable company and want something different, or even that your tax dollars went to help build that stadium where the team plays. You’re out of luck, and federal law does nothing to help you.
Final score: sports and cable industries win, sports fans lose.