It’s Time For a Fan Bill of Rights
If you want to find me on a Saturday, chances are I’m watching my LSU Tigers. Sundays, it’s the Saints. During the week, it’s the Pelicans. During my time in Washington, baseball is the one place where I did catch a bit of Potomac Fever: I root for the Nationals. I even hosted a sports talk show on XM Radio for a time. Bottom line, my work in politics may have fed my family, but sports are what feeds my passion.
That’s why last week, you would have found me in New York at the Securing Sport conference hosted by the International Centre for Sport Security. While I was there, I had a chance to interview Sunil Gulati — the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. We talked about soccer, corruption, safety, security, and of course, the fan experience.
When it came to that last point, we agreed that something seemed off. More and more money is pouring into the professional sports economy. The impact and influence of federations, leagues, and teams is bigger than ever before. And yet, the fans — the people whose passion and paychecks power the entire system — are silenced.
Why does it feel like sports fans everywhere are always on the wrong side of the deal?
I’ll tell you why, because no one is listening to us. Teams have press offices. Players have agents. But there’s no one to speak for the fans.
So, when a league signs a new, multi-million dollar TV deal — or when a team builds a new stadium with taxpayer money — what do the fans get?
Well, not nothing. They get increased ticket prices. Seats replaced with skyboxes. Concession stands that make it about as expensive to buy a beer and a hot dog than it is to take your family out to a four-star restaurant! For the average fan, access to sporting events is disappearing.
And the fan experience is worsening outside the stadium as well. The federal government is clamping down on sports betting (an activity I happen to enjoy, and one that, when properly regulated, poses no threat to the integrity of the game). But at the same time, it’s turning a blind-eye to fantasy sports — which are, what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah, betting.
The government needs to start listening to the fans and give us what we want: legal, safe, and secure sports wagering and fantasy sports.
In fact, “giving the fans what they want” really should be everyone’s mantra. The people who regulate sports, along with the people who run them, have to see that without fans, the major American sports leagues would shrivel away.
Fans bring the energy, passion, and excitement to sports. We’re the ones who go to the stadium. We’re the ones who buy the jerseys. We’re the ones who watch with our children, and who make loving sports a family tradition.
Fans make the game.
Like I said, I’m a sports fan at heart, but I’ve made my living as a political consultant. I know the power of a grassroots campaign. And I know that if fans get organized around some core demands, and then get vocal about those demands, then the people in charge of sport will notice.
In that spirit, I’m asking you to join me and the International Centre for Sport Security in supporting this: a Fan Bill of Rights. It’s a set of ideas that protect the fan experience, and finally, levels the playing field. In the coming weeks we will be launching a nationwide grassroots call to action for people to co-sign with me.
I look forward to hearing from fans about their ideas for these principles.
We the fans believe that sports do not belong to one country, federation, league, team or owner. Sports belong so us — the ticket holders, the supporters, and the die-hards. Sports belong to the fans. We cheer in stadiums and arenas, but now, we want our voices heard.
We the fans request fair and transparent pricing, and more access to premier sporting events. Sports are meant for everyone, but increasingly, games are prohibitively expensive for the average fan to attend. When games are not affordable, the luxury boxes will be full, but the seats will be empty — and sports will have failed to live up to their promise.
We the fans recognize that fantasy sports, and sports betting are enormously popular and exciting ways to experience the games we love. But we also know that left unchecked, they are breeding grounds for insider trading, and match fixing. That’s why we call on our nation’s leaders to legalize and regulate fantasy sports and sports wagering — so we can enjoy them safely and responsibly
We the fans call for the creation of a Fan Dividend — a tangible reward for fans after a team or league completes any sort of major deal, such as a media rights contract, or new stadium. We’re not asking for teams to cut us a check, but we are asking them to show us some appreciation; maybe through ticket discounts, or access to special events. Fans are not just customers; they are the source of a team’s value. Fans create, build, and protect the brand. No sport could operate without them. Fans should be compensated accordingly.