Wide World of Thieves: The Business of Sports

The Super Bowl has come and gone. Yesterday, millions watched the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in a close game. Even for those who don’t really like football, the Super Bowl is a fun and exciting event. It gives many of us a chance to relax, eat good food, and enjoy ourselves with family and friends before the start of a hectic week at work. But unfortunately, the Super Bowl also reminds us of how this society degrades the things we love, like sports, all in the name of ripping us off and making a buck.

For those of us who watched the Super Bowl on TV, it often felt like the game itself was simply filling time between commercials. And this is exactly how the corporations see it. For them, our enjoyment watching games is just an opportunity to try and take more money out of our pockets. For last night’s game, corporations paid more than $3 million for each thirty-seconds of commercial time. And much of the profits from these sales land in the bank accounts of the rich team owners. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

When it comes to ripping us off through sports, corporations and the team owners work as a tag-team. Take the example of stadiums. Over the last twenty years, more than $30 billion of our tax dollars have been used to pay for the upkeep and construction of new stadiums across the country. In many cases, owners threaten to move teams to another city if local officials don’t build them a new stadium¾even though the owners have more than enough money to build it themselves. Officials in the city of Santa Clara are currently offering hundreds of millions of dollars to build the San Francisco 49ers a new stadium. And meanwhile, we are told there is no money to pay for our schools, public transit, or anything else we need!

As if this wasn’t bad enough, after the stadiums are built or maintained with our money, they simply become massive billboards. The right to name the stadiums are sold to corporations, who then name it after the crap they want us to buy. In Houston, the home of the Astros baseball team is called “Minute Maid Park.” The Oakland Coliseum has gone through three corporate name changes in the last eight years.

Even though our money is used to build and maintain these stadiums, we are forced to empty our own bank accounts every time we want to go to a game. And once people are in the stadiums, the owners and corporations have a bonanza stealing from working families and the ordinary sports fan.

Look at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The average cost of a family of four to simply get in to watch a Giants game is over $60. And that’s for the worst seats! And when the cost of food and drinks is added in, it is well over $100. And what do we get to do while we are watching the game? Stare at corporate advertisements plastered on our seats, on our cups, on the screens, and even in the bathroom!

While we are being exploited in the stands, the players are being exploited on the field. Of course, professional sports players make millions. But this is just a fraction of what the owners and corporations are making off of them through clothing sales, ticket sales, and advertising. And the players are thrown out like trash once they can’t bring the owners in any more money. Sound familiar? The average career for a player in the NFL lasts about three years, until they are too injured to play any longer. While their career lasts a few years, most spend the rest of their lives with broken bodies and neurological damage from concussions. As a result, NFL players on average die twenty years sooner than the rest of the population.

Imagine how much more fulfilling sports could be in a society that wasn’t based on exploitation and driven by profits. Experiencing the excitement of a live game would be something enjoyed by everyone, not just the rich. A game would be an opportunity to build real connections with others, not get ripped off. Athletes would be people we know and that are from our own communities, not untouchable strangers moved from team to team and used up by greedy owners.

But a world like that won’t be created without a fight. It is up to us to make it happen.