Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Mets and Fan Owners

A lot of owners say they care
about the fans, but But Bill Veeck
really seemed to mean it.
Major League Baseball has reportedly turned back a group of fans that wanted to buy a minority stake in the New York Mets. This word comes after Met's owner Fred Wilpon announced last week he had an investor lined up he tries to escape the mess the Madoff scam has made of his finances.

It's too bad that the fan-based group, buythemets.com, which was organized by business professionals, was so quickly turned down. I know baseball prefers its owners rich so they can spend their way out of financial jams (and maybe so they trade capitalism war stories at pricey restaurants). But that model has proven anything but rock solid.

From the Montreal Expos, which had to be taken over and moved to Washington, D.C., to the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, rich owners have had their problems in recent years. Maybe it's time to try another way.

Some point to the model of the Green Bay Packers, a team owned by community stockholders. Obviously, that model has looked pretty good the last few years with the Packers consistently winning. And the buythemets.com group would operate in a similar way.

There would be no guarantee, of course, that a community-owned team would win, as one blogger notes. But as we've seen there's no guarantee with the current model of rich owners.

Baseball for years barely tolerated Bill Veeck, probably the most populist owner ever. They never gave him a break. But fans adored him, whose autobiography, "Veeck--As In Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck," reveals him to be part baseball visionary and part P.T. Barnum, was never liked by the other owners.

Sure some of his promotions went awry. Who can forget the riot that sparked from disco demolition night? But he was always firmly on the side of the fan and making sure the ballpark was a fun place to be. It's hard to imagine Veeck hanging out in a luxury box with investment bankers. He'd be more comfortable in the bleachers with a beer.

There's really no reason not to let the fans buy a stake in a team. As in Green Bay, a board of directors would be elected to run the team. If things went awry, well the fans would be able to replace the board.

Before Bud Selig became the ultimate insider, he was an outsider looking for a way to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves skipped town. I sure wish he'd remember what that was like. He has been willing to change the game radically (more playoffs, interleague play, linking the All-Star Game to the World Series), so he can't be called a rigid traditionalist.

I think it's time he took a chance and let the fans run a team. What's the worst that could happen? Bankruptcy. We've seen that. Falling prey to flim-flam investment gurus? Seen that too. Nasty divorce that entangles team? Couldn't happen with thousands of owners.

It's time to give the fans a chance.

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