Let's see how that how that plays out for two sports franchises: the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
The Dodgers recently filed for bankruptcy. How did one of the sports' most vaunted teams fall so low? Two words: Frank McCourt.
McCourt bought the team from NewsCorp (Fox) in 2004 for $430 million. McCourt made his wife, Jamie, CEO. The couple separated in 2009, during the playoff season. After the Dodgers were eliminated she was fired as CEO and filed for divorce.
Forbes valued the Dodgers at almost $800 million in 2010, an increase in value obtained largely by jacking up ticket and concession prices year after year. But now McCourt has bankrupted the team in order to pay off his divorce settlement. Another scandal involved the charitable Dodgers Dream Foundation, which was run by Howard Sunkin, one of McCourt's cronies who helped with his divorce. Sunkin's salary was $400K, a quarter of the foundation's entire budget.
McCourt, a prototypical high-flying capitalist Master of the Universe, has driven the Dodgers into the ground. He used the team's TV deal as a private piggy bank to pay $150 million for his wife's divorce settlement. He let his personal problems bankrupt a national icon.
On the other hand, we have the Green Bay Packers. Named the "best sports franchise" by ESPN The Magazine, the Packers have fans all around the country.
The Packers are a non-profit public corporation. Over 100,000 people hold the 4.7 million shares of Packer stock. The president is the only paid executive. The other members of the oversight committee provide their services gratis. In short, the Packers are the closest thing you can get to a government-run pro football team.
Green Bay is not a big town, but it manages to field a team that can win national championships. Cities with 10 times the population are told they're too small a market for professional sports franchises.
The Packers should be the model for all major-league sports franchises. Most every other team in the country has threatened to pick up and go to another city if the city or state doesn't pony up a billion dollars for a stadium. A stadium where there'll only be 13 four-hour home games a year. Given the average life-span of a stadium these days is only 20-30 years, this is not a good deal.
The Vikings are begging for a stadium in Minneapolis. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf claims they need one because the Metrodome is old and doesn't have the right facilities for luxury boxes. I might be inclined to build a stadium for the Vikings if they were organized like the Packers, and were certain to stay in town forever. But why should we pay a billion dollars for a stadium where millionaire CEOs can watch millionaire players toss a ball around for a billionaire owner? To add insult to injury, those luxury boxes are paid for by corporations, which will claim them as expenses and deduct them from their taxes. So I get to pay for the stadium and for the CEOs to watch it in sybaritic comfort.
Worse, if Wilf pulls a McCourt and bankrupts the Vikings, the team could be taken over by the league and sent to another higher-bidding city, leaving us with a billion-dollar white elephant.
I'm sure the Packers have their problems. But private corporations like Frank McCourt's Dodgers by their very nature are rampant with nepotism, cronyism, corruption and backroom deals. The slavish devotion conservatives pay to guys like Frank McCourt, Donald Trump, Donald Keating, Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and the like makes no sense if you're interested in efficient, well-run corporations that do well for their shareholders.
Conservatives insist that government is inherently inefficient, wasteful, filled with cronyism and corruption. But as we've seen over and over again, private corporations are just as prone to these ills.
The difference is that with government we choose who's running the show. We have the right to see what's going on. And when we watch the process we see how messy and noisy and annoying it is. Because everyone gets their say, and government officials have to listen. Or we fire them in the next election.
Corporations don't work that way. They can hide all their dirty laundry beneath a veil of secrecy, so we don't see all the ugliness. The CEO dictates his decisions and fires any dissenters. The board of directors -- the only constraining force on the CEO -- is composed of other corporate CEOs who are only too happy to rubber-stamp the CEO's decisions, knowing that he will in turn rubber-stamp their decisions because he serves on their boards.
Only occasionally, as with Frank McCourt, is the veil of secrecy ripped away, when their greed and stupidity outpace their capacity to cover it all up.
So, which is more efficient? Frank McCourt's personal Dodgers fiefdom? Or the Green Bay Packers' non-profit public corporation?