By Jason Notte
Sports teams and facilities keep squeezing money out of fans for tickets, parking, concessions and new buildings. How much would fans pay to squeeze back?
The cost for a family of four to see a Major League Baseball game rose 2.5 percent from last season, to nearly $208. If that same family went to an National Basketball Association game this year, they paid 4.5 percent more than they did in 2010-11 and more than $300 for that privilege. The National Hockey League also bumped up costs by 5 percent to take $326 from that family for tickets, food, beer, souvenirs and parking. That's still a better deal than football families got last season, when they shelled out $427 to fill NFL stadiums.
That's more than $1,200 for a family of sports fans to see just one game a year in each league. If they invested that amount into a sports team's stock instead, they'd at least have the board's ear when complaining about price hikes. At best, their investment would pay for itself if their shares perform and recoup some game spending every now and then.
There aren't many teams or venues that let fans buy into the franchise beyond the ticket window or concessions counters, but here are seven that give their faithful a stake in the action:
Ted Turner's name is still on the ballpark, but he hasn't owned a stake in the Braves for some time now. Liberty Media, which owns the Starz and Encore television channels, bought the team from Time Warner in 2005 and watched a team that finished first in the National League East for the past decade have its first losing season in 18 years in 2006. The Braves have since rebounded back to respectability (last year's late-season collapse not withstanding), but fretting fans can still ease their nerves by buying a few shares.
The Nasdaq's been a lot more fun to follow since Cablevision spun off its sports holdings into MSG back in 2010. When Linsanity gripped Knicks fans this season, MSG stock followed Linsanity's ups and downs. When the Rangers advance through the Stanley Cup playoffs, MSG stock moves as well. Sure, MSG stock also buys a piece of cable television stations, a minor league hockey team, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular and the Garden itself, but it's the legal and potentially lucrative way of betting on New York franchises that's the stock's biggest draw.
While owning a bit of Canadian media has a Degrassi Junior High appeal all its own, keeping the Blue Jays competitive in the American League East and returning them to the World Series for the first time in 19 years is the much tougher challenge. Rogers has owned the Jays since 2000 and bought their stadium, then known as SkyDome, five years later. The team hasn't been to the playoffs under Rogers ownership and has finished better than third in the AL East only once in that span (2006). As the Tampa Bay Rays have shown in recent years, all it takes is some sports savvy and investment to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. With both teams hobbled this year, the Jays' window may be opening.
If fans want a say in which players take their talents to Miami next, buying Carnival shares may be the best way to be heard. Carnival itself doesn't own the Heat, but CEO Micky Arison does. Fans have a better chance of beating Chris Bosh in horse right now than they have of talking to Arison as ticket-holding plebes. As shareholders, fans can at least drop the occasional hint about trading Dwayne Wade while he has value or scouring the free agent market for a decent point guard.
A hint, Philly fans: "Boo" isn't working. It doesn't matter that Flyers goaltending came up about as big as a Tastykake in the playoffs this year or that two of your biggest rivals are playing for the Eastern Conference title right now. You've booed so much in the past that your sports teams' executives have accepted it as your default setting. You may as well be saying "shoe." We realize the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger just made the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center small pieces of a very large machine, and that Ed Snider's big share of Comcast-Spectacor mutes Comcast's voice a bit, but a Comcast share is your best shot at setting things right. Our advice: Show up to a shareholder meeting, get a seat right up front and just boo. It may not be effective, but it'll be far more entertaining than the Flyers' series against the Devils.
Buying shares won't make the Car Of Tomorrow go away and won't make drivers try harder in the All-Star race, but a stake in International Speedway can make a big difference in how and where you watch NASCAR. Started by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. in 1953 to build Daytona International Speedway, ISC owns 13 tracks and hosts 19 of NASCAR's 36 events. The company still talks about building more speedways and expanding NASCAR's reach, which gives investors in target areas such as New York and the Pacific Northwest lots of motivation to buy in and get building.
Every small market in the NFL wants the Packers' community ownership agreement, but the NFL's grandfather clause says sports socialism can only go so far. The Packers' ownership structure was grandfathered in during the 1980s and allowed the team to build a base of more than 112,000 voting shareholders. Each time the team needs to renovate Lambeau Field -- as it did this year -- it sells shares and hands out voting rights. The stock can never appreciate in value and doesn't get its holders free tickets, but shareholders get to meet at Lambeau and vote on the board of directors. It's not much, but having a stake in the team's Super Bowl victory two years ago has value all its own.