The Time Is Now: Sports Fans Should Unionize

Marcus ShockleyCorrespondent IApril 8, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 06:  Fans of the Connecticut Huskies hold up newspaper in a 53-47 win against the Stanford Cardinal during the NCAA Women's Final Four Championship game at the Alamodome on April 6, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For decades, the major sports leagues, including the NCAA, have answered to the marching orders of their stakeholders. Those stakeholders include sponsors, alumni, television networks, and players unions, but rarely, if ever, include the fans, who actually foot the bill for the whole thing.

Consider that fans supported a whopping $410 Billion—yes, that's Billion, with a capital 'B' in 2009 for the sports industry, and yet cannot get any voice in major decisions such as the non-existence of a college football champion or expansion of the NCAA tournament. That revenue is more than quadruple what China (yes, China, the nation just below Russia) spends on it's annual defense budget. It's over two times more than the entire annual budget for the state of New York.

To put it simply, it's a lot of money.

But for providing that endless ocean of cash, fans don't have a voice, proven by poll after poll showing fans displeasure with decisions and yet go completely ignored by the commissioners and upper management. Don't want the NFL playoff rules changed? Tough. Don't like the suspect refereeing in the NBA? Get over it. Want the NCAA to loosen up on players transferring when coaches leave? Get lost.

You know what? Maybe it's time that fans got serious and formed a sports fan union.

Even small fans unions, such as 100,000 Oklahoma City Thunder fans, could get real accountability when the leagues play fast and loose with the rules. When the league recently stated it was 'wrong' by not calling an end of game foul on a Kevin Durant three point shot, it would be fantastic if the NBA Fans Union could send their lawyers to get more than a 'sorry, thanks for the paycheck' from the league. It would be nice to see the commissioner and the game refs lose a few paychecks instead of just laughing and shrugging their shoulders.

But it's more than just game changing fouls where fans have no voice. It's decisions that affect the future of their favorite sport. When the NCAA wants to ruin the NCAA tournament and expand it, if only fans had some representation at the table, saying, "if you expand the tournament, we have 15 million fans who will boycott the first two rounds of the tournament. No tickets will be bought, no games will be watched."

It would make the NCAA have to consider the desires of who is actually paying for all of those new courts they install every year. Advertiser revenue is based on viewers and ticket sales are based on attendance. The fans have all of the power, but can't wield it.

If unions exist to protect the working man, including teachers and fireman, why can't they protect the "working fan" as well?

The players' unions represent their best interests, from working conditions to pensions. It was the players' unions that forced NFL teams to have multiple doctors, not just team doctors on the team's payroll, make decisions regarding serious player injuries. Every year during negotiations, players unions have a seat at the table with the commissioners and owners. They talk about changing the rules, playing conditions, marketing, salary caps and everything else about the future of the sport. Their goal is the best solution for everyone, and the heated conversations are because no one group should be able to pilfer the entire sport. There's a reason why owners like Al Davis, Jerry Jones, and Daniel Snyder haven't pillaged the entire NFL and slashed player salaries.

But nobody at that table represents the fans. This year, the NFL will consider adding more games to the schedule, the NCAA will not be looking into a playoff and Major League Baseball seems perfectly content to make the entire league about a few rich teams.

The idea of a fans union is one of the only things the powers-that-be are afraid of. They know that an organized, interested group of sports fans will be the obstacle that prevents them from forming glad-handed deals without regard for long term ramifications.

Marcus Shockley also writes for and .