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Sell the Clippers to the people

By Newt Gingrich
May 3, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Billionaires are reported to be interested in buying L.A. Clippers if team put up for sale
  • Newt Gingrich: The team should be sold as a nonprofit to the fans, like Green Bay Packers
  • He says sports teams are public in every way except their ownership
  • Gingrich: Public builds many stadiums, provides services, has big interest in teams

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET weekdays, and author of a new book, "Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America's Fate." A former speaker of the House, he was a candidate in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Even before the NBA announced it was banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life, sports fans had begun speculating about which billionaire would swoop in to buy the team.

Rumors are swirling about the possible interest of "Magic" Johnson, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Oscar De La Hoya, each potential celebrity owner no doubt more popular than the incumbent. Or perhaps, it is said, a group of virtuous billionaires, the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Larry Ellison and David Geffen, will charitably unite to rescue the franchise for the City of Angels.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

Here instead is my modest proposal: Sell the team to the people, to thousands of fans themselves, as shareholders.

Then the Clippers would be owned not by a single incredibly wealthy patron whom we might admire or might detest, but by Americans of all races, ethnicities, religions, ages and backgrounds.

As a loyal fan of the Green Bay Packers (disclosure: My wife, Callista, and I own a single Packers share and our daughter Kathy and son-in-law Paul each have one, too), I have a particular attachment to this model of ownership for professional sports teams.

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The NBA's suspension and $2.5-million fine for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sent shockwaves through the sports world, but it's not the first time a league has cracked down on a team owner. The NBA's suspension and $2.5-million fine for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sent shockwaves through the sports world, but it's not the first time a league has cracked down on a team owner.
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There is something strange about the prevailing model of teams as the ultimate billionaire's toy.

That's because a professional sports team often seems like a public institution. Its logo adorns every head on the street. The jerseys of its players are sold on every corner, its apparel in every airport gift store.

The mayor and the governor make frequent reference to its fortunes in their public appearances. They parade in ceremoniously to throw out the first pitch or to sit in judgment on the sidelines.

And the people, for their part, are outraged when the team doesn't perform well; they demand management changes as if management requires the consent of the entertained. And perhaps the people do have some claim: As taxpayers, they lavish financial assistance upon their team, pouring resources into public safety for the games and constructing the opulent stadiums their champions deserve. Because it is, after all, the people's team.

It is their team -- the fans' team -- in every regard except the one that matters. At the bottom of it all, it is really the billionaire's team -- an amateur, an enthusiast, whose whims, finances, prejudices and personal foibles can hold outsize influence on the fortunes of his or her franchise.

Clippers fans were reminded of that fact rather crudely this week. What better response than to fix it once and for all, by selling the team straight to the fans, as a not-for-profit like the Packers, with a board of directors, and a strong general manager and president? The right thing to do, I think, is to give it to the people. Green Bay, not billionaires, is the model.

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