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Clippers fans look for a hand from the crowd to buy NBA team

Philip Michaels | May 12, 2014
Thanks to crowdfunding, we've been able to back smartwatch makers, help rock legends fund the high-resolution audio player of their dreams, and even bring a long-canceled TV show to the silver screen. So why not use the deep pockets of the crowd to buy up a share of your very own sports franchise?

Thanks to crowdfunding, we've been able to back smartwatch makers, help rock legends fund the high-resolution audio player of their dreams, and even bring a long-canceled TV show to the silver screen. So why not use the deep pockets of the crowd to buy up a share of your very own sports franchise?

A group of Los Angeles Clippers fans would like to do just that, and they're hoping that a million or so of their closest friends join them. A group of a half-dozen or so fans launched a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdtilt.com looking for backers to help raise the hundreds of millions of dollars it will presumably take to pry the basketball team from the hands of suspended owner Donald T. Sterling.

Before you entertain visions of hanging out in the owners' suite and rubbing elbows with the likes of Mark Cuban and other basketball movers-and-shakers, though, you should realize the ultimate goal is a little more egalitarian than simply procuring a basketball team. The organizers behind the Crowdtilt.com campaign to buy the Clippers want to turn the team into a nonprofit publicly owned franchise. They outline the reasons behind that objective in this heartfelt video.

The Clippers, of course, have a For Sale sign hanging on their door after the National Basketball Association imposed a lifetime ban on Sterling after the team owner was caught on tape making racist comments; the NBA is also looking to force Sterling to sell the team he bought in 1981 for $12.5 million. (Sterling is widely expected to contest the team's sale.)

Billionaires are reportedly lining up to bid for the Clippers, but the way Orange County business owner Tim Nguyen sees it, ordinary fans should have the chance to make their bid for the team too, in light of the Sterling scandal. He and a group of friends hatched the crowdfunding plan, with an eye toward turning the team into a community-owned operation. The idea isn't entirely out of left field: former presidential candidate-turned-talking head Newt Gingrich — not the sort of guy you'd peg for a power-to-the-people approach to business — wrote an op-ed calling for public ownership of the Clippers.

"It's ordinary people that change the world," Nguyen told me, when we talked about the crowdfunding campaign last week.

It'll take a lot of ordinary people. Any group-funded effort to buy a major sports franchise faces long odds, and not just because the respectable $53,000-plus that Nguyen and friends have taken in to date is a far cry from the campaign's total goal. There are several notable hurdles for an ambitious campaign like this that more modest crowdfunding efforts wouldn't even have to sweat.

 

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