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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?

$600 million is a lot of money: Peruse a list of some of the crowd-funded efforts that raked in big bucks, and you'll see a trio of projects that brought in tens of millions of dollars in pledges; you won't find any to break the nine-figure mark. Meeting a $600 million fundraising goal would make this effort to buy the Clippers the most successful crowd-funding campaign in history and by a sizable margin.

Put it this way: Star Citizen, a space simulator game from Wing Commander designer Chris Roberts, has raised more money than any other crowd-funded project — $43 million and counting. The $600 million being sought to buy the Clippers could fund 13 Star Citizens with enough left over to back seven Veronica Mars sequels.

$600 million may not be enough: You and I probably would gladly accept any check with seven zeroes offered to us. But you and I do not own an NBA team in America's second-largest city. Forbes pegs the value of the Los Angeles Clippers at $575 million, but that may be a conservative estimate, especially in light of the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings have sold for $550 million and $534 million, respectively, in recent years. What's more, the rights to broadcast Clippers games on TV come up for bid after the 2015-16 season, meaning whoever owns the team by then is due for a big payday, given the value cable channels place on sports programming these days. Bottom line: Most experts expect the Clippers to command a sales price topping $1 billion when all is said and done.

Other owners are unlikely to allow it: Supporters of publicly owned sports franchises like to point to the example of the Green Bay Packers, a nonprofit corporation owned by 354,122 shareholders. But there's a reason the Packers are unique among U.S. professional sports franchises for their ownership situation — sports leagues don't want their tight-knit fraternities opened to the public. The National Football League, for example, even rewrote its constitution in 1960 to explicitly bar "charitable organizations and/or corporations not organized for profit" from owning a team. (The Packers, who play in the NFL, were grandfathered in.)

It's unclear if NBA rules specifically bar the kind of ownership setup Nguyen and his fellow fans have in mind — we've put in a call to the NBA to ask but have yet to hear back — but Neil deMause, a writer who specializes in the economics of sports, noted in a SportsOnEarth column earlier this year, that leagues have been less-than-welcoming toward the thought of fan ownership: "Existing team owners absolutely hate the idea of letting representatives of the outside fan world into their little club... and also aren't crazy about team finances becoming a matter of public record."


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