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Ahead of Possible Lockout, NFL Owners Giving Big Bucks to Politicians

Sports fans often claim that the government shouldn't get involved in sports. But the government is already involved in sports and has been for a long time.
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Sports fans often claim that the government shouldn't get involved in sports. But the government is already involved in sports and has been for a long time. And thanks to some serious campaign contributions made in just the last year and a half, NFL owners appear to be ensuring that the government works in their best interests.

NFL owners have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in this election cycle as individual contributors and via the political action committee (NFL PAC) they formed during the 2007-08 cycle.

The Center for Responsive Politics recently looked at federal campaign finance records and found:

The Rooney family, which runs the Pittsburgh Steelers, wins the Lombardi Trophy of political donations this election cycle, with Arthur, Patrick, John, Timothy and their wives combining to donate more than $153,000 to various federal-level political interests, primarily Republican. That includes thousands of dollars spent on kin -- Brian John Rooney-- who ran for, and failed to win, the GOP nomination in Michigan's 10th Congressional District contest.

Patrick Rooney and Houston Texans owner Robert McNair each have contributed more than $100,000 this cycle. (All of McNair's donations have gone to Republicans and overall, Republicans have received more from owners, league executives and players who've donated at least $3,000 this cycle. Republicans have received $456,769, while Democrats have received $337,925.)

But the real story is the NFL's PAC, which didn't make any contributions to federal candidates last cycle. This cycle, they've spent more than $341,000 among 82 federal candidates and $100,000 on the party committees.

By contrast, the NFL Players Association does not even have a PAC. Individual players have contributed to candidates and committees, but their donations pale in comparison to those of owners and league executives. Among active players, Dhani Jones and Gibril Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals have contributed at least $15,000 this cycle.

And for the record, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has contributed $11,800 this cycle to federal-level candidates and political committees.

What does all this mean?

Television blackouts of NFL games are likely to be much higher this season than in recent years and the only recourse (justifiably) disgruntled fans may have is to ask their elected officials to demand the league rescind its blackout rules, at least in cities where taxpayers have contributed to financing the stadium. If a movement to end NFL blackouts manages to gain traction among at least a few of these officials, won't the fact that NFL owners and executives have made contributions to dozens of representatives and senators and to the campaign committees of both parties have some influence on whether the issue is taken seriously?

More importantly, if sports fans want to avoid a work stoppage next season, Congress may be the only recourse. Again, though, how likely is Congress to take up the matter given that a large number of its members have taken contributions from the NFL? Remember that if a work stoppage happens next season, it will be a lockout -- not a strike -- and the owners will continue to make money off television contracts even without games. So the best scenario for the owners would be for Congress to do nothing.

Even if Congress does intervene, how fair is it likely to be given that the owners have contributed so much more than the players? This isn't to suggest that these members will be directly influenced, but there's certainly a reason NFL owners and executives are spending so much money on both parties this cycle.

Sports fans don't have their own PAC -- yet -- but given the influence the league's owners appear to be buying, they might need one if they don't want to continue to be forced to endure blackouts and work stoppages. At the very least, sports fans need to organize into one collective voice so Congress can hear them.


Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and lives in Washington, D.C. Email him at