A couple weeks ago, I wrote a story about the Sports Fan Coalition, a new group with ambitions to become a lobbying voice for sports fans on Capitol Hill. The main point of the story was that the group was being formed by a former satellite industry lobbyist, and that some watchdog groups saw it as a front organization for the satellite industry in it’s battle with cable over sports programming issues. The founder, David Goodfriend, insisted that he was independent from corporate influence and would not hand over control to any companies.
Here we are a few weeks later, and it appears that Goodfriend has the coalition up and running, at least on the Web, and has gotten some new individual members. As it turns out, only one of the companies from which he was seeking funds—Verizon—agreed to support the group. He remains committed, he says, to being an independent voice for sports fans as they fight against things like high ticket prices, television blackouts and public funding for stadiums.
“The reaction, uniformly, has been ‘this is great,’” said Goodfriend, who has made several appearances on sports talk radio in recent weeks. “[People] aren’t cynical, they are genuinely happy that we’re doing this. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re doing something fans want and really care about.”
Time will tell whether the group becomes a genuine grassroots group with influence, but in the early going it has created some interesting bedfellows. Board members of SFC include Dave Zirin, the sports editor of the left-leaning magazine “The Nation” along with conservative lawyer and strategist Brad Blakeman. Goodfriend, a Democrat who worked under President Bill Clinton, has appeared frequently on cable news shows debating Blakeman over myriad of political issues.
“It’s been a neat coming together of organizations and individuals that don’t normally find themselves on the same side of an issue,” Goodfriend said.
Other board members include Gigi Sohn, the president of Public Knowledge, an interest group focused on digital communication, and Mark Walsh, founder of VerticalNet, an online business-to-business company. Walsh and Goodfriend together host “Left Jab,” a political talk show on Sirius-XM Radio.
Goodfriend and Zirin are openly pushing for the government to step in and force sports leagues to change some policies.
“I want to see laws changed,” Zirin said. “I want to see a law that says the NFL blackout rule belongs in the dustbin along with the Salem Witch Trials. I want a law that says public subsidies can’t go to sports teams unless fans have a seat at the table.”
In theory, a conservative like Blakeman would not be advocating for governmental involvement, but he said he supports the SFC because of concerns that the government has already crafted policies that benefit sports leagues without giving fans a voice. He pointed to the anti-trust exemption for Major League Baseball as an example.
“There are a lot of issues that involve sports fans that reached the government level, but heretofore fans have been locked out of the room where deals are cut,” he said. “The fact that government is there and fans are not is troubling to me.”
But what about the possible influence of corporate supporters?
Zirin, who befriended Goodfriend through frequent appearances on his talk show, said he had no concerns as long as the control of the organization remained with the board of directors and individual members.
“My only concern was where is the control,” Zirin said. “There is zero-point-zero doubt in my mind that with SFC, the control lies in the membership and the board. If I thought otherwise I would quit in one second.”
Goodfriend, for his part, has consulted with lobbying watchdog groups and was advised to be as transparent as possible about the coalition’s structure, management and agenda.
At this point, Goodfriend said he has not calculated the number of individuals who have signed up as members of the coalition. But fans can do so simply by going to the group’s Web site. (Goodfriend would love you to make a donation, but it’s not required.)