New York Governor David A. Paterson
attended a World Series game with four
others, including his son, initally, without
paying theYankees for them, bringing up
questions of sporting events, politicians,
Sports and politics have always had a symbiotic relationship, from the ancient times of the Greek Olympics to the present. And any time politicians are involved, ethics considerations become blurred. Is it ever OK for politicians to accept free tickets to a sporting event? Even if they pay for their tickets, are they obtaining a benefit that is unavailable to the average fan?
Those questions were raised once again during the World Series with news reports that certain elected officials and their aides were trolling for tickets. New York Governor David A. Paterson, Vice-President Joe Biden, Rep. Tim Holden (D., Pa.) and Sen. Robert Casey (D., Pa.) were just a few of the politicians mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article who attended this year’s World Series.
That revelation should surprise no one. The primary goal of any politician is to get re-elected to office, and that requires exposure and publicity, something that’s difficult to come by while laboring behind a desk doing the people’s business. Page one of the politician’s handbook exhorts elected officials to get out in the world where people and cameras can see them.
What better way for a politician to get exposure than to be seen at a sporting event, the bigger the event the better. The World Series may be the biggest sporting event in this country behind the Super Bowl. Which means it makes sense for our elected officials to attend a World Series game. But at what cost to their credibility, assuming they have any to begin with?
According to a preliminary inquiry by the New York State Commission on Public Integrity – now there’s an oxymoron if there ever was one - a Paterson aide, David Johnson, asked the Yankees for five tickets to the opening game of the World Series. The Yankees complied, and Paterson attended the game with his son, one of his son’s friends, Johnson, and another state employee.
None of the attendees paid for their tickets, at least, not before the game. But after the Public Integrity Commission commenced its investigation, and the media started making inquiries, both of the governor’s aides decided to reimburse the Yankees for their tickets. And according to the governor’s spokesperson, Paterson would reimburse the team for his son’s ticket as well as the ticket for his son’s friend.
Under New York law, a state official can accept gifts, in this case, free tickets, if he or she is conducting “official duties” and representing the State of New York. But if attendance at a sporting event is “substantially recreational in nature,” tickets need to be paid for. If they aren’t, the commission is authorized to levy fines for a breach of ethics. Even if Paterson had attended the World Series in his official capacity, e.g., if he had thrown out the first ball, query what official business his two aides, his son and son’s friend would have been conducting.
Political access to tickets, even when the recipient isn’t involved in official business and is willing to pay for the tickets, is also problematic. A politician can get through to the Yankees; the average citizen cannot. Doesn’t that give a politician an advantage? Is that ethical?
And, as the Yankees did in this case, teams have little choice but to acquiesce. Can you imagine the Yankees telling the Gov to get lost, like they do the media or critics of the government handouts that were used to finance the construction of their new stadium?
When politicians purchase tickets directly from the club – or Major League Baseball, which makes a number of tickets available to political mucky-mucks – they do so at face value. Try that if you’re the average citizen. Paterson will reimburse the Yankees $425 each, the face value of his seats behind home plate. For those of us without a direct line to the Yankees, there’s ticket reseller StubHub, which, according to the New York Post, had tickets to Game 6 of the World Series available for $5,000 each.
What may be good for the rest of us apparently isn’t good enough for our elected officials. To the surprise of no one, that also applies to tickets to sporting events.
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Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming.
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