What If Fans Could Have Paid Jeremy Lin to Stay in New York?

Introducing a new plan to lure sports superstars: Fan Action Committees

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New York Knicks fans were deeply disappointed by the loss last week of guard and basketball folk hero Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets. Knicks fans are not alone in their sadness. Cleveland fans still have not recovered from LeBron James' decision to take his talents to South Beach, when he signed with the Miami Heat two years ago.

It's too late now for Lin and LeBron, but high-profile departures like these are a recurring matter in professional sports. And fans should be able to have more influence on these matters. Here's how.

Imagine if Knicks fans could monetize their support for re-signing Lin, either as a financial kicker or simply as an expression of their desire to have him stay with the Knicks. Like politics, where we see political action committees (PACs) raise and spend money for candidates, we think there should be "Fan Action Committees" (FACs) performing similar functions. Using Facebook, Paypal, and other crowd-sourcing technologies, fans in the future could form something like a "Don't Stop the Linsanity" Committee. From the other side, Houston fans might to do the same to make their city even more attractive to Lin.

Such FACs would organize and collect money (pledged conditionally via credit card) from other fans to provide a one-time (or perhaps even a recurring) payment for a player who joins or stays with the team. The organizers of the FAC could track the number of fans participating, as well as the money raised, as a demonstration of fan love for the player. In essence, FAC members operate like college boosters, showing their support for their teams through money. The difference is that the money goes not to the team, but to the players.

One objection to this idea might center on the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players. That agreement limits the amount of money a player can make -- depending on service time in the league and roster slot -- and prohibits teams from compensating players in any way other than basic salary. It also holds down the total salaries a team can pay by imposing a luxury tax on teams that exceed the salary cap.

But the CBA controls only what teams can pay players. It does not limit the money players can make or receive from other lawful sources, such as endorsements or gifts. So long as teams do not coordinate or work with the FACs, the CBA is irrelevant. Like endorsement deals, the money from fan committees would simply provide the player another form of outside compensation.

Presented by

Dan Markel & Howard Wasserman

Dan Markel is D'Alemberte Professor of Law at Florida State University. Howard Wasserman is a professor of law at Florida International University and the editor of the Sports Law Blog.

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