Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
In a town with two football teams, local fans are divided. Turns out the same goes for the team owners and their politics.
A big RNC donor owns the AFC team, a DNC donor the NFC team. We're talking about Woody Johnson and Jonathan Tisch, owners of the New York Jets and Giants, respectively.
Johnson's a Republican bundler who's contributed over $70,000 to national Republican committees, presidential candidates, and a pro-Romney PAC this election cycle. Tisch has given over $60,000 to Barack Obama and Democratic committees.
Basketball in the Big Apple? Similar story. Knicks owner James Dolan contributes to Mitt Romney; Nets co-owner Bruce Ratner gives to Obama.
This situation—a cross-town sports rivalry that also plays out in the owners' diverging politics—is not unique to New York. On opposite sides of the Bay, a Democratic donor heads up the San Francisco Giants, and a Republican runs the Oakland A's. Further down the coast, there's a similar divide between the L.A. Dodgers and the Anaheim Angels.
Most professional sports team owners are active donors to political campaigns. That’s not a total surprise—these are venture capitalists, real estate developers, media magnates, celebrities, all the usual stock of top-dollar campaign financiers.
What is surprising is who gives to whom.
We’ve mapped all the owners of teams in the four major U.S. sports leagues who’ve contributed money to Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican National Committees, Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees, and affiliated Super PACs this election cycle. Filter by league or party, zoom to your hometown, and get a detailed breakdown of your team owner's political involvement.
Owners of teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL have given $1,992,050 to 2012 national election efforts, and most of that to Republican committees and Mitt Romney. Democrats received just over $750,000, while Republicans got nearly $1.25 million.
Major League Baseball was the biggest source of these donations, with team owners contributing over $700,000 this cycle. NFL owners cleared the half-million-dollar mark; NBA owners were just shy. The least amount of money came from the NHL, where owners have only given $272,800.
In each league donations to Republican efforts outpaced donations to Democrats. That gap was closest among NBA owners, who gave $215,200 to Democrats and $271,550 to Republicans. It was also the only league to give more money to the Obama campaign ($20,000) than to the Romney campaign ($18,500).
Of all the teams in all four leagues, owners of the L.A. Dodgers have given the most money of the 2012 cycle. The four owners, Magic Johnson among them, combined for almost $180,000 in contributions to President Obama’s re-election.
The most generous single owner was Gregory Maffei of the Atlanta Braves, who dished $157,500 to Mitt Romney, American Crossroads, Restore Our Future, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Speaking of Romney, the teams he might root for don’t necessarily root back. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, gave $17,900 to Obama and the DNC. Stephen Pagliuca, an owner of the Boston Celtics, gave over $66,000 to Democrats. Pagliuca’s also a managing partner at Bain Capital, which may ring a bell. Owners of the Red Sox and the Bruins show a little more love for the former governor.
Only one franchise owner in Obama’s hometown contributed to the horse race: William Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks. He gave $1,000 to Tim Pawlenty.
Back in New York City, the political rivalry between football and basketball owners doesn't play out in baseball. Mets owner Fred Wilpon gave $2,500 to Mitt Romney. And while the Steinbrenners have been quiet this year, George III was known to give to Republicans.
Earlier this summer we saw that a franchise owner's politics could get people buying or boycotting chicken sandwiches. Could the same happen with season tickets?
We're not betting on it. Sports fandom is one of those sacred, primordial loyalties—a completely irrational allegiance that makes some of us paint our bodies and stand near-naked in sub-freezing temperatures for hours at a time. Finding out your owner plays for the other political team probably won't test your faith nearly as much as a quarterback time-share that's half Tim Tebow, or the cold turkey quitting of Jeremy Lin.