FANS is good for lots of laughs.
It's an organization - Fight to Advance the Nation's Sports - that wants to protect the consumer's rights in sports.
It's a month old, created with $10,000 borrowed from General Motors' old pal, Ralph Nader.
"This," said Peter Gruenstein, the boss of FANS, whose office is a small, bare room on the sixth floor of a hotel building here, "is the Stone Age of consumerism in sports."
Some people think the stone is largely between Gruenstein's ears.
That's because Nader and Gruenstein have complained in public about hot dogs.
They said most hot dogs served in most ball parks are made from eleats once worn by Bronko Nagurski, and, what's worse, a cup of beer costs you a day's pay and is warmer than the hot dog.
Nade and Gruenstein didn't say it in those words, but that's what they meant.
So right away you figure these guys don't have anything serious to gripe about. Who knows how many million men grew to full size by stuffing themselves with ball-park hot dogs? Would FANS have us much wheat germ at Fenway? If the good Lord meant us to eat right, He'd have made cooking the national pastime.
And then Nader and Gruenstein were in the newspapers saying fans ought to have a voice in the rules and in contract disputes and even in the trading of players. FANS didn't like it, the papers said, when the Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Reds.
So sportwriters with itchy fingers ran to the keyboard and said, wow, these two nuts don't like hot dogs and beer at the ball park and they think George Allen ought to take a pool of the fans before deciding who to start at quarterback and, next thing. Nader will be demanding the replacement of shoulder pads with air bags.
Well, a guy has to giggie about all that.
But he ought to remember, too, that FANS is a serious organization.
So serious that Gruenstein says the Cincinnati Reds have suggested he is a Communist.
Gruenstein believes FANS can do fans a serive by letting the world know that baseball, basketball and football teams make a lot-of money and then raise ticket prices, anyway.
Baseball, basketball and football teams, don't say that. The air is full of self-pity. They say they're losing money faster than it can be printed. They say the players are robbing them blind. Without tax breaks, without money from television, without beer that goes for $1.25 a cup, without ticket prices that go up-up-up, the poor, starving, raggedy owners would be out of business.
Gruenstein thinks the owners are full of hot dogs, or something.
"The Reds are patently outrageous," he said today. "They are the classic case of a team rewarding the fans for their loyalty by gouging them."
Gruenstein said he went on television in Cincinnati and did some multiplication and long division: 2.5 million customers at 85 per produce $12.5 million in ticket revenue for the Reds . . . players salaries at the most would be $2.5 million . . . with other costs, the Reds could be making a $6 million profit.
"That really jerked their chain," Gruenstein said. "Dick Wagner, their executive vice president and general manager, went on the air to explain why they were raising ticket prices. He talked about the bats they gave away on Bat Day going up in cost from 60 cents to $1.80."
"It was marvelous. Basically, I'm this unknown guy from an organization that isn't even alive yet. But the Reds and the others, now they know that if they raise ticket prices, there's going to be a risk involved, FANS may come in and do an analysis."
Gruenstein also said, "Wagner's basic response was this quote, and I wrote it down when he said it: 'I wonder if Mr. Gruenstein was educated in this country or the Soviet Union."
Wagner couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, but Jim Fergusion, the Reds' publicity director, said Gruenstein's figures were inaccurate if he believed the Reds averaged $5 a ticket last season. The top price was $4.50, except for 1,640 seats at $6.50, he said. The cheapest seat was $2.50.
The Reds have announced a 50-cent increase in ticket prices.
And that's what Gruenstein thinks is unfair to the paying customer.
"It's unfair, he says, because the customer has no choice. IF General Motors charges too much for a car, a guy can go to Ford. McDonald's has to worry about Roy Rogers. But if a man doesn't like to pay 50 cents more for a Red ticket when he knows the team is making money faster than Pete Rose can spend it, well, he can't go to the other baseball team in town.
It's an unregulated monopoly," Gruenstein said. "There is no competitive pressure to keep prices down. The whole base of free enterprise is missing. Ticket prices have no relation to a team's operating costs, but only to what the market will bear. So the vast majority of teams base their prices on what economists call profit maximization. They ask themselves. 'If we can fill the stadium at $10 a ticket, can we till it at $11? At 12? At what number $14? - will the revenues be less than they are now?'"
The financial reports of pro sports teams are private save for that of the Green Bay Packers, a publicity owned team. Gruenstein says newspapermen have given the owners a free ride too long now, taking their poor mouthing as gospel. He'd like to see some financial reporting. He's also asking teams for voluntary disclosure of finances, even while saying they'll refuse.
"They like maximum consumer ignorance," he said. "That way, a team that makes $6 million can [WORD ILLEGIBLE] its ticket prices just as easily - with no consumer backlash - as a team that loses $100,000."
No giggles there.