Just as the presidential contenders sneak away from the campaign trail to catch a ball game, as Mitt Romney did last weekend, sports team owners and executives are making a salvo into politics, shelling out big money to influence the 2012 election.
From NFL team owners to professional basketball players, some of the biggest players in U.S. sports are becoming big players in politics as well.
The professional sports industry poured more than $5 million into the last presidential election and is gearing up for a similar showdown this time around. But partisanship abounds as these kings of competitiveness coalesce around their chosen candidates.
The National Basketball Association has poured more than $2.2 million into elections since 2009, 61 percent of which went to Democrats. The National Football League, on the other hand, has heavily favored Republicans, with 58 percent of the $2.8 million that NFL team owners, executives and players have donated going to conservatives.
Here's a look at some of the sports teams who are picking sides in the 2012 election.
Romney, along with wife Ann, turned out to support the Boston Celtics in their playoff game Sunday night. But according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Boston Celtics are not turning out to support Romney's presidential campaign.
From 2009 through 2011, individuals associated with the Celtics have leaned heavily Democratic with 96 percent of the $212,150 they donated to political campaigns during that time going to Democrats.
Romney has multiple ties to the Celtics. Besides being the former governor of their home state, Romney used to preside over Bain Capital, the company where Celtic's co-owner Stephen Pagliuca now serves as managing director.
Pagliuca's $168,000 in political donations in the past three years made up the bulk of the Celtics partisan contributions. The co-owner has given the maximum not only to President Obama's re-election campaign ($5,000), but also to the Democratic National Committee ($30,800) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($30,800).
But the Celtic's president Rick Gotham put his money in Romney's camp, giving $1,000 to the GOP candidate. Danny Ainge, the Celtic's president of basketball operations, gave Romney $2,500.
The Houston Texans have been the most politically active team in the NFL for the past three years, according to an October 2011 study from the Center for Responsive Politics. As of March, the Texans have kept up their support for Republicans, with individuals associated with the team donating $192,000 to the GOP and its candidates so far in the 2012 election.
The team's heavily Republican leanings result in large part from team owner Bob McNair, the CEO of an energy production company in Houston. McNair gave $215,200 to political causes between January 2009 and October 2011, nearly every penny of which went to Republicans.
The billionaire executive maxed out to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's primary campaign, giving $2,500 in September and gave the same amount to former presidential candidate Herman Cain in May.
McNair, whom Forbes ranked as the 303rd richest man in America, with an estimated net worth of about $1.5 billion, also poured $100,000 into the pro-Perry super PAC Make Us Great Again.
Texans' vice chairman Philip Burguières is also a big-dollar Republican donor, having given the maximum $2,500 to Mitt Romney's primary bid last April and $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in January 2011. That month, Burguières also donated $2,400 to Cain's campaign.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might not have given any of his estimated $2.3 billion fortune to support a political candidate, but it is no secret what side of the aisle he's on.
In an interview with ABC's Bill Weir last week, Cuban not only said he voted for Obama, but advocated for the president's plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans such as himself.
"You're afforded all these opportunities in this country and there's a price to pay for it," Cuban said. "You have to adjust to the circumstances and I think in the current circumstances in this country, it's not a bad thing for people at my level of wealth to pay more taxes."
The Mavericks owner took a shot at Romney for trying to avoid paying his fair share by parking money in a Cayman Islands bank account. "I'm not trying to avoid any taxes down there, unlike certain Republican candidates are announcing," Cuban said, chuckling. "There's a price for success ... You got to pay."
Of the 23 NBA teams that made political contributions in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks ranked as the 16th largest donor. About 89 percent of the Texas team's $45,000 in political contributions went to Republicans, according to the most recent analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Unlike the team's owner, its president and CEO, Terdema Ussery, put his money behind a Republican, former GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty to be exact, whom he gave the maximum $2,500 for his primary bid in July.
Mavericks guard Vince Carter, on the other hand, maxed out to Obama's campaign, giving the legal limit of $5,000 to support the president' re-election bid. Carter also hosted a $30,000-per-plate fundraiser for Obama and the Democratic National Committee at a private home in February.
President Obama is devoutly supportive of his home teams when it comes to sports, which might be why he picked his White House meeting with the 1985 Super Bowl winning Chicago Bears team as his favorite Oval Office sports team meet-and-greet.
"That was probably as good as it gets," Obama told podcaster Bob Sullivan in March, after a belated ceremony honoring the Bears.
The initial White House ceremony for their 1985 Super Bowl win was cancelled because of the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
"To see how much they appreciated it, how much they had wanted that acknowledgment; it was a lot of fun," Obama told Sullivan.
Despite his deep ties to Chicago, the Bears have not donated to Obama's 2012 campaign. The only individual associated with the Bears who has donated to a political party or campaign is offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who gave $250 to Tim Pawlenty in April 2011.
|New York Jets|
Romney's comment that he has "a lot of good friends" who are NFL team owners might not have helped him connect with the everyday American, but it has sure helped him raise money.
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson has given his "good friend" Romney $2,500 for his presidential campaign, as have three of the team's other executives.
Indeed, through the end of 2011, individuals associated with the Jets had given nearly $150,000 to political campaigns. Only the Houston Texans and San Diego Chargers have donated more.
In a March interview with Alabama radio host Paul Finebaum, Romney talked up his ties to pro-football team owners.
"I've got a lot of good friends -- the owner of the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets -- both owners are friends of mine," Romney said.
Miami Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross might be one of Romney's "good friends," as the candidate called him, but he is also a big donor to Romney's campaign.
Ross, a New York real estate tycoon estimated to be worth more than $3 billion, gave $2,500 to Romney's campaign and another $100,000 to the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Former Dolphins quarterback John Beck also contributed to Romney's campaign, although considerably less than his previous boss. Beck gave $400 to support Romney this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
When Mitt Romney said he has "some great friends who are NASCAR team owners" he wasn't kidding. The racing association's top executives, or at least those who have given to political campaigns, have been almost across-the-board supporters of Romney's election.
Nascar's president, two senior vice presidents and chief information officer have all donated $2,500 to support Romney.
Only the group's vice president of public affairs, Marcus Jadotte, had opted for a Democratic donation in the 2012 presidential election, giving $1,000 to Obama in June.