by Justice B. Hill Editorial
I knew that billionaires had their hands in our pockets, but I didn’t know how deeply. Well, now I know.
According to various reports, the Cleveland Browns have gotten more than $350 million in free money from various taxing options since 1998. Now, they seek more tax dollars to renovate the stadium on the shores of Lake Erie or to build a new one.
I think those of us who have been here awhile have heard this story before. Didn’t Art Modell use this woe-is-me strategy in the 1980s, which ended up sending the Browns franchise to Baltimore? Now, the Haslam clan is trying a similar approach. They are doing so even though they are among the richest NFL owners, and even as NFL revenues continue to soar.
I don’t think the Haslam clan or any other NFL owner needs taxpayers to cut them a welfare check. The Haslams can pay for their own renovations, or for a new stadium. Nobody needs to tell me who owns the stadium: It’s not the Haslams; it’s the city of Cleveland. But control of the facility is in the family’s hands, not the city’s. They should have made certain it stayed in good repair.
As a lifelong Browns fan, I remember Municipal Stadium, a dump that needed to come down. I wasn’t impressed when the Cleveland Browns Stadium opened. I thought it lacked the design appeal of Jacobs Field, but it was a stadium, and for the Browns to return, they needed a place to play. They got it. Therefore the Haslams should pay for the stadium’s upkeep.
I know politicians in Las Vegas are wrestling with a similar issue. They have a chance to poach the Oakland A’s, and all that’s needed is a billionaire-dollar ballpark (covered, of course). Tax dollars would pay the community’s share. The public can’t continue to pour money into ballparks. I understand the importance of having professional sports in our city. They bring a certain cachet to every place that has one. Cachet doesn’t, however, get roads repaired. It doesn’t pay for more cop cars or more cops. It doesn’t ensure that someone will pick up the garbage.
With a declining population and a deteriorating housing stock on the East Side, the city can no more bankroll ballparks and stadiums than it can pitch in to help Cleveland Clinic eat up more of the property in the Hough/Fairfax neighborhood.
I don’t want to lose the Browns, because I agree, despite how mediocre they’ve been for the better part of two decades, they bring plenty to the city. The franchise, its name, and its rich legacy resonate around the United States. The name travels well. Yet we can’t do for them—the Haslams—what we are willing to do for residents who live in areas that need a helping hand. I never had concrete plans to bail them out of their circumstances.
To the Haslams and other NFL owners, I have a suggestion: Take a chunk of your TV revenue and plow it into stadium maintenance and construction. Nobody is asking you to fork over money for roads around the stadium; that’s an ask anyone would be willing to say yes to. But you’re asking for a nine-figure check, and I don’t think taxpayers should walk that path. Not this time.
Justice B. Hill has written about baseball for eight seasons at MLB.com, and taught journalism at Ohio University. Now retired, he devotes his time to travel and freelance writing.