Cavs wait nine whole months after getting public money before asking for more public money

If you’ve heard me talk on the radio lately, you’ve probably heard me cite University of Michigan economist Rod Fort’s long-ago quote that “I don’t see anything wrong, from an owner’s perspective, with the idea of a new stadium every year.” Rod was being tongue-in-cheek, because of course no owner would have the chutzpah to get public subsidies and then come back one year later with their hand out for more, right? Right?

Representatives of the Cleveland Cavaliers have quietly inquired whether the Cuyahoga County government would provide public money – in addition to the sin tax dollars voters approved last year – to overhaul the publicly-owned Quicken Loans Arena, Northeast Ohio Media Group has learned.

There’s no price tag on the Cavs’ latest demands, and no timeline, but I think this still qualifies as the most shameless attempt at double-dipping since … well, at least since last year when New York Gov. (for now) Andrew Cuomo announced a task force on building a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills just four months after giving them state money to fix up the old one. Cavs CEO Len Komoroski issued a statement that carefully avoided saying anything about public money, but talked about how the Cavs’ arena helps “drive the vitality of our urban core” and how “any plan to enhance The Q would include great additional private investment.” When rich guys start saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll put in our own money, too,” it’s generally a good idea to put one hand on your wallet.


12 comments on “Cavs wait nine whole months after getting public money before asking for more public money

  1. Perhaps there’s a positional goods factor, here. I suppose from the Cavs’ perspective, “we got LeBron James back, we’re clearly the gem of Cleveland sports, so we deserve whatever the other teams are getting PLUS a big bonus.”

    Presumably the Indians and Browns will have little difficulty thinking of reasons why they should qualify for the same “special” treatment, however, assuming its approval.

    And to think it all started by giving a mouse a cookie.

  2. This comes as no surprise. The arena has too many seats, too many boxes and no modern club for people who sit on between the baskets in the first 10 rows of seats.

    What is interesting is whether Gilberth as the leverage to get tax money for those things. None of those improvements benefits the average fan and it’s hard to imagine Gilbert threatening to leave.

  3. Cleveland is too small and too poor of a city for three major sports teams.

    Since apparently architects are terrible at anticipating how teams want to make money in 20 years, eventually the city will figure this out and quit trying to keep at least one of the teams.

  4. I have difficulty imagining what “eventually” might look like in that context. Having lived here for nearly 10 years, my impression is that its three major sports teams are the absolute last thing that Cleveland will give up. Road maintenance, public schools, libraries, clean water, police and fire departments… I’m positive that a majority of the populace would rather keep the Browns, even at their worst. Maybe there is less devotion to the other two teams, but if so it isn’t much less.

    Frankly it seems like Cuyahoga County would put every other public expenditure on the chopping block, AND raise taxes to Scandinavian levels, before ever saying “let ’em go, it just ain’t worth it.”

  5. I was about to say “Surely the Cavs had to extend their lease in order to get the sin tax money last year?” but then I Googled:

    http://m.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2014/05/13/Facilities/Cleveland.aspx

    I guess the argument was that the teams could break their current leases if the money wasn’t approved. Still, waiting until after you cut the check to ask for the teams to agree to longer leases is a quintessential “d’oh” moment.

  6. The NFL has already started hinting at what the next round of facility deficiencies are going to be. They’re going to complain that the stadiums are too large. That most people are watching at home so they need stadiums with less general seating but more event space for interaction and engagement. To make attending an NFL game a once-in-a-lifetime type of event (that you should experience many more times than once). They’ll claim the local governments will save huge by not paying for upgrades and upkeep on such large white elephants if they’ll just approve the $2 billion cost for the next generation SmartStadium®.

  7. Neil, that’s something I’ve been really puzzling over lately, in the wake of a smaller-scale but similar local government own-goal.

    It seems like the public’s representatives are outmaneuvered so thoroughly and so consistently, in situations like this, that even I can’t attribute it all to collusion. It seems like incompetence has to play a significant role as well, to explain the scale of the phenomenon…

    And I just wonder, if this is true, how can so many politicians be such abysmally bad negotiators? I would think that more than a few of them have to have some skill at manipulating–getting people to support your agenda being the essence of politics–and that at least a few of them would employ it to get a better deal once in a while, if only for the ego-boost of showing they could do it.

    Yet again and again and again, “show your cards, then promptly fold” seems to be the full extent of negotiating savvy among the public’s representatives.

  8. It helps when the minute you fold, your opponent holds a joint press conference with you to congratulate you on your win.

  9. “…how can so many politicians be such abysmally bad negotiators?”

    Laziness and OPM – other people’s money. “It’s not my money, I can’t be bothered to put that much effort into doing the right thing.” The concept of “fiduciary responsibility” is so often ignored that I don’t quite understand why some folks don’t get sued for “dereliction of duty”. I guess it’s not a contractual obligation, just an assumed one.

  10. I think there’s a few parts to this problem.

    1. Politicians feel best at the big splash, not during boring things like good management.
    2. Sports journalists have a real need to demonstrate that their field isn’t just covering adults playing kids games for money, but a real and substantial part of public life. Many absolutely want to buy into the idea that pro sports have a huge effect in economics, culture, and “civic pride” larger than the public cost, despite the evidence.
    3. For whatever reason, many civic leaders are haunted by the myth that Brooklyn was doomed by the Dodgers leaving, rather than changes in urban life (and the growth of some pretty big cities elsewhere) leading to the Dodgers and other teams moving. So they allow themselves to believe that sports are the salvation (or, flexibly, that sports teams are the only thing holding back the apocalypse). Strangely enough, Brooklyn seemed to be on the rebound before the Nets, but I guess we can attribute everything to the Cyclones.
    4. You don’t lose many votes giving construction unions jobs, even if the project will be a long term net money loser.

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