County lawyer thinks it’s his job to threaten that Cavaliers could move without arena upgrades

I wondered aloud yesterday what Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert would do now that his dream of a $70 million taxpayer subsidy for a big glass wall was dead, and while Gilbert still hasn’t responded publicly, the county’s lawyer took to the airwaves yesterday to threaten that the team might move out of town as a result:

“I think it has put a big question mark on the future of the Cavs in Cleveland,” [Quicken Loans Arena deal negotiator Fred] Nance told WKYC by phone on Tuesday. “Because while the deal would have extended [the Cavs] lease and we wouldn’t have had to deal with this until 2034, it’s not clear what’s going to happen in 2027 and owners don’t wait until December 30 of the last year of their lease — they start making those plans years ahead of time.

“We have significantly diminished our ability to keep this team here as a result of this.”

If you’re thinking, “Hey, didn’t Cleveland just approve a whole bunch of ‘sin tax’ money three years ago so its pro sports teams wouldn’t threaten to move?”, good memory! Except that Gilbert quickly decided that getting a whole bunch of money to ensure the team stayed put didn’t mean he couldn’t ask for more money on top of that to ensure the team would stay put, and nobody bothered to ask for the Cavs to extend their lease as part of that deal — in fact, the sin tax subsidies now extend several years beyond when the Indians‘, Cavaliers’, and Browns‘ leases expire (in 2023, 2027, and 2029, respectively). So the team threatening to leave is sorta kinda a viable threat, at least if you think moving the 11th most valuable franchise in the NBA to some other as-yet-to-be-determined city is viable in the first place.

Of course, this isn’t even Gilbert making the threat, but rather the county’s lawyer. Which is completely demented from a leverage standpoint — shouldn’t the local governments be providing reasons why local sports teams should want to stay, not pointing out ways they could leave if not gifted with public money? But given that this is a county that just lavished about $160 million worth of future tax money on its sports team owners without even asking that they sign longer leases in return, maybe it’s exactly the kind of completely demented we should expect.

11 comments on “County lawyer thinks it’s his job to threaten that Cavaliers could move without arena upgrades

  1. You have to wonder how much of the Cavs being ranked 11th in value has to do with LeBron. They’re only the 17th largest TV market and they have zero success historically without LeBron playing for them. By the time their current deal is up LeBron will be long-retired, they’ll be in the lottery every year again and most of Cleveland won’t be sure whether the team is still in town or not. And I absolutely believe that plays into the desperation you’re going to see out of Gilbert–this is his best shot to get everything he wants. Much harder pitch to make when the team is terrible again.

    • Good point. I don’t know that his leverage would evaporate without some of the star players (or, put another way, if the Cavs were back at the bottom of the NBA again), but certainly it’s easier to play the public for subsidy if you are winning championships.

      That doesn’t mean, of course, that if you are utterly hopeless you can’t do so (see practically all bottom dwelling franchises in all sports).

  2. There’s always Kansas City or Seattle or Quebec or Hartford or Newark or St. Louis or San Diego or Vancouver….

  3. Yesterday, I wondered how long it would be until the Cav management threatened to leave town after the referendum blew up their plans. The thought that a county lawyer brings it up first boggles my mind.

  4. “shouldn’t the local governments be providing reasons why local sports teams should want to stay, not pointing out ways they could leave if not gifted with public money?”

    When’s the last time THAT happened? It sure as hell didn’t in Sacramento.

  5. This has been a constant throughout this whole fiasco.

    Local government, from the County Executive on down, have engaged in reverse bargaining by threatening the greater Cleveland public (whom these officials are supposed to represent) on behalf of Gilbert and the Cavs.

    Gilbert himself has made no statements to back up these threats. He plainly does not want to become the next Art Modell, which to a rational mind would constitute leverage for public officials to use in negotiations.

    Instead, they have enthusiastically worked to give away the public resource which that leverage constitutes. I credit County Councilman Dale Miller with having the honesty to at least say, in an e-mail, that this is not appropriate. I could call it many more things, but that’s a start.

  6. Neil, love all your blog and all your work. Read the book and at this point, I just don’t care about these teams staying or leaving anymore. I appreciated your work, but if the Cavs want to go, they need to shut up and go. I used to be a real sports junkie, but no more as all these owners and players hold the fans hostage. Everyday, you are one of the first sites I read and I am amazed at all the stadium shysters, er, I mean, owners trying to squeeze cities and towns.

    I just don’t care about these millionaire/billionaires threatening anymore. I enjoy the stories you right, but if they go, go. Gilbert just shut up and move on, already. However, like all of them, they try to hang on as long as there is a chance of squeezing the locals because the sucker you know is easier to swindle then to start over in a new town.

    In the end, these clown owners are all carpet baggers with no allegiance except to their bank account.

  7. If a lawyer in my employ as a negotiator chose to speak out in support of the position of the entity with which he is tasked with negotiating, he or she would find themselves unemployed the next day.

  8. It’s not really that much of a surprise.

    Who really benefits from extra fancy arenas and elite-class tickets? The lawyer-laden political class, for sure, and probably not the average Clevelander.

    This naked self-interest and contempt for the public goes a long way towards fueling today’s cynicism.