Stopping Cleveland’s Corporate Freeloaders


On May 6th, Cleveland taxpayers will go to the polls to vote on Issue 7. A no vote will prevent an increase in taxpayer money to the already subsidized, big league sports arenas. A yes vote will reaffirm taxpayer servitude to arrogant corporatists and their cruel, twisted mistreatment of that struggling city.

When I was growing up, tax dollars for public works were used for serious public services. Taxpayers paid to build schools, highways, bridges, libraries, health clinics, public transit and other community needs. Tax dollars were not given over to the mega-rich’s profitable athletic playpens. To even suggest tax money for private major league baseball parks would get you laughed or ridiculed out of town.

Now, there are football, baseball and basketball facilities for the NFL, MLB and NBA leagues (plus other professional sports) that are built and renovated using taxpayer dollars often without majority public support. That is why the sports giants try to avoid referenda and, often with campaign contributions, focus instead on persuading Mayors and Governors.

When big league sports mavens cannot avoid a public vote, they mislead the public with claims that building sports venues is a cost-effective way to produce jobs, but most economists know that building sports facilities is definitely not a cost-effective way to create jobs. Visit League of Fans for more information. And, when empty promises fail, the sports kings threaten to move their teams to another town.

When all that fails, the sports barons go for sin taxes and other micro-targeted tabs (such as parking tax, admissions tax, bed tax, video game tax, rental car tax, and property tax exemption), in addition to keeping high prices for tickets, food and parking to begin with.

This is the situation in Cleveland – a deindustrialized, unfairly poor metropolis, with the largest employer now being the Cleveland Clinic. The more affluent people can go to see the Cleveland Browns, the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Cavaliers – whose facilities are named for companies instead of being called “Taxpayers Stadium, Arena and Field.”

The super-rich sports owners, or corporate welfare kings, know “sin taxes” help get more votes for their stadiums. Issue 7 is linked to a 20-year sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes which will be paid by Cuyahoga County residents, totaling between $250 to $350 million. The money will go to “constructing, renovating, improving, or repairing spectator sports facilities.” You can be sure the money will not be going to neighborhood sports programs or playgrounds, otherwise known as participatory sports.

The proposed taxes exclude adjoining counties where fifty percent or more of the paying fans live. Cuyahoga County, which includes the city of Cleveland, already has higher sales and school property taxes than the adjoining counties. Unemployment, prices of necessities and inequality have sky-rocketed in beleaguered Cuyahoga County according to Roldo Bartimole, arguably Cleveland’s greatest investigative reporter of the past half century (see the Cleveland Leader for more information). Any increased taxes – sin or otherwise – should be devoted to the necessities of the local community, not for entertainment.

Big-time sports bosses know that the trump card that enables them to continue with their freeloading ways as crony capitalists is to exploit the spectator joy that comes from being part of a local fan base. The subtext of these demands takes away that joy from those TV watching fans by relocating to another city willing to give away the store. It all reeks of greed, power and extortion.

Rest assured Clevelanders, the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers are going nowhere. They know how much of the “store” (over $1 billion since 1990) your politicians have already given them. The sports bosses like to call themselves capitalists. So let them behave like capitalists and invest their own money and no longer dare to turn your tax dollars into their profits.

The Coalition Against the Sin Tax (CAST) wants full disclosure of the secret “obligations” imposed on the public in these existing corporate welfare contracts so that residents can know what’s going on with their pocketbooks (see the Coalition Against the Sin Tax for more information).

“Who us worry?” non-Clevelanders might be saying. Better think again. The greedy sports billionaires are all over the country. They never stop expanding their mounting wealth at other people’s expense. Until you stop them.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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