Cleveland Browns, Columbus Organization Withdraw Taxpayer Subsidy Request

Published March 14, 2016

After public outcry, a nonprofit coalition of business owners has withdrawn its request for $5 million in taxpayer funds that would have been used to fund the construction of a new National Football League (NFL) training facility for the Cleveland Browns in Columbus, Ohio.

Working with the Browns, a privately owned NFL team, the Columbus Partnership, a regional economic development organization consisting of Columbus-area business leaders, requested $5 million in state taxpayer funds to help build a training facility in Columbus, located 145 miles southeast of Cleveland.

After the economic development organization’s plan became public knowledge, significant public opposition to the plan emerged, so the Columbus Partnership withdrew its request for the subsidy.

Taxpayers Get Sacked

Greg Lawson, a policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, says handing out taxpayers’ money to private sports team owners and businesses is a bad deal for the public.

“Rarely do taxpayers make out on these deals,” Lawson said. “While they may generate some economic gains temporarily, they rarely generate what is promised … They also create ample opportunity for [what amounts to] blackmailing [the public], as team owners threaten to move their teams without expensive new taxpayer contributions.”

Lawson says another Ohio NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals, exemplifies the cronyism inherent in sports stadium subsidies.

“If you look at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, there is a classic example where sales tax revenues are being diverted from other community needs in order to fund the stadium,” Lawson said. “That is unfair to all the taxpayers.”

‘Sick and Tired’

David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, says the public outcry about the proposed handout to the Browns was a welcome surprise.

“On one hand, I am surprised, because sports fans and citizens tend to support subsidies for stadiums, because they think it will bring them a championship or a revitalization of the area where the facility is built,” said Williams. “But people are sick and tired of their tax dollars being wasted on frivolous and unnecessary projects like sports facilities. People are becoming better educated about these expenditures and are starting to realize that these stadiums are a waste of money and should be paid for by owners of the teams, who are in many cases billionaires.”

Williams says he hopes the rejection of the Browns’ corporate welfare request is the beginning of a trend.

“With increased attention and visibility of the issue, fewer stadiums will be subsidized by taxpayers,” Williams said. “We hope that Cleveland leads the way in a nationwide rejection of taxpayer-funded stadiums.”

Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.