“We’ve asked, as fans and taxpayers, if money goes into a stadium, then shouldn’t we have an equitable stake in the team?” Frederick says.
It wasn’t enough that Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown got 95 percent public financing for Paul Brown Stadium, which cost $455 million. The Bengals also got a sweetheart 27-year lease that said they didn’t have to pay rent after 2009. Taxpayers cover maintenance, and most of the yearly operating costs. The bill for 2009 came to almost $9 million. Meantime, the Bengals get to keep the naming rights, and revenue from advertising, tickets, luxury suites, concessions, and most of the parking. All of which makes them one of the most profitable teams in the league — with a 4-12 record.
According to stadium watchdog Neil deMause, author of “Field of Schemes,” the Bengals also have a draconian “state of the art” clause. “Cincinnati has a list of things that have to be installed if other teams get them, like, ‘a holographic replay,’ ” deMause says. The St. Louis Rams have a similar clause.
Obviously, NFL owners don’t realize how good they’ve had it. Nor do they recognize how they look and sound to the rest of us when they rake in huge revenue but cry poor.
All of which should cause us to reassess our municipal relationships to the league. There is nothing inherently wrong with spending some public money for our entertainment — owners do make significant investments in their teams, and some of them may deserve help with long-term expenses and obligations. But that doesn’t mean we should fling hundreds of millions of government funds to preferred wealthy individuals, just so they can repay us with price gouging, and a shutdown.
Where is it written that owners are entitled to the lion’s share of revenues from structures we help build and support? The next time an NFL owner comes to a city and demands public financing, these should be the terms: The municipality should get a portion of the concessions, naming rights, and stadium advertising revenue, and 100 percent of the parking fees. If the owner protests, the mayor should tell him fans are sick of paying for Lurie’s private bowling alley, and Stan Kroenke’s vineyards, and not getting a vote.