Posted by Josh Katzowitz
You know things are going bad for your organization when the national media continues to blast you in the middle of the offseason and you have to keep responding in kind.
You remember ESPN The Magazine’s articles about the best franchise in sports? The Bengals finished 122 out of 122.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal stated that the Hamilton County (Ohio) deal with the Bengals was one of the “worst professional sports deals ever struck by a local government.” The WSJ writes that the cost to Hamilton County taxpayers last year was $34.6 million -- equal to 16.4 percent of the county’s budget.
It was obviously a big “ouch” to a franchise that is certainly not beloved by its fans (because it seems that most of the time, the team doesn’t care much at all about the fans or the county that helped give the Bengals all that stadium money).
From the story:
With a combined estimated cost of $540 million, the stadiums -- one for football's Bengals, the other for baseball's Reds -- were touted by the teams and county officials as a way to generate cash and jobs. The Bengals, who had threatened to relocate if they didn't secure a new home, drove negotiations. And it is that deal -- the more lucrative arrangement struck with the teams -- that has fanned the county's current struggles.
An analysis by The Wall Street Journal shows that of the 23 National Football League stadiums built or renovated between 1992 and 2010, only two involved a single county government willing to shoulder the debt burden necessary to build costly new facilities. Of those 23 deals, the Bengals pact was unusually lopsided in favor of the team and risky for taxpayers -- the result of strained negotiations between a local government and the professional sports team it was anxious to keep.
At its completion in 2000, Paul Brown Stadium had soared over its $280 million budget -- and the fiscal finger-pointing had already begun.
The final cost, depending on whether you believe the Bengals or the county, was between $350 million and $454 million. But a Harvard professor who studies stadium finances puts the number at $555 million when you factor in other expenditures. No stadium in the country has received more money from its home county.
Also, and this is what really pisses off the Cincinnati population, is that the county agreed to pay for most of the operating and capital improvement costs -- which then benefits the franchise and makes the Bengals more money.
Today, on its website, the Bengals responded. Here’s part of the letter written to the Journal by Bengals VP Troy Blackburn:
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s Journal article lost its way when it tried to ascribe blame for municipal finances on the stadium deals, rather than on the real cause: municipal spending on unapproved new projects that lacked funding sources. The stadium story in Cincinnati is an old one dating back decades and Tuesday’s story unfortunately misstated a good bit of that history (like misstating construction costs (which were the same here as elsewhere), misstating lease terms (which were the same here as elsewhere), ignoring that stadium funds are segregated and don’t affect municipal services, or overlooking the state of Ohio’s financial support (which reduced the local funding burden and was akin to what Ohio and Pennsylvania did on other stadium projects)).
However, there was a real story that could have been covered Tuesday -- a story written about before in these pages: what is to be done when municipalities spend money they don’t have and move forward with projects voters didn’t approve (Editors note: this project was, in fact, approved by Hamilton County voters)? We are sorry the Journal missed the real story -- despite our suggestions to the contrary -- but we are confident that the Journal will better focus on the real issue next time -- one that is critical for America’s future.
In the statement, the Bengals also claim the WSJ had a number of misstatements, which they list on the website.
More so than maybe any other team, the Bengals are ready for the lockout to be over. Just so its fans can return to talking about what should be another mediocre Cincinnati squad.
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