Last year, voters in Cuyahoga County approved a 20-year extension of a sin tax to pay for upkeep on Cleveland's three pro sports stadiums. Today, one elected official presented a proposal to tie part of that payout to the teams' performance. He calls it, a little obviously, a "win tax."
The tax on cigarettes and alcohol is expected to raise at least $260 million over the next two decades, with the money earmarked for improvements and repairs to FirstEnergy Stadium, Progressive Field, and Quicken Loans Arena. The measure passed, but it hasn't yet been agreed how to distribute the money. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald wants 20 percent of that annual payout to be contingent on where the Browns, Indians, and Cavs appear in the standings each year.
"We love these teams, we're loyal to these teams and we're committed to maintaining these facilities. But we can also try to demand to get something a little bit better than we've gotten over the past 50 years," FitzGerald said.
Tying funding to performance, while intriguing as a concept, has a number of things against it. For one, there are often times when it's good to lose, like when tanking for a draft pick; You don't want to provide incentives for any team to strive for middle-of-the-pack. For another, winning can't be correlated to public economic benefit; No matter how well a team does, it's still getting basically getting money for nothing.
FitzGerald hasn't provided details on how to tie performance to payout—he suggested a "fan council" to divvy up the money—so it seems unlikely that this is more than a publicity stunt. But it's not a bad one! At a time when local governments regularly hand over hundreds of millions in public funds to sports team owners, any rabble-rousing about forcing owners to give back—like an Orlando proposal that would require a new MLS team to give a share of ownership to the city and county—is welcome.