Posted November 15, 2013
Who’s paying? That’s the question left unanswered from the Cleveland Browns announcement of a proposed $120 million in improvements to the team’s home stadium. The team has qualified for an NFL loan, but the question was asked several times, and directly, if the team will ask the city of Cleveland to foot part of the bill. [+] EnlargeFirst Energy Stadium AP Photo/Scott Boehm First Energy Stadium is only 15 years but could see $120 million in improvements over the next two years. CEO Joe Banner consistently refused to answer, saying he did not want to release that information to the media before he gave the official proposal to Mayor Frank Jackson and the Cleveland City Council. He did talk confidently, saying it would all become clear soon and the team would be transparent. Which might indicate he was confident because he knows the team will not ask for much from the city. Stadium funding used to be an easy issue. The NFL or a team would threaten to move, and a city would bend over eight times to ensure the team stayed. It happened in Cleveland when the city rushed to approve building a new stadium to get a team back after Art Modell’s move. The intentions were noble; the city fought to keep an asset. But it built a flawed stadium in a bad spot that now needs significant upgrades in the eyes of the present owner. Getting to and from First Energy Stadium is a nightmare. The stadium itself has narrow concourses and the highest percentage of seats in the upper bowl of any stadium in the NFL (per Banner). There is nothing about it that speaks Cleveland, other than it’s located in the same spot as the old stadium, which also happens to be a prime lakefront area that would be lovely as a park that might be used more than 10 times a year. The Browns understand the issues. Banner said there were some brief discussions about starting over in a new spot, but they didn’t go far. Thus the improvements, most of which center on two new ginormous video boards that will take 3,000 seats -- and put Cleveland below 70,000 in capacity for the first time. Nowadays, cities are strapped for money -- especially a city like Cleveland. As a result, sports teams that are financed by lucrative TV deals are no longer given everything they want. It didn’t take long after the Browns' news conference ended for talk radio and fans to start complaining that the city should not pay a penny for the improvements. Most are cosmetic, and they will make a difference to the fan. But the average Cleveland resident can’t afford these games because he or she is suffering in a down economy. To be fair, the Browns never said they were asking the city for money. And it’s logical to think the mayor deserves to know first. But it’s also logical to think it would be a wise PR move to generate enthusiasm about the improvements before asking for money. The Browns are making a commitment to downtown Cleveland. In the same week that baseball’s Atlanta Braves announced a move out of the county and the city announced its baseball stadium will be demolished, the Browns conceded they will improve their stadium -- and will take up to $62.5 million in loans to do so. By the 2015 season the already-dated new stadium will be spruced up. We just don’t know at this point who’s paying for the rest of the sprucing.