The race to be the best in the sports world can be exhausting. Every season teams will employ and deploy athletes to put their bodies on the line for fame and accolades, all while trying to stake their claim that they’re better than everyone else. Sure, it’s a modern take on depressingly medieval gladiatorial entertainment within the confines of a stadium where said athletes are only viewed as objects of our entertainment and desire. It’s a reminder of the unfortunate nature of the beast at the end of the day.
It’s also why the sports industry is so incredibly lucrative as well. According to Statista, the industry globally made approximately $354.9 billion in 2021, was on pace to make $501.4 billion in 2022 and is expected to rake in $707.8 billion by 2026. By crunching the numbers, the United States alone will make approximately $39.6 billion in 2023. On a more local scale, according to Forbes, the Cleveland Browns are worth $3.8 billion, the Cleveland Cavaliers are worth $2.05 billion and the Cleveland Guardians are worth $1.3 billion.
In the grand scheme of the leagues they compete in, the Browns are the twenty-first most valuable franchise, the Cavaliers are the seventeenth and the Guardians are the twenty-fourth most valuable. Again, in the sports world, it’s a constant and never-ending competition to be the best. Understandably, it’s why you see organizations from any league pining for greener pastures to play. In the famous words of Ricky Bobby – if you ain’t first, you’re last and that applies to any angle of sports, venues included.
Every day, these organizations share renderings of proposed stadiums that, they believe, will make them the best within their market and in the leagues they play. The Buffalo Bills are currently doing it on social media and the Los Angeles Clippers have dedicated a website to their new space-age egg. The Cincinnati Bengals, of all teams, have a clause in their lease that will ensure they always keep up with whatever is modern or relevant and make Paycor Stadium a beacon of everything and everything deemed suitable to football.
As time goes on, this will only become more expansive. Every team will want a new arena in some capacity or the means to refurbish what currently exists to keep up with the pack. In a perfect world, that’s fine, considering how much money the sports industry makes organizations and the billionaires owning them. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and instead exist in one that’s much harsher.
Those billionaires mentioned above enjoy their affluent lifestyle and the luxuries and financial gain of owning a sports club. So, when it comes to footing the bill for these new stadiums and amenities, who pays it? It’s you. You and other taxpayers and city-goers will see your hard-earned money go towards these excessively lavish monuments to entertainment. Sure, other factors are involved, including the ownership and the league’s helping fund these stadium projects. But it’s typically community residents that end up paying for most of, if not all, of the work involved.
So, with the Browns’ lease at FirstEnergy Stadium set to expire in 2028, the clock is ticking regarding the future of the team’s home. Citing sources on Monday night, NEOtrans blog’s Ken Prendergast reported that the team has its sights set on a new football and multi-purpose stadium along with a supportive development in downtown Cleveland and has been eyeing a new stadium near the lakefront immediately east of downtown. The report also states that Mayor Justin Bibb and his administration have yet to be as eager to move forward with plans for a new stadium, preferring first to seek input from the community.
The problem is, despite whatever input from the community that may come, parties will cave and the Browns will eventually get what they want. It’s been a little over two decades since the team left town for Baltimore over a dispute of a new stadium. The old Browns leaving town helped pave the wave for First Energy Stadium to be built along the shoreline of Lake Erie and, eventually, the new Browns came into place.
It also paved the way for Ohio Revised Code Section 9.67, also known as the Art Modell Law, to be coded into law. The Art Modell Law prohibits professional sports teams in Ohio, where the Browns’ stadium was built using public tax funds, from relocating. That is, of course, unless the Browns, or any team in Ohio, enter an agreement with the political subdivision to play their games elsewhere, given that they also have six months’ notice.
Sure, it may not get to that point, but the fear of the Browns leaving again will be on everyone’s mind during this process. It was too far traumatic of an experience after the City of Cleveland called Modell’s bluff in the 90s that left a deeply-cut wound. So, that ultimately gives the Browns a ton of leverage to ask for an inch and take a mile when negotiations begin. A brand new location along the east side on the lakefront? Of course! Do they want a dome on their stadium? Why not. How about tearing down parts of the surrounding community to add shops, restaurants, and the like? Absolutely. How about eventually gentrifying the features of the community not immediately affected? So, when the time comes, only the wealthy can afford to live there or even attend Browns games in person? That’s the plan since the sports money machine’s hunger is never-ending.
Of course, this is a pessimistic projection, but it’s not hard to see the forest for the trees regarding these negotiations. If the Browns don’t get their stadium and everything they want with it, they can try to take their ball and go home. The thing is, it’ll be a new home and a new nightmare for Cleveland, its fanbase and the surrounding community. So, when negotiations come to a head, don’t be surprised that the Browns get precisely what they want and how they want it.
Unfortunately, it’s a constant reminder of how vicious and all-consuming the sports industrial complex has become – especially for a former major city like Cleveland. Sure, the Browns are a staple of the community and more or less the city’s cultural backbone. But, when looking at how infrastructure in various pockets of Cleveland has fallen to the wayside, it’s hard to stomach the idea of forking over money to a team worth roughly $3.8 billion and a man in Browns owner Jimmy Haslam worth approximately $4.8 billion to scratch his ego with a shiny new stadium. That money could help re-pave roads, be given to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, or create programs that support those who need it more than anyone.
Instead, unfortunately, it’ll likely go back to the multi-billion dollar industry, the multi-billion dollar organization and the multi-billion dollar owner, all while pushing those in need out to give them the space for a new stadium. When you look at it through that lens, it doesn’t matter that Cleveland could host a College Football Playoff game or even a Super Bowl one day if a new stadium were built. The economic boost from that would only be temporary in the grand scheme of things, while the socionomic impact would be much more enduring.
That’s part of what makes the sports industry so exhausting at times. This constant desire to push to be the best seems irrelevant if it costs you the fabric of your existence. But, as things become more expensive, moral compasses start to spin and the desire to become the wealthiest, and the best, consumes and eventually feasts.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
Did you enjoy this story from Right Down Euclid? Then you should become a paid supporter of the website. Every dollar goes right back into making fully independent Cleveland sports coverage possible.
Thanks for reading! If you appreciate Right Down Euclid’s coverage of the Cavs, you can help make it happen.
It takes resources to report on games and travel to watch the team in their push for the playoffs. Can you pitch in a few dollars to go towards more original, in-depth stories and analysis?