Thursday, March 11, 2004

Q&A: What's not to like about the deal?

What happened Wednesday?

Hamilton County commissioners decided to join a federal antitrust lawsuit that accuses the Bengals and the NFL of "extorting" money from taxpayers to build Paul Brown Stadium. The suit claims the NFL is a monopoly that secures stadium deals by threatening to move its teams.

What does it mean?

The county now will attempt to recover a substantial portion of the $450 million spent on the stadium. The lawsuit seeks more than $200 million on behalf of taxpayers.

What does the county not like about the stadium deal?

The Bengals' lease is one of the most generous in the NFL. It makes the county responsible for multimillion-dollar maintenance costs and technology upgrades at the stadium as well as the original construction costs. The team will pay rent of $11.7 million the first nine years of the lease, but the county could end up paying $29.4 million in game-day operation costs over the last nine years.

Why join the lawsuit now?

Judge S. Arthur Spiegel ruled last month that the lawsuit could go forward, denying the NFL's request to dismiss it. The judge also ruled that the county had legal standing to join the suit.

Hasn't this lawsuit been around awhile?

It was originally filed last year as a taxpayers' lawsuit by County Commissioner Todd Portune. Portune later dropped out of the suit after the state ethics commission told him that, as a commissioner, he had a conflict of interest.

Is this the only lawsuit of its kind?

A similar suit was filed in state court last year, but it was dismissed. That suit also claimed that Bengals officials had violated the stadium lease agreement because they failed to field a competitive team.

What does the county have to do to win?

Proving the NFL is a monopoly is not enough. The county also must prove the NFL used its monopoly power to conceal important information and essentially blackmailed the county into making a bad deal.

Has this approach worked before?

The NFL has been accused of abusing its monopoly power before, but not by a local government attempting to recover damages after building a stadium. Typically, cities sue after losing a team, not after signing a stadium deal to keep one.

Is the NFL a monopoly?

Many economists say yes, and it's obviously the nation's only major pro football league. The NFL, however, has argued that it is a free market competitor for entertainment dollars and is not in violation of antitrust laws.

How much will the lawsuit cost?

County commissioners agreed to spend no more than $100,000 on legal fees. They have hired Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley.

What's next?

The county is expected to seek a large number of sensitive financial records from the Bengals and NFL teams - records the league has been reluctant to make public.

Dan Horn

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