Thursday, August 5, 2004

Suit against Bengals drags out old issues


There is an old saying that you don't go forward with your head pointed backward. That saying is never more true than today with the wasteful lawsuits being brought by Hamilton County.

Instead of looking ahead to the upcoming football season, or rooting the Reds on to a stretch run, or celebrating the opening of the Freedom Center, or looking with excitement to Monday Night Football - all fruits of Cincinnati's new riverfront - our community is centered on lawsuits that re-live what the community went through eight years ago.

Many of the wild accusations being made by politicians facing election are just that. For another perspective, I offer this:

• Communities regularly sue their sports teams when they leave town; Hamilton County is the only municipality to sue its National Football League franchise for staying in its home market.

• Hamilton County's antitrust claims have no merit. A federal court in St. Louis dismissed similar claims in 1997 over the Rams' move from Los Angeles to St. Louis.

• While Hamilton County's claims are weak, they will attract attention to themselves. Is this community really better off having the Monday Night Football crew focusing on lawsuits rather than Chad Johnson?

• Hamilton County didn't "get taken" on the stadium deal. Rather, it used national experts who secured a deal similar to what Cleveland got with the Browns and also negotiated for Hamilton County the lease with the Reds.

• The Bengals were on far from strong financial footing at Cinergy Field. When we left that building in 1999, the Bengals were dead last in the NFL in revenues.

• Hamilton County did not agree in some "sleight of hand" to pay the Bengals' taxes. Instead, the county wanted to sell seat licenses, wanted all the revenue from them, and agreed to take any costs, including tax liability, associated with them. The county agreed to this in the lease in 1997 and reaffirmed its obligation contractually twice (in 2000 and 2002).

• The Bengals did not pay their owners $100 million in profits. Under Internal Revenue Service code, the Bengals are a "pass-through entity" and pay taxes at the shareholder level. The numbers publicized reflect the Bengals' taxes, not their profit. In reality, since Paul Brown Stadium opened, the Bengals have not paid a penny of profit to their owners.

• The county's fiscal issues result from the economic downturn - for which the politicians now want the Bengals to pay.

So if we view this lawsuit as a waste, why did the Bengals file counterclaims? Simple: We had to. Hamilton County would have argued that all claims arising out of the lease had to be brought with its lawsuit because the law requires related claims to be brought together. If we held off on our counterclaims, the county would have said we waived them.

What are the counterclaims? We are asking the county to fix construction problems and to resolve the taxes owed on the county's income. We know that Paul Brown Stadium is a great stadium, but the fact is there were errors during construction. If there are no issues, why are there numerous reports from the county's own experts identifying the errors, why have we spent so much time working with the county to try to address them, and why is the county paying an Indianapolis law firm millions of dollars to resolve stadium construction issues? Any recovery on these issues goes to finish the stadium, not to the Bengals.

Rather than look backward at these stale issues, we are going to look ahead. We will work hard to win games. We will work hard to have a great 2004 season and get into the playoffs. You'll forgive us for not trying to rebut every falsehood spread by politicians, but our focus will be elsewhere. As the season begins, we wanted to set the record straight as best we could. We hope others agree that looking backward is the wrong direction for our hometown.

Troy Blackburn is director of business development for the Bengals.

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