June 3rd, 2017

Can Cleveland continue to lose population and keep three major league sports teams?

The answer: NO.

Something has to go. Or some team has to go.

Which one? I don’t know.

But within the decade one will go.

In the meantime a stalemate seems to continue on the funding of the expansion of the Quicken Arena.

This sneaky deal gives Dan Gilbert a brand new venue to compete, not against other teams, but other event venues in Cleveland. Why are we paying for it?

The City Council and Mayor Frank Jackson have until June 7th to decide if a compromise can be had with the forces that gathered an amazing 20,000 plus signatures to put the issue of the city’s funding portion ($88 million at least) to the test of voters. The city now rejects the citizens.

If a compromise isn’t hit the Greater Cleveland Congregations will go to court to force recognition of more than the 20,000 Cleveland signers of the petition, gathered with the help of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus and unions. The GCC is comprised of various religious and other entities.

In a short time, less than a month, they collected the impressive number of signatures. You’d think that would attract attention. Here and around the nation.

In an election year, the response in essence tells a story of community unrest that should test incumbents, especially Mayor Jackson. He has drawn a number of opponents including two council members with constituencies and ability to arouse citizen action—Jeff Johnson and Zack Reed.

Here’s the warning addressed to the city by Subodh Chandra of the Chandra law firm:

Council Clerk unlawfully refused to accept referendum petition as required by the Ohio Revised Code and City of Cleveland Charter. If law director refuses to take corrective action, taxpayers will exercise right to file lawsuit to compel Clerk to fulfill her legal duties.

Chandra is a former law director of the City of Cleveland.

This apparently has scared off Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

The County, which was expected to go to market with $140 million in bonds already, has held off, apparently because of the unresolved issue with the city.

What is most strange about the volatile community issue is the almost complete silence by the Plain Dealer of the disputed signatures.

You would think that the gathering of more than 20,000 signatures among the public in a city with a rather docile citizenry would have triggered at least some editorial opinion. Nothing to say?

But Elizabeth Sullivan’s editorial staff has been silent, or silenced. The void left by the editorialists strains one’s comprehension. It amounts to journalistic malpractice. The targets are so enticing. Is everyone asleep?

The only way this void can be read is that the PD‘s treatment, or lack of it, means the PD is 100 percent for the deal as is and that it is protective of Mayor Jackson, who favors the arrangement.

None of the columnists have given voice to the apparent strong expression of public sentiment. This also amounts to journalistic negligence. One can’t imagine that the issue hasn’t tempted a columnist to have enough interest to strike out an opinion. After all, what’s involved—the most popular team in town, lots of money and plenty of politics. Why would it not entice interest?

Neither has the Plain Dealer nor showed much interest in the details of the deal, other than what has been handed them by those interested parties—city, county, team ownership. Where is enterprise journalism?

More has been done in investigating this deal in the Scene, the city’s alternative newspaper, by reporter Sam Allard. Shames the PD.

The night of presentation of the signatures, the Monday Council meeting was raucous, according to people who were there. Not a single television station reported the citizen reaction. I was told the crowd told “Shame! It was good theater and evidence of an active citizenry. But the screens never showed the citizen participation.

I’ve been around newspapers and broadcasters too long to not smell what’s going on. The fix is in.

The problem is”—we can’t afford it. But you’ll have to wait a while for that to become evident. And you won’t read it in the newspaper, at least not the truth of it.

The disgrace of it is that even if the 20,000 signatures win it doesn’t mean the arena deal will dissolve. It only means a few scarps of patronage will be tossed to the neighborhoods. And you won’t be able to really see it. Maybe this is only a first step. Lets hope.

I had a former mayoral candidate recently react unbelieving when I said that we can’t afford the three major league teams. “What else do we have?” was his response.

If that’s all Cleveland has, it’s worse than it seems.

Get a life, folks.


Here’s an assessment of cities with too many or two few sports teams and Cleveland’s rating by SMARTASSET:

Cleveland, Ohio—

Cleveland is often cited as the country’s most miserable sports city, with no titles since 1964 despite a number of famously heartbreaking close calls. [A 2015 published date, RB). Among the travails through which Cleveland has suffered was the temporary loss of the Browns, who moved to Baltimore but were replaced three years later (as part of settlement between the city and the NFL) by an expansion team.

That story had a happy ending but if our model is correct, the next may not. Based on population and income alone, Cleveland’s three professional sports teams should be closer to one. Indians, Browns and Cavaliers fans: which team would you keep?

That’s not just my opinion.

By Roldo Bartimole…


  1. Daniel McGraw says:

    Great stuff again, Roldo. You are so right about the economics of the CLE pop. and how that affects the local sports teams. For the Indians, the reigning AL Champions, they are 27th out of 30 teams in attendance so far this 2017 season. 29,000 per game league average for the league, with CLE averaging 21,000. Only ahead of economically shaky teams MIA OAK and TB. And this is with one-third of the season done.This is the most obvious data/reason that the city has too many teams right now. A CLE team that made the world championship series in their league can’t draw under the current economics of NE Ohio. Is it not more obvious?

  2. Mike Burkons says:

    Good post. However, we aren’t the only city with more teams than the population can support. The expansions of all the major sports leagues have done this.

    My point is Dan Gilbert, the Dolans and Haslem don’t and won’t have a better option to ever move the team. City leaders should realize this, say no to more subsidies and these teams still won’t move anywhere.

  3. Dan: Thanks for that info. I hadn’t realized that the team is drawing so badly while playing pretty good baseball again this season. We’re saddled with incredible costs and more to come.

    Mike: We aren’t the only city as you say but there are growing cities elsewhere, one right down the road in Columbus. The loss of population here goes with the loss of jobs that means fewer people paying the costs.

    Time will tell but reality has its way of forcing different decisions.

  4. MFiala says:

    I’m glad to see that Sam Allard’s journalist work in the Scene has been highlighted. He has indeed done his job, an excellent one, on this issue.

    The posts on baseball attendance in Cleveland and others cities’ depopulation are important points, too.

    It leads one to wonder how long before the sport bubbles burst.

    Or is it some other force driving all this?

    In the larger ARENA, it seems that Sports has taken on the role of ‘social glue’ that, in previous ages, religion served. It’s hard to put a price on it.

    This, in part, is what their supporters say. …’we can’t be a major league city without all these teams.’

    It is a sad argument, but it tells a truth.

    Teams stand in for a larger purpose – unifying people with no other connection.

    Even as it is frayed when ticket prices become prohibitive.

    Media but inflames interest and caters to their advertisers.

    It’s all legitimated publicly by a social protocol that loses its sense under close examination.

    Just think how Destination Cleveland promotes its ‘supposed research’ about people are ‘feeling better’ about Cleveland since the RNC, NBA title, et al.

    That is why the GCC and Cuyahoga Progressive Caucus are such an achievement, bridging secular and religious interests.

    It’s the only gross, thoroughly gross, inequities of the Q deal that have led to the outrage.

    (The other sports’ deals require amnesia while the Q deal is dealth with, only to have everything reshuffled later.)

    The current status quo can’t address these gross inequities, and have not even give the veneer of democracy by fighting the referendum with a bloated advertising binge!

    The opposition coalition to the Q deal has done a good job of separating ‘fan support of the team’ from the economics of the issue. I find it not possible. Just as with advertising: Just SAY NO.

    The PD … like most mainstream Media are cheerleaders.

    All journalism is a moral statement.

    Because it is based on a point of view and some relationship to facts. Not just the facts.

    Why this examination of the obvious.

    It is the only way i can keep my sanity as so much of Cleveland, especially our leaders (almost all of them) cheer deals with no economic sense. And no, or almost no, ability to be honest about the costs.

    (Or do they actually believe their own lies? It’s hard to know because the political workers are afraid or do not (cannot) express nuance or disagreement publicly.)

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