Ohio official's idea: Bad teams get less tax money

CLEVELAND (AP) — To downtrodden fans accustomed to heartbreak, it might seem an exercise in futility: A top county official and gubernatorial candidate has suggested divvying up maintenance money for Cleveland's three professional sports venues based on the teams' performance.

Ed FitzGerald said Thursday that the idea hasn't been tried elsewhere. But how do you decide who performs best when these teams typically wallow in mediocrity — or worse? Cuyahoga County voters in May approved a 20-year extension of a sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes that's projected to raise $26 million annually. FitzGerald wants the three teams to compete for 20 percent of that money based on how well they play. He would create a fan advisory committee to establish the criteria for judging performance and which team gets the biggest share of the cash, which like all sin tax money can only be spent on maintenance for the venues.

FitzGerald on Thursday called it a "win" tax. He noted that a Cleveland team hasn't won a world championship in 50 years, something fans don't needed to be reminded about. Form a panel of dyed-in-the-wool Cleveland sports fans fed up with their teams' losing ways and management's questionable decisions, and they might be tempted to tell FitzGerald to keep the money.

Bob Paponetti, a 56-year-old lifelong fan of Cleveland sports teams who bought some Indians gear for a friend Thursday, said he didn't like the idea of teams having to compete against each other for money.

"They should all be supportive of each other," he said. City of Cleveland spokeswoman Maureen Harper said the city thinks the money should be split evenly. Cleveland owns FirstEnergy Stadium, where the Browns try to play football. Progressive Field, where the Indians play, and Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavaliers, are owned by the quasi-governmental Gateway Corp.

A Republican candidate for county executive and a county councilman panned the idea. The Ohio Republican Party called it a publicity stunt. Representatives from the three teams issued terse "no comments."

Clevelanders haven't had much to cheer about the last 50 years. No major Cleveland franchise has won a world championship since Blanton Collier's Browns beat the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, in 1964. The Indians made it to the World Series twice in the 1990s and were one out away from winning the title in 1997. Jose Mesa, the Indians' closer who blew the most crucial of saves, remains both an expletive and Cleveland's version of Bill Buckner.

Hope sprung eternal when the Cavaliers drafted local hero and current basketball legend LeBron James in 2003. But the Cavaliers' single appearance in the NBA finals with James resulted in a merciless sweep by the San Antonio Spurs. He then took his considerable talent to Miami in 2010, and the Cavaliers have not made the playoffs since. James, meanwhile, has a chance to soon win his third NBA title.

The Browns? It's arguable, perhaps likely, that the Browns are the most loved and most reviled of all the professional franchises in Cleveland. Love and hate. Hope and despair. If the Browns ever wanted to put something on the bare sides of their orange helmets, the Chinese symbol for yin and yang might get a few votes.

A Sunday in Cleveland during the NFL season is a time to pray and wonder why God hates the Browns and its fans. Yet Sunday after Sunday, diehards sit in front of their televisions or squeeze into expensive seats at FirstEnergy Stadium and typically suffer the consequences.

Edward Bass-Bey, a 65-year-old sports fan, remembers his father taking him to a 1964 game in which Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown slowly rose after being tackled only to bolt through another hole in the line on the next play.

"We're pitting one against the other," Bass-Bey said of Fitzgerald's plan. "Cleveland sports fans should be Cleveland sports fans."

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