Ohio sports teams seek state money to host major events

Representatives from the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, Columbus Blue Jackets, Cincinnati Reds and FC Cincinnati testified Tuesday in favor of House Bill 531.
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Representatives from the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, Columbus Blue Jackets, Cincinnati Reds and FC Cincinnati testified Tuesday in favor of House Bill 531.

Lawmakers are considering a bill to funnel more money into cities that host major sporting events, such as the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Columbus or the NCAA Men’s Division I wrestling championship in Cleveland, and the legislation is backed by big names in the business of sports.

Representatives from the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, Columbus Blue Jackets, Cincinnati Reds and FC Cincinnati testified Tuesday in favor of House Bill 531.

Nearly a decade ago, the state set up a grant program to help local organizations host major sporting events. The maximum grant is $500,000. Ohio has paid out $2 million under that grant program since 2014 for six events — three in Cleveland and three in Columbus. The state allocated another $500,000 for Cincinnati to host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

But the current program requires lawmakers to vote to appropriate the money during two-year legislative sessions. Bidding on tournaments and other events often starts six years before the sporting event is held, said supporters of the new program.

“I think it’s important to have this funding mechanism in place on a consistent basis,” said Dennis Lehman, executive vice president for business operations for the Cleveland Indians.

He noted that hotel rooms are already booked in Cleveland for the 2019 MLB All-Star Game.

House Bill 531 would wipe out grant limits and would set up a new pool of money, funded through increased tax revenues from the sporting events that generate at least $250,000 in new tax revenues for the state. Half of the increased taxes would go to the state, while the other half would go to the local host community to cover eligible expenses such as marketing, hospitality or security.

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State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said he wants more information about how economic activity will be calculated and whether hotel rooms sold in Kentucky for Cincinnati-area events would be included in the calculation.

David Gilbert, chief executive of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, said in a good year, Ohio might host one or two events that are large enough to generate at least $250,000 in additional money.

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