Feb 6, 2023 - Sports

Cavs have turned Cleveland into one big block party

Donovan Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after a game with his teammates.

One big Cleveland party. Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

As you may have heard, our NBA team is pretty good this season, making a Cavs game one of the hottest commodities Cleveland has going right now.

  • Not wanting to feel left out, Sam and Troy attended a recent game to see what all the fuss is about.

What's happening: The Cavs will head into the NBA All-Star break this month with their highest attendance figures since LeBron James left in 2018.

Why it matters: As the Cavs go, so goes the downtown economy during the winter, according to David Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Cleveland.

  • "Having a really good team means more attendees, with a higher percentage of them from out of town," Gilbert tells Axios. "That's critical for downtown businesses that continue to struggle because offices have not filled back up post-COVID."

State of play: It's not just what's happening on the court.

  • In 2019, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse completed a $185 million transformation that included more VIP areas and concessions from some of Northeast Ohio's top chefs and brewers.
  • Last month, the arena opened a Caesars Sportsbook covering more than 10,000 square feet and featuring two full bars.

💭 Troy's thought bubble: There's a lot to take in, from the gourmet food to a surprising number of people there just to bet on games.

  • The concession areas are divided up into "neighborhoods" that make you feel like you're touring Cleveland's vibrant nightlife areas.

💭 Sam's thought bubble: From jerseys and athleisure wear to business suits and formal attire, there's a real diversity of apparel on the concourse that echoes the rich diversity of the fanbase.

The bottom line: Barring a disastrous collapse, the Cavs will make the playoffs in April, meaning Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will be an epicenter for sports, betting and concerts.

Yes, but: Don't forget about what's happening off the court.

Members of Greater Cleveland Congregations, the lead group opposing the Q Deal, on the steps of City Hall in 2017. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Catch up quick: In late 2016, the Cavaliers and local public officials announced what became known colloquially as "The Q Deal" — a lease extension keeping the Cavs in Cleveland through 2034 that involved millions of public dollars for arena upgrades.

  • Boosters sold the deal as a 50-50 split between team owner Dan Gilbert and the public; each party would pay $70 million.
  • Yes, but: Cuyahoga County bonded out the total initial value of the project ($140 million) and will pay $160 million or more to service the debt (principal plus interest) for years to come, largely from admission taxes.

Of note: The public contributions were promptly surpassed last year by the Progressive Field deal, which includes $285 million in public subsidies and impinges on the city and county general funds more directly than the Q Deal did.

  • Both could look downright thrifty compared with a new Browns stadium project, if owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam get their way.

The intrigue: Most economists agree there is no economic benefit to public subsidies for sports teams.

The bottom line: Cleveland is one of the two poorest big cities in the country, and the gulf between the haves and have-nots continues to widen, so it's important to scrutinize the costs and benefits of these deals

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