In the late 1970s, Franklin County bought the Columbus Clippers for $25,000. The investment was a home run.
Located in the Arena District, the Clippers and Huntington Park, which are run in tandem by the county, finished 2015 with a profit of $1.33 million, driven by $12.4 million in revenue. That’s up $424,000 from 2014, according to an annual financial report.
Ticket sales brought in $4.4 million, followed by $4.26 million from sponsorships and advertising and $2.36 million from concessions.
Franklin County through the board of its Parks and Recreation Department, owns and operates Franklin County Stadium Inc. and Columbus Baseball Team Inc., the nonprofits that manage Huntington Park and the business side of the Clippers. Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians select and pay the players and coaches. Franklin County handles just about everything else.
If you think this setup – a government entity operating a sports franchise – is unusual, you’re correct.
“It’s becoming more and more uncommon,” said Clippers President and General Manager Ken Schnacke. “It’s unique in that it’s kind of a dying breed.”
Schnacke said the Toledo Mud Hens, who compete against the Clippers, were publicly owned for a time. The Memphis Redbirds used to run as a nonprofit, but the team was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014. Franklin County Administrator Kenneth Wilson said the only other organization he’s aware of that still operates in a similar manner is the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.
Its rarity doesn’t seem to be a function of risk or historical failures, however. Schnacke and Wilson both told me price tags are likely what is preventing other cities and counties from doing something similar.
“It would require a lot of capital,” Wilson said. “A lot of them would likely have to have a bond issuance.”
Schnacke told me the Clippers are worth $25 million. A 2013 Forbes reportvalued most clubs of similar size somewhere around there, give or take a few million.
Wilson said the downtown Columbus community is “extremely fortunate” the county bought the team and that it has benefitted from “tremendous” growth of the International League, the league the Clippers play in.