Battling for Tax-Free Bobbleheads: Will Reds Win in Court?

This has not been a good year for the Cincinnati Reds. With just 25 wins in 68 games they have the worst record in the National League. While they have one of the best players in baseball–Joey Votto–the rest of the team leaves something to be desired. They’ve been outscored, out-pitched, and out-defended. And now they’re at the Ohio Supreme Court in a case about bobbleheads.

Yes, bobbleheads. The Department of Taxation conducted an audit of the Reds and determined (among other things) that promotional items were subject to Use Tax. Use Tax is the equivalent of sales tax when something is purchased without sales tax being applied. The Reds argued that a portion of the ticket price (for a Reds game) was for the promotional item; the Department of Taxation felt otherwise. The Reds appealed to the Board of Tax Appeals. The Board noted,

[W]e conclude that the promotional items given to patrons on specific game days were not “resold” to the patrons as part of the ticket price of admission, but were given away for free, primarily to increase interest in certain targeted games or generally increase interest among a broader audience. The evidence in the record supports our conclusion that the cost of the subject promotional items is not included in the ticket price. Specifically, the ticket price for each particular seat is the same throughout an entire season, regardless of whether a promotional item is being offered. Moreover,
patrons are not guaranteed that they will receive one of the promotional items, as there are limited quantities that are distributed while supplies last…[We] cannot conclude that the Reds’ patrons are actually “purchasing” a promotional item, especially when they are attending a game where there is no promotional giveaway.

The Reds have appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Reds argue,

“The issue, simply put, is whether the Reds were obligated to provide the bobbleheads,” [Reds Attorney Steven] Dimengo said.

“Applying fundamental contract law, there was consideration… the consideration of the patrons to purchase a ticket and attend a game, he said. “And the Reds were obligated to provide the bobbleheads, consistent with their pregame promises.”

You can watch the oral arguments (held yesterday) at this link. A decision should be released in a few months.

Hat Tip: How Appealing

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