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Reds' Bobblehead Giveaways Are Safe At Home Says Supreme Court

There may be a free lunch but there is no such thing as a free bobblehead. That’s the gist of a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday that the Cincinnati Reds aren’t really giving away bobbleheads to fans, but selling them.  

At issue is whether the Reds have to pay Ohio’s use tax when it purchased bobblehead dolls to give away at games. 

“The Reds should have either been paying use tax because they were giving away items for free,” argued attorney Kody Teaford on behalf of the state tax commissioner during oral arguments in June, “or the Reds should have been paying sales tax because they were transferring tangible personal property for consideration.”

Reds attorney Steven Dimengo argued that what seemed free was actually a sale, the price of the dolls had been calculated in the price of admission.

“This transaction doesn’t have to be taxable sale,” said Dimengo.

Teaford argued that one way or another the Reds should pay.

Teaford: “All the other businesses that give away those promotional items, if the Reds rule is correct, should be collecting sale tax.”

Justice Fischer: “So if somebody during the game shoots a t-shirt up into the stands, they’re going to pay tax on that?”

Teaford: “That’s exactly what the Reds’ argument is.”   

The majority ruled in favor of the Reds saying the promotional items were part of the ticket sales and Ohio doesn’t tax ticket sales. The court pointed out its ruling only applied to the situation with the Reds, not necessarily other pro teams.

In his writing of the majority opinion Justice Patrick Fischer could not resist expressing his love for baseball, quoting the Reds’ radio announcers and referencing the 1972 US Supreme Court ruling exempting Major League Baseball from antitrust laws.

“Thus, in the familiar words of Marty Brennaman, longtime Reds radio announcer and recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award, we determine that ‘this one belongs to the Reds.’  We accordingly reverse the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals (“BTA”).”


For baseball buffs, here’s is the opening of Fischer’s ruling:

 {¶ 1} It would be an understatement to say that baseball has changed in dramatic ways since, as Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, the “Cincinnati Red Stockings came into existence in 1869 upon an outpouring of local pride,” Flood v.Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258, 261, 92 S.Ct. 2099, 32 L.Ed.2d 728 (1972).  From the 1890s, when National Baseball Hall of Fame legend and Newcomerstown, Ohio’s own Cy Young starred for the Cleveland Spiders; through the 1920s, when Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a native of Milville, Ohio, and a Hall of Famer, strove as Major League Baseball’s first commissioner to maintain the integrity of the game following the notorious Black Sox scandal; through the 1940s, when playermanager and Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau guided the Cleveland Indians to a World Series championship and was the American League’s Most Valuable Player (“MVP”) in 1948; through the 1950s and 1960s, when Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston of Venice, Ohio, and Miami University won four World Series titles with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers; through the Big Red Machine era of the 1970s; through the 1980s, when Dayton, Ohio, native, Ohio University alumnus, and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt won three National League MVP Awards and was named World Series MVP in 1980 for the Philadelphia Phillies; and into the 1990s, when Cincinnati’s homegrown Hall of Famer Barry Larkin led the Reds to a World Series Championship, professional baseball has seen the creation of the American League in 1900, the creation of the World Series in 1903, the first radio broadcast of a game in 1921, the first night game at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1935, the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson (in the National League) and Larry Doby (for the Indians in the American League), the first televised World Series in 1947, the establishment of the designated hitter in 1973, and the cancellation of the World Series due to a player strike in 1994.

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