It’s now been nearly six months since the Browns pulled the trigger on a trade for then-Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
In March, the Browns traded three first-round picks and a handful of others to trade for Watson.
Watson faced a criminal, civil, and league investigation into over 20 counts of serious sexual misconduct and assault.
Nonetheless, the Browns traded for Watson; then, the team handed him a fully guaranteed four-year $230 million deal.
And while much has been said about the callousness of the move, the potentially catastrophic cap effects, and the drawing of family lines over the trade, there’s only one proven motivator for team owners in situations like this: the bottom line.
And with a six-month window comes an ample sample size to see how the move has affected the team’s finances.
Pick Your Poison
Outwardly, the Browns ownership has maintained that everything is as normal as Tuesday coming after Monday.
According to owner Jimmy Haslam, ticket sales haven’t dipped.
They’ve raised, as he mentioned to reporters back in March:
“We haven’t seen numbers the last couple of days, the last time we looked, and it’s a little misleading because the renewal date I think ends either today or next Friday and so there’s a rush, but it appears there are way more people renewing than canceling tickets.”
But a recent deep dive by Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic painted a slightly different picture.
Kaplan took a look at the Browns’ ticket sales on the secondary market, looking to see if prices had gone up or down in the wake of the Watson trade.
While Browns management boasts of a season-ticket waiting list, there has been some decline in ticket prices:
“According to TicketIQ, which tracks the secondary ticket market, the value of Browns tickets has declined 36 percent from the level of last year at this time. That is the second-biggest percentage drop of the NFL’s 32 teams, besting only the scandal-ridden Washington Commanders.”
The Washington Commanders are possibly the worst company to be in.
But we should be cautious about what we glean from those numbers.
A #Browns rookie that surprised some in preseason week 1?
DE Isaiah Thomas
2 sacks and 3 TFL
You can never have enough solid pass rushers on defense. Great to see this team will have some depth at this position
— Mac🦬 (@tha_buffalo) August 15, 2022
It would be a rush to say that the decline is because Watson is on the team in some sort of financial backlash against the Browns.
Prices for the Browns’ Week Seven matchup (when Watson would return from a six-game suspension), soared after the announcement of Watson’s suspension.
So let’s be clear: fans are still interested in seeing Watson.
And they’re willing to pay for it.
No Loss, But No Gain
Another variable Kaplan examined revolved around sponsorships.
And while none of Cleveland’s top sponsors abandoned ship after the Watson trade, there hasn’t been a wild uptick in investors, either.
And in this business, that’s a problem, according to Chris Lechenski, a sports and entertainment exec:
“In a business where if you’re not pushing forward, you’re falling behind. They’re falling behind because of this particular trade. No matter which way you stand on the situation with Mr. Watson, I would suggest that it’s not been made easier for the office to go out and seek any new levels of significant seven-figure type sponsorships.”
The status quo is rarely a good place to be in professional sports.
Teams and front offices need to keep their foot on the pedal, looking for new angles and ways to attract fans and investors.
A source tells PFN that a full-year suspension for #Browns QB Deshaun Watson is a “slam dunk.”
We're currently waiting to hear the decision by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 14, 2022
Ultimately, time will tell if Watson seriously dents Cleveland’s bottom line.
As it stands now, the answer is a resounding no.
And in this business, the bottom line is the only figure that keeps owners up at night.