In the battle over taxing bobbleheads: ‘This one belongs to the Reds’ By Jessie Balmert

COLUMBUS – The Cincinnati Reds won a big one Wednesday – not on the field but in the court.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the Cincinnati Reds aren’t required to pay taxes on promotional products from bobbleheads to t-shirts and players’ cards. 

The reason: the Reds factor the cost of bobbleheads and other items, used to entice fans to less-competitive games, into the price of their tickets.

But Justice Patrick Fischer warned that this doesn’t create a bobblehead loophole. Other teams might discount those tickets instead. If that’s the case, they still might need to pay taxes on promotional items.

The case arose when the Ohio Department of Taxation told the Reds that they owed about $88,000 in taxes for bobbleheads and other items distributed between 2008 and 2010. Tax officials argued that the Reds didn’t charge a separate, distinct amount for the bobbleheads. And tickets didn’t cost more on bobblehead days either.

Fischer, a St. Xavier High School graduate, had a little fun with his majority opinion, even recounting the history of baseball in Ohio from National Baseball Hall of Fame legend Cy Young, of Newcomerstown, to Cincinnati’s Barry Larkin. 

“Faced with rising ticket prices and increasing entertainment options, Major League Baseball has experienced challenges in getting fans to attend games,” Fischer wrote. 

Enter bobbleheads, shirts, blankets, caps, player cards, tote bags, magnetic schedules and bats. 

The Reds advertise which games will include promotional items in advance so fans purchase their tickets expecting to receive the bobblehead or t-shirt, Reds’ chief financial officer, Doug Healy, explained to tax officials.

Justice Mary DeGenaro disagreed, writing that the Reds should have paid taxes on promotional items. Oftentimes a limited quantity of bobbleheads or t-shirts would mean fans wouldn’t get one. So the price of the bobblehead wasn’t factored into their tickets, she argued.