The big central Indiana sports story this morning is the announcement from the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board (CIB) that a deal has been reached with the Indiana Pacers to keep them in Indiana for at least another three years.
That deal will cost $33.5 million in taxpayer money. $10 million a year will be use to help operate Conseco Fieldhouse which, the Pacers say, costs about $18 million to run.
The city will also pay $3.5 million for improvements to Conseco, but that number has the potential of increasing to $4.7 million.
This all follows months of negotiations when the team said they needed financial help from the city to operate Conseco.
In return for the help, the Pacers must stay through the 2012-2013 season.
The current contract with the Pacers lasts through 2019. If the team leaves town before then, they will have to pay back a portion of that $30 million. That amount gets reduced for every season they play in Indiana.
It's tremendously important to keep the Pacers in Indiana. If the NBA did not have a basketball team in THE basketball state in this country, that's a pretty big black eye for a league that has taken more than its share of lumps the last few weeks. Personally, I wasn't afraid that the Pacers would leave. Where were they going to go? Seattle? Does LA get a third team? Brooklyn? The NBA economy has been a losing system for some time now, and if the Pacers truly threatened to move I was one of those schmucks who was telling the city to call their bluff. The team plays in a beautiful arena that was mostly paid for with taxpayer money.
They've also sucked the last few years, and are still not completely cleansed from the taint of the Detroit Brawl that happened in 2004.
However, despite these other factors, I'm glad a deal was reached. This agreement also has repercussions towards the Colts. After the jump, we talk about how the Colts could be affected by the deal.
As you might recall, last year the Colts refused to make financial assistance promises to help with a $47 million dollar bailout bill for the CIB. One provision of that bailout was for the Pacers and Colts to commit $5 million each, but the Colts (through team president Bill Polian) refused. They only agreed to talk.
As you can imagine, this kind of pissed off the CIB, seeing as the Colts new stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium, was paid for with taxpayer money. We also know that had Lucas Oil Stadium not been built, the Colts likely would have moved to another city. This is pretty universal knowledge to just about everyone with at least half a brain.
However, if you live in the Colts universe, this knowledge is news to them:
The Colts said they never asked for Lucas Oil Stadium to be built in the first place, saying the city approached them about the possibility in 2004 because leaders wanted to expand the convention center and accommodate the NCAA.
"At no time did the Colts threaten to leave Indianapolis or otherwise hold the city hostage," the statement read.
This is, obviously, a ridiculous statement on the part of the Colts. Sure, there was no official word or statement from the team saying "We. Will. Leave. If. We. Do. Not. Get. A. Taxpayer. Subsidized. Stadium." If they came out and said that in public, Hoosiers would find Jim Irsay's house and torch it.
But, while the threat of leaving was not "official," it was pretty damn well implied:
In a November 2003 interview with 6News, Irsay didn't discuss consequences if a new stadium wasn't built, but did directly say a new stadium was needed.
"It's certainly something that's going to have to happen as the decade goes forward," he said. "Ultimately, a new stadium is where we have to go. I think the question, of course, is when. There's no denying saying sooner or later you have to have a new stadium."
Asked directly about rumors at the time that he was considering moving the team to Los Angeles, Irsay denied that.
"Not at all -- I love the Midwest and to me, my interest is to have a great football team, have a chance to win a championship and have a first-class organization," he said in 2003.
Bob Grand, president of the Capital Improvement Board, said the Colts are incorrectly placing blame by saying that the organization knew about the shortfall all along and is just now acting on the problem.
"It seems to me that Bart Peterson and Fred Glass should answer that question, because we have a huge stadium and we now have a deficit," Grand said. "If we didn't need to build the stadium to keep the Colts, I guess I would ask the question, 'Why did we do that?'"
I'm am certainly all for Lucas Oil Stadium, and I am extremely happy it was built. I'm also not some big cheerleader for the Indianapolis CIB.
However, what I often dislike is when large business entities like the Colts think that I am so stupid that I won't be able to recall the events that transpired between 2002-2005, when the city was in real danger of losing the Colts and the only way of keeping them was building that stadium. The cost and maintenance of that new building was very controversial for Hoosiers, and the reasons were legit: Why spend money on sports when our education system is crap? Why not call the Colts bluff and use taxpayer money on better roads, hospitals, prisons, and additional infrastructure needs?
Well, the reason the city agreed to use taxpayer money to build The Luke was because the Colts implied a threat to leave. CIB President Bob Grand said it best, if the city didn't need to build The Luke, why did we do it? You don't spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer money on something unless there is a strong incentive.
The Colts threatening to leave IS INDEED a strong incentive.
Today, the city is in debt, and one of the reasons for that debt is... Lucas Oil Stadium. The city then asked the Colts (who work and play in The Luke essentially for free) for $5 million dollars, which is the kind of money this team loses in Jim Irsay's couch. The team refused, and the strain between the city and the Colts is quite obvious.
Today, we have a new deal in place between the CIB and the Pacers due to a report that came out in May saying the city would lose $55 million dollars if the team left. You could probably double that amount if the the Colts left; maybe triple.
So please, don't feed me this bull that the Colts never threatened to leave if they didn't get a new stadium. I'm happy we have Lucas Oil Stadium, and I'm happy the CIB has reached a deal with the Pacers. Professional sports team are tremendous economic boosters to cities and the surrounding communities. I understand that in order to keep these teams, new stadiums and arenas need to be built and that the building bill will likely be placed at the foot of the taxpayers.
However, when taxpayers are fronting much of the bill for these stadiums and arenas, the warning I issue to the respective owners of the Pacers and the Colts is that the teams are no longer "yours." We, the citizens, are paying for your playgrounds and you are working there for free. Not only that, you are generating all the profits from said playgrounds WE paid to build. Since NFL teams refuse to publicly share their books, this increases the level of suspicion that the team is not "on-the-level" with their citizen benefactors.
This undercurrent was a major factor in the reaction Colts fans had to the whole Week Sixteen fiasco, when starters were benched in a winnable game that was sold out at Lucas Oil Stadium... a stadium paid for with taxpayer money that has placed the city into debt; a debt which the Colts seemingly refused to assist in helping. I only bring this event up AGAIN because people have told me a major reason it pissed them off was the money they pay every year to maintain Lucas Oil Stadium.
In the end, the new CIB deal for the Pacers is a step closer to ending all this finger-pointing between the city, the Colts, and everyone else. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the city could have a long memory, and the day may come when the Colts start sucking again (much like the Pacers have in recent years). Attendance will sag and profits will decrease. When the team goes to the city looking for help, what do you think the city will do? I don't think the cry for assistance will be greeted by open arms and free donuts. You might see some chickens coming home to roost a little bit.
Hopefully, that won't happen.
I know this is a somewhat controversial subject, and a lot of information has been written about it. If folks have any additional info they can share to educate the rest of us on the details of this new deal, post them in the comments.