The Indiana Pacers have hit rock bottom.
This month, the team slipped into last place in average home attendance among the 30 National Basketball Association teams, falling behind the New Orleans Hornets, a team that is selling tickets in an area still ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The Pacers’ average home attendance through 19 games is 12,068. New Orleans is averaging 12,159 through 21 home dates.
The attendance slump and two consecutive years of financial losses have stirred speculation the franchise will ask for city assistance.
The situation is so bad, said league insiders, NBA Commissioner David Stern is keeping an eye on it.
“It’s one of a handful of clubs the NBA is concerned about,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd., a firm that works with several NBA teams on business operations. “This is something no one foresaw three or four years ago.”
Scott O’Neil, NBA senior vice president for team marketing and business operations, said, “We’re putting a little extra time into the Pacers at this point.”
NBA account managers have come to Indianapolis to help with marketing, branding and sales, O’Neil said. “This is not a five-alarm fire,” he said. “Our mind-set is, let’s get the ship righted.”
Frankly, I could care less whether the Pacers are doing well or not. Given the criminal recklessness displayed by about half the team's players in the past few years, they haven't earned the support of their fans. But here's the part of Schoettle's story that bothers me. "The situation has some wondering if Pacers officials will approach the city to seek financial assistance," he writes. "New Mayor Greg Ballard said he met with team officials and has been apprised of the situation." "He said he will meet with Pacers coowner Herb Simon within a week or so, but Ballard called that a 'get-to-know-you' kind of meeting."
Nobody should be surprised that the Simons are already making a fast move on Mayor Ballard. Schoettle notes that they had already been having discussions with Mayor Peterson about their financial woes. Immediately after Ballard was elected, Barnes & Thornburg attorneys Robert Grand and Joe Loftus seized total control of Ballard's transition team with complete ease, although neither had contributed much to his campaign prior to his election. The two blocked the participation of anyone on Ballard's transition who couldn't be controlled, which many grassroots supporters, including myself, saw as a complete slap in the face by Ballard. Coincidentally, Barnes & Thornburg represents the Simons and their Pacers basketball team.
This also isn't the first time Schoettle has written about the Simon family's plan to extract more subsidies from Indianapolis for its ailing NBA team. A little more than a year ago, Schoettle wrote about how the Simons thought that the Colts' Jim Irsay got a better shake from the city than they had gotten. As he wrote then, "Pacers executives won't discuss the Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium lease, but sources close to the team say the executives are irked by the deal and think theirs pales in comparison," Schoettle added, "The lease states that if the Pacers experience 'significant net cash flow loss for any NBA season in or after the eighth year of the initial (20-year) term,' the team the next year could begin the process of seeking early termination of its lease." He concluded, "Because the upcoming season is the Pacers' eighth in Conseco Fieldhouse . . . that provision could open the door to renegotiation as early as next year . . ."
I'm telling you, folks, that Mayor Ballard has surrounded himself with folks who are in the pocket of the city's corporate elites. You can bet that there is going to be a concession granted to the billionaire Simons to ensure they can buy more $25 million homes in Malibu. The groundwork had already been laid. As Schoettle's articles notes, "City officials haven’t completely closed the door on the idea of helping the Pacers financially." "There are provisions in the Fieldhouse lease that would allow the city to subsidize the Pacers to help make up financial losses." He quotes insider Pat Early (son of former state GOP Chairman Rex Early), "This relationship has to be a win-win for the Pacers and the community, and you always look for ways to make that happen,” said Pat Early, a longtime member of the Capital Improvement Board, the city government agency that owns Conseco Fieldhouse. "Early stopped short of saying he’d support subsidizing the Pacers, something the city did before the franchise moved to the Fieldhouse." “Obviously, the solution is not to build another arena, and a subsidy would be difficult,” he said. “But if we can sit down and get the right people in the room, we can get creative.”
"We can get creative." You bet they can. This is already a done deal. The Simons supported Mayor Peterson's campaign with big contributions. They gave nothing to Ballard. But isn't that the way it's been since Ballard's election? Everyone who did nothing to help get him elected is reaping all the spoils of his victory. We'll find more money to subsidize the billionaire Simons, but we have no money to provide basic services to improve the quality of life for the people who actually live in this city and need our city's help in saving their neighborhoods from higher taxes, crime and blight.