For the past year, the Pacers have been making an extortion-like demand that the City pick up at least $15 million in operating costs each year for Conseco Fieldhouse, or they might move their team to another city, pretending like the huge penalty clause in their long-term lease didn't exist. From the beginning of the negotiations, Mayor Ballard, who has accepted more than $10,000 in free tickets to Pacers games since taking office in 2008 and collected thousands more from the Simons in campaign contributions, has said he would do whatever it took to keep the Pacers from moving. Despite the fact that the CIB doesn't have the cash on hand to pay the costs, Ballard will borrow $27 million from the state of Indiana to pay the Pacers $33.5 million over 3 years, including $3.5 million in capital improvements to Conseco Fieldhouse. That figure could grow to $38 million if the CIB winds up making capital improvements of as much as $8.2 million under the deal, which you can bet it will if the Simons tell the CIB to replace the current scoreboard or whatever other new toy it wants for its rent-free arena. The Star reports on this outrageous give-away of taxpayer dollars to one of the state's wealthiest men:
The Indiana Pacers are staying in Indianapolis, but it will cost taxpayers at least $33.5 million over the next three years.In a complete sell out to taxpayers, under the terms of the deal, Ballard has completely let the billionaire off the hook for the tougher penalties contained in the City's current lease in exchange for this 3-year agreement to remain in the City. Strangely, the City is interpreting the current penalty provision of the lease to mean only that the Pacers would have had to pay a penalty of $20 million to break their lease and move out of the City. The billionaire will face a penalty of no more than $30 million if he leaves before the end of the three years under the new agreement, and anywhere from $28 million to $1 million if the team leaves before 2019, the last year of the current lease, in addition to the $20 million penalty, for now.
The city and the Pacers are expected today to announce an agreement hailed by some as an important step in protecting the financial state of the city but criticized by others as a multimillion-dollar bailout of a professional sports team and its billionaire owner.
The deal comes after months of negotiations between the NBA franchise and the Capital Improvement Board, which operates the city's sports venues. It supplements the existing contract between the parties, which lasts through 2019.
The idea of providing money to a sports franchise has incited criticism by some, but city leaders insisted they have been tough negotiators. They didn't agree to cover the full operating cost of Conseco Fieldhouse, estimated at $15 million to $18 million per year, or the roughly $25 million in capital improvements the Pacers said were needed at the fieldhouse. And they locked in what they called an important addition to the Downtown economy for three years.
"The mayor has said we need to protect the taxpayer and we need to protect the tax base," said Robert Vane, deputy chief of staff and communications director for Mayor Greg Ballard. "This agreement does both."
Under the terms, control of Conseco Fieldhouse -- and revenues from all events there -- will remain with the team, but unlike the current contract, the city will chip in $10 million per year for fieldhouse operations for the next three years. The city also will pay at least $3.5 million for capital improvements at the fieldhouse, an amount that has the potential to increase by up to $4.7 million.
In exchange, the Pacers must stay in Indianapolis through the 2012-13 basketball season or pay back the entire $30 million. The team also would be on the hook for a portion of that $30 million if it left before its contract expired in 2019.
For example, if the team left in 2016, it would pay back $19 million; if it left in 2018, it would pay back $7 million. That would be in addition to the termination fees -- estimated at $20 million-- spelled out in the existing agreement.
If the Pacers stay through the end of their current contract, which ends in 2019, they would not have to pay any of the money back.
The Simons have been miffed ever since the CIB negotiated a lease deal with Jim Irsay for Lucas Oil Stadium that allowed the billionaire Irsay free use of the new Lucas Oil Stadium, all game and non-game revenues it produces and the CIB picked up all operating and maintenance costs for the stadium. The Simons, who founded the largest mall owner in the world, Simon Property Group, were embarrassed that the pill-popping Irsay negotiated a more favorable deal than them. Their deal merely gave them rent-free use of a brand new sports arena and all of the revenues it produces from game and non-game events. Their rent-free lease agreement, however, required them to pay for the annual operating/maintenance expenses on Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Star's story falsely claims that the CIB found the money for this taxpayer give-away by cutting its budget. "For this year, the board's efforts to cut its spending and increase revenues have provided enough money to make the $10 million payment, said CIB President Ann Lathrop," the Star reports. "As of May, the CIB had brought in $3.8 million more in revenue than budgeted and spent $7.5 million less than budgeted." In fact, the CIB can only pay this money to the Pacers because it has decided to borrow $27 million from the state under the terms of a bailout bill passed by the legislature last year that allowed the CIB to raise the City's hotel taxes to one of the highest in the nation and receive tens of millions more of state sales and income taxes from a designated sports district in downtown. The money from the state bailout approved by our City-County Council by a one-vote margin was needed because the CIB faced an inability to pay $20 million in operating costs on Lucas Oil Stadium. The CIB borrowed the first $9 million last year even though Lathrop said at the time the CIB didn't need the money. Now we know why the CIB borrowed money it didn't need. The CIB has no means of repaying the state those borrowed funds and will likely ask the state for forgiveness of the loan, putting state taxpayers on the hook for the entire $27 million.
It is completely befuddling that the CIB never once demanded that the Pacers publicly divulge their audited financial statements to prove the team is losing money. The Pacers' Jim Morris has claimed the team has lost $200 million over the past 10 years. Yet that didn't stop the billionaire Herb Simon from buying out his brother's interest in the big-time losing team before he died last year. There has been no public disclosure of the terms of Herb's purchase of his brother's interest in the team. One can only conclude that Mayor Ballard was bought off by the billionaire team owners with free tickets and campaign contributions. Ballard promised to run a government that was transparent, more ethical and treated taxpayers more fairly, but after being elected, he has played one shell game after another with City finances, raised taxes and accepted gifts valued in the tens of thousands of dollars. Taxpayers should demand the IRS audit Ballard's tax returns and force him to pay taxes on any unreported, untaxed gifts or charge him with income tax evasion. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is under investigation for failure to report $50,000 worth of free tickets he accepted to attend various sporting and other events, including courside tickets to LA Lakers games. Mayor Ballard is often seen sitting in courtside seats at the Pacers home games. Ballard has refused to report or itemize all of the free tickets he receives to Pacers and Colts games on his statement of economic interest he files annually.
Fred McCarthy best sums of the sentiments of Indianapolis taxpayers in today's Star story. "I think we have gone so far overboard in subsidizing professional sports in this city that it's insane," said Fred McCarthy, a local political blogger and nearly 50-year Indianapolis resident. "I just think it's ridiculous that brilliant businessmen who have made themselves billionaires in the market, in the business world, can operate a business in a rent-free building and continue to lose money while they're doing it." Maybe that's because they're not really losing money, Fred. Think about that headline on today's front page of the Star again: "City Pays Pacers $33.5 Million To Stay." It could have read: "Pacers Pay City $50 Million To Leave" or some other figure correctly calculated under the lease's complicated penalty provision. I hope Herb's young wife enjoys the next new mansion he purchases for her on our dime.
UPDATE: Former IUPUI Professor Mark Rosentraub agrees with my analysis of the Pacers' true financial picture according to an IBJ report today, which reads, in part:
Pacers officials said they’ve lost money in 10 of the 11 years they’ve been in Conseco Fieldhouse, including about $60 million over the last two seasons. Though the CIB declined to grant the team the $15 million in sought for Fieldhouse operations, Lathrop said she agrees “100 percent,” with the Pacers’ financial disclosures.One of the financial tricks the Pacers have pulled off with their NBA franchise is to break its operations down into two separate financial entities. Pacers Sports & Entertainment, LLC operates separately from the franchise, Indiana Pacers, LLC. One would have to see the audited financial statements for both entities to make any assumptions about how well the franchise is doing. As Rosentraub says, "If these numbers are real, what's the hesitancy [for their release]?" The story makes clear that there is no assurance the Pacers will remain after the end of this three-year period. You can bet that more subsidies will be in the offing if the City expects the Pacers to remain here.
“We’ve seen the audited financial reports, and we have no reason to believe that those are in any way inaccurate,” Lathrop said.
But sports economist and former IUPUI dean Mark Rosentraub is less convinced.
“I’m not sure how you can operate in one of the nicest facilities in the league essentially rent free, and be so far in the red,” Rosentraub said.
Rosentraub also pointed out that eight of those 11 years were during relatively economic robust times.
“If the CIB is so convinced in the accuracy of those figures, which happened during some very robust times for the city and the state, you’d have to ask, 'Is the conclusion that the Pacers can’t be operated profitably in this city?' If that’s the case, what could possibly change in two to three years to turn this thing around, or are we looking at a long-term situation of paying to keep the Pacers here?”
While Rosentraub said he thinks the Pacers and Conseco Fieldhouse are important components to a vital downtown, he said the CIB and Pacers should put all the financial cards on the table.
“The CIB is a public agency,” Rosentraub said. “If these numbers are real, what’s the hesitancy?”
UPDATE II: An online poll at the Star asking for public reaction to the deal gets a big thumbs down. Seventy percent of the respondents called the deal a corporate bailout as opposed to the small minority who thought the deal was a good public-private partnership.A similar poll taken by WRTV asking, "Do you think the Pacers deal with Indianapolis is good for the city," got a similar thumbs down. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents there said the deal was not good for the city. I was interviewed by both WRTV and Fox59 News to give my reaction to the deal. WRTV's quote from me: "What was the sense of urgency to the city negotiating a give-away to them when they would have faced a huge financial penalty to have broken the current lease?" asked Gary Welsh, founder and editor of political blog Advance Indiana. Here's Ballard's quote on the deal: "I was very open that I wanted to keep them here, obviously. So, I think we got that done while maintaining the viability of the CIB, and nobody's income taxes are being raised. Nobody's property taxes are being raised," Ballard said. "It's not coming out of the city budget. It's a separate pool for downtown development." Ballard's comments are extremely disingenuous. He would have you believe this money is not being paid by taxpayers when it fact it is. Most of the money will come from the $27 million the CIB is borrowing from the state, which are your tax dollars. Ballard had no answer on what will happen in three years. Ballard's press secretary makes a faulty argument when he says the City will be stuck with all of the expenses on Conseco Fieldhouse if the Pacers leave. What he neglects to mention is that all revenues would then belong to the City for concerts and other events held at Conseco, and there would be far fewer expenses associated with maintaining the facility if the Pacers left, not to mention the huge windfall the City would collect from the Pacers as a penalty for breaking up the lease. Under this agreement, the CIB will have to pay at least $3.5 million in capital improvements and possibly an amount in excess of $8 million to install a new digital scoreboard and other wish list items of the Pacers.