The news that the Pacers are in desperate straits financially isn’t much of a shock. The team has struggled ever since David Stern scapegoated the franchise for the failings of Pistons players, fans, and security in Detroit. The team went from serious title contenders to residents of the NBA’s version of no man’s land. The fans started to gravitate to the Colts, and Conseco stopped selling out. To some extent, it would be natural to expect the team to struggle some given the economy and other outside factors.
There’s just one problem: those aren’t the reasons the team can’t make ends meet.
The real problem is with $15 million in operating costs for Conseco Fieldhouse the Pacers have to pay.
“We can handle the team,” he said. “It’s the operation of the facility that’s
causing us the problem. We’re not asking anyone to pay for us. It’s just the
operating of the facility.” Herb Simon, Pacers owner
That’s a lot of money, for sure. Here’s the thing though: they wanted to pay it. The dirty not-so-secret truth about the Pacers shortfall is that a decade ago, they begged to run Conseco. They wanted all the profit from it, and therefore had to bear the operating costs. As times changed, the ‘profit’ became a loss, and now the team wants out of the deal, or they might go under.
We say: let ‘em drown.
I love the Pacers. I certainly don’t want them to leave town, but in some ways it’s an idle threat if there ever was one. I don’t know the details of the team lease, but I do know there are NBA franchises in trouble all over the country. There are only so many cities a team could move to, and with New Orleans and Sacramento (just to start) threatening to leave town, there are more teams looking to go than there are viable landing spots for them. Their only real option is to close down. I’m betting David Stern doesn’t let that happen. Then again, he actively killed the team once, maybe he would be willing to passively kill it a second time.
When it comes to sports teams, I understand that there are stadium based realities. I supported the construction of both Conseco and the Luke because I went to enough games at MSA and RCA to know that they were legitimate dumps. The city has already done its part for the Pacers. They built the finest basketball temple in the land. Conseco is a beautiful building, and a wonderful place to watch basketball. It’s in a thriving part of downtown. If a team can’t make a profit in that building, it doesn’t deserve to stay in business.
The Pacers wanted the green that came along with Conseco. Now they can’t figure out how to run it without bleeding red ink. I’m sorry, but that’s too bad. They made this bed, crapped in it, and now they can sit in the stink. The counter argument is that if the team goes under, the city will have to pick up the tab for the stadium anyway, and then would have also lost its chief resident. That seems sound…if you really believe the team would fold or move. I don’t think it can do either one, so it’s time to call the bluff.
In financially difficult times, it shouldn’t be the government’s job to bail out business. Businesses get to keep their profits when times are good, and they should keep their losses when times are bad. The Simons have been good to Indy. They kept the Pacers here 30 years ago, and saved the franchise. I think the city has paid them back for that kindness, with Conseco. We are even. Irsay gave us a Super Bowl championship, and we gave him a beautiful building. He then convinced the NFL to bring a Super Bowl game here. I think we are even.
We built flawless buildings on the public dime. Whatever imaginary public ‘debt’ a community owes to its sports franchises, Indianapolis has paid in full.
Now we are just left with the real debt which we haven’t.