It’s a couple of weeks late, but the Indiana Pacers have obtained their boodle: The city of Indianapolis has agreed to pay the Pacers $10 million a year for the next three years (plus $3.5 million for a new ribbon ad board, among other things) to play at Conseco Fieldhouse, the taxpayer-funded arena that the team plays at rent-free and keeps all revenues from. That’s less than the full $15 million in annual operating costs — the Pacers’ only arena-related expense — that the team owners said they wanted the city to cover, but not a whole heck of a lot less, especially considering that the Pacers’ lease isn’t actually up yet.
In exchange, the city gets a commitment by the Pacers to stay in town … for three years. After that, the team could break its lease and leave town with a smaller penalty, which would dwindle to zero by 2019, the year that their lease is actually set to expire. I don’t think the Indianapolis Star used my quote, but what I told their reporter was something along the lines of “This is a pretty crappy payoff for $30 million in government subsidies.”
For its part, Deadspin, with its classic understatement, called the deal “the worst of all taxpayer-funded bailouts,” “a ransom, plain and simple,” and “a blatant cash grab by the Pacers, taking millions of dollars just to agree to live up to the terms of the deal they happily signed.”
None of which I’d argue with, though I would take issue with Deadspin’s contention that “Indianapolis needs the Pacers more than the Pacers need Indianapolis,” given that there aren’t a heck of a lot of cities with NBA-ready arenas, and certainly not with Indianapolis’ fan base. It seems like the city’s Capital Improvement Board caved to a major local business player — which may be partly explained by the fact that the CIB’s president is a former aide to this guy.
The CIB still needs to vote to cough up the dough, which it plans to pull out of its operating budget. Yes, that’s the same operating budget that ran out of money last year and had to be propped up with a $27 million state loan; with this in mind, at least one state representative says he wants to block the Pacers deal. Best of luck with that: The Pacers may not be able to beat anyone in the NBA Central, but they’re unstoppable when going one-on-one with Indianapolis elected officials.