If you’ve read my and Joanna Cagan’s book Field of Schemes — and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you, there’s a great big link to it over there on the left, you can get an e-book version even! — you may remember the story of the Miami Heat arena campaign, which featured then-coach Pat Riley appearing in ads carrying a basketball and talking about how what the city of Miami really needed was a new arena to replace the one that had just opened eight years earlier. The final victory at the polls was achieved after a last-minute switcheroo in the funding scheme, where instead of the public being asked to cover a chunk of arena construction costs, the Heat would pay for the new building and taxpayers would pay the team to pay for it. Clever, no?
The result, as Deadspin sums it up:
The Heat paid the full construction costs of the $213-million building, which is owned Miami-Dade County. That’s good! In exchange, Miami-Dade gave them the $38-million plot of land, and promised $6.5 million in annual subsidies. That’s bad. The county, never great with arena math, also negotiated a share of the profits. This year, for the first time ever, there were enough profits for the Heat to cut a check.
How much of a check? Well, the arena’s concessions, suites, and club seats (the revenue streams that the city is supposed to get a cut of) turned a profit of $30 million this year. The Heat pocketed $14 million to pay off their share of construction costs — because the $6.5 million in cash they’re getting from Miami isn’t enough — plus $1.3 million to pay for “facility upgrades,” plus the next $14 million because they get to do that per their lease, plus 60% of whatever is left over. The city’s net from the arena’s most profitable year ever: $257,134.12.
Heat owner Mickey Arison, meanwhile, thinks that this deal is completely unfair — to him, and so he’s demanding more taxpayer money to help him upgrade his 13-year-old arena, by increasing the $6.5 million annual subsidy to $17 million starting in 2029, when the Heat’s lease is currently set to expire. (Arison would sign a ten-year lease extension in exchange for the added cash.) Plus he’d still get the first $29 million and change from those shared revenue streams. Of course, he’d be in a 39-year-old arena (horrors!) by the time the extended lease was up, but if the city of Miami keeps dumping money on his head, he can probably learn to live with it.