Florida Panthers exec says free arena is nice, but free rent would be even nicer

Clearly I’m going to have to update my article on sports team owners asking for operating subsidies even after they get new arenas, because this:

The Florida Panthers professional hockey team says it’s losing more than $20 million a year and needs more public funds to survive.

The struggling team is asking for a rewrite of its contract with Broward county. Under the team’s proposal, the county would use additional tourism taxes to pick up $70 million in BB&T Center costs currently being paid by the Panthers.

That’s a little clipped, so let’s backtrack for a second. Then-Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga got $185 million from Broward County to move from Miami to a new arena there in 1998. In exchange, the team signed a lease guaranteeing it would say put through 2028, and pay $4.5 million a year in rent to defray the county’s construction costs.

The Panthers were just sold in September to a financier named Vincent Viola, who apparently wasn’t content with the free arena the team got in 1998, or the free $4 million scoreboard it got last May, because those were the old guys getting those things. So he’s thinking that maybe the county could tear up his lease, with 14 years remaining on it, and revise that $4.5 million a year in rent. To, like, zero. Because, though the Panthers are making money on running the arena, they’re losing money on running the Panthers:

“This organization has lost between $20 [million] and $30 million on an annual basis,” [Panthers president Michael] Yormark said, “and those dollars have been funded by our owners.”

And this is a problem for Broward County … why exactly no one seems to say, though Yormark did promise that if the county gives them an extra $4.5 million a year, they promise to spend on payroll “at a level competitive with the rest of the National Hockey League,” implying that if they don’t get it they’ll replace their roster with these guys. Which actually might be more entertaining than watching the real Panthers.

Anyway, local officials have to be derisively snorting at this demand, since Viola has no leverage and there’s absolutely nothing in it for the county, right?

Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan said it is still too early to tell what the proposal could mean for his city, but he cautioned that it would be important to balance the job growth and other benefits against “security, financial, infrastructure, environmental and aesthetic impacts” near the site and beyond.

I guess looked at one way, that could be taken as a way of brushing off Viola without actually telling him where he can stick his request. But I’d still prefer a derisive snort.


9 comments on “Florida Panthers exec says free arena is nice, but free rent would be even nicer

  1. Hey, if the numbers quoted are true these are the salad days for the Panthers… in recent years, losses of $30-40m weren’t out of the question… and they’ve gone through a passel (no, I don’t know how many that actually is either) of owners in the last decade too.

    Not sure how giving the Panthers a $5m rent discount + a subsidy (lets face it, they want the Glendale “You’re even stupider than I thought” deal… build us an arena, pay the operating costs, and then pay us to play in it forever) will lead to job growth? Maybe if you are a politician anything that might lead to the loss of a backup goalie to free agency that can be averted counts as job growth…

    Like the Coyotes, the Panthers need to move somewhere. There is no future in funnelling tax dollars into an O&M black hole for sunbelt hockey teams…. except one of funnelling ever more tax dollars into ever greater black holes.

    The $15m Glendale is paying the Coyotes to play there (under the guise of an operating agreement) is actually more than the Coyotes have historically generated in annual gate revenue. Yeah. That.
    My understanding is that Florida is not far behind in regard to giveaways and discounted tickets.

    It’s tempting to say the new tv deals will help basketcase franchises like this. In fact, I doubt they will, because while these teams do get more revenue sharing cash & distributed TV money as part of those deals, the fact is that the profitable franchises do also… and up goes the salary cap/floor.

  2. Free arena? Great.
    Free rent? Nice.
    Free public millions for a private business in perpetuity? Sweet!

  3. The team at one point was charging $25 per game for lower level season tickets. That’s about one fifth what Montreal is charging and about one seventh of what Toronto charges for the cheapest walkup lower level, not even mentioning Boston, Chicago, and New York, they have almost no TV contract and get token amounts from the US national deal, AND they have to pay a salary floor.

    I can actually kinda believe the losing $10-20mil a year.

  4. I think we’ve finally discovered the problem. Nobody has been teaching budding politicians the derisive snort.

  5. Some of us owners have snorting experience… but maybe not the kind you are looking for?

  6. In other Florida sports news… Loria’s prodigal dimwit stepson has finally found something he thinks he may actually be able to do….

    www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/baseball/report-miami-marlins-president-to-compete-on-survivor-reality-series/article16278323/

    Make your own sports subsidy jokes as you see fit…

  7. “Because, though the Panthers are making money on running the arena, they’re losing money on running the Panthers”

    Miami sucks as a sports town anyway. Just look at the Marlins’ attendance. Sell the team to a group that will move it to Quebec City and call it a day. Miamians (if that’s a word) won’t miss ‘em.

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