Florida Panthers owner, rebuffed on $70m subsidy demand, asks county for $86m instead

Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola, complaining that the team he bought in 2013 is losing money, has issued a demand for tens of millions of dollars in tax subsidies from Broward County to make his team profitable:

Hemorrhaging tens of millions of dollars each year, the Florida Panthers have made a new request for public assistance at the BB&T Center hockey arena.

The complex package of aid they’re seeking amounts to $86 million in tourist taxes, which are paid by hotel visitors, and will be publicly debated by county commissioners for the first time Tuesday.

Hang on, why is this familiar? Wasn’t there something about this, oh, almost two years ago:

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.

Yep, that was it. The main differences between then and now are that Viola’s demands have gone up by about 20%, and that now there’s a long laundry list of favor-shuffling to go along with the tax subsidy plan:

  • Instead of using the county cash to defray the team’s rent costs (which go to help repay the county’s construction costs on the Panthers’ arena, which was otherwise entirely publicly funded), Viola would use the money to defray his operating and maintenance costs for such things as paying the electric bill. Different line item, in other words, same team budget.
  • Viola would stop paying half a million dollars a year in tourism marketing, and instead would give the county a free ad board and luxury suite, which would probably be more valuable if anybody ever went to the arena for hockey games.
  • The county would get development rights on 88 acres of parking lots that the team currently controls.
  • Share money with the county from any NHL expansion fees (“after the Panthers’ losses are covered”) and from any profits on eventual sale of the team.
  • Share operating profits with the county, though if Viola’s previous plan is any guide, the team would be redefining “profits” to be sure there aren’t any to share.

That’s all potentially slightly better for the public than Viola’s last proposal — mostly if the development rights are worth anything, though cue “swampland in Florida” jokes here. But it would still be $86 million in public money being handed to the local sports team owner just to keep him from losing money on the team he just decided to buy two years ago — and which is probably breaking even once the money-losing hockey team is balanced with the money-making arena, and which in any case is locked into a lease through 2028. Which Viola would now be able to break starting in 2023 under the new deal, if he were still showing losses (or “losses”).

Okay, so still pretty bad. Certainly no reason for the county, which rejected Viola’s last demand, to reconsider when it’s basically the same—

But county officials view the new request more favorably, saying it directs public money into the county-owned arena itself, not to the hockey team.

The team’s costs for running the county-owned arena, that is, which the team gets all the revenue from, except any profits it can’t hide them on its books. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel doesn’t actually name any of these favorably-viewing county officials, so if you just want to shout “Man, are you guys dumb!” in the general direction of south Florida, that should suffice.

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2 comments on “Florida Panthers owner, rebuffed on $70m subsidy demand, asks county for $86m instead

  1. Wow, a taxpayer’s funded hockey arena in sunny Florida to attract the northern winter snowbirds. Masterpiece tourism marketing 101.

  2. I tend to agree with you here, Neil. I just can’t imagine that the NHL wants to give up on South Florida.

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