Broward gives Panthers owner $86m plus lease out clause so team won’t leave, this really happened

The Broward County Commission voted 5-3 last night to approve giving $86 million in subsidies to the owners of the Florida Panthers, on top of the $254 million that it already spent on giving the team a new arena in 1998. Why, exactly, did they do this?

A majority of commissioners said they were swayed by an analysis that showed the team was bleeding millions, and that if it were to declare bankruptcy or leave, the county could be on the hook for even more than $86 million.

That would presumably be this report, which indeed looks at the likely economic impact if the Panthers were to leave, which if you can fight your way past all the gratuitous initial caps comes down to:

  1. The county would lose about $3.6 million a year in tax revenue if the Panthers were to leave.
  2. The county would be on the hook for an extra $6.9 million a year in arena payments if the Panthers stopped contributing.

Now, the lost tax revenue requires a lot of assumptions about whether the arena could fill hockey dates with other events like concerts, not to mention what counts as “lost” revenue. (The report seems to assume that all spending by people who don’t live in Broward County would leave the county if people weren’t going to Panthers games, which is patently untrue — some people would drive in for other reasons, some people are on vacation there anyway, etc.)

But the bigger elephant in the room is in regard to that lost Panthers contribution to arena costs, given that the Panthers already have a lease that requires them to pay that money through 2028. And the new deal would allow the Panthers to leave as early as 2024 if team owners can show $100 million in losses over a seven-year period (which shouldn’t be hard, given sports bookkeeping) — though at least then the team would have to pay a termination fee, starting at $72 million and decreasing each year.

Still, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Broward County just paid Panthers owner Vincent Viola $86 million in order to change his lease to let him out of it earlier than he otherwise would have, on the grounds that they don’t want the team to leave. Just because something is a cliche doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

3 comments on “Broward gives Panthers owner $86m plus lease out clause so team won’t leave, this really happened

  1. This tweet suggests (or “suggests”) that the Panthers have lost $100M+ in the last four years alone:

    Wait another couple years and the newest ownership group will come calling for another bailout.

  2. One thing I always find curious about the assumption that if a team moves, the arena sits empty. Kansas City built Sprint Center assuming it would get an NHL team. That never happened, but today Sprint Center is ranked #32 in the world for ticket sales, ahead of the majority of NBA & NHL arenas.