Apparently the Phoenix Coyotes aren’t the only team demanding to be paid by their landlords for the privilege of having them play in their town: The owners of the Indiana Pacers have informed Indianapolis’ Capital Improvement Board that they want the city to pick up the $15 million a year cost of operating Conseco Fieldhouse — or else. Or else what?
On Tuesday, Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Jim Morris said if a deal isn’t inked by June 30, Simon would have to start searching for other solutions, and nothing would be off the table.
“We’ve been having conversations with the Ballard administration for two years,” Morris said, “and we’re now at the point where we need to wrap this up in the next 30, 40 days.”
If that doesn’t happen, he said, “[owner] Herb [Simon] would have to look at all of his options.”
Including moving the team?
“Herb would look at all of his options,” Morris repeated.
Morris did stress to the Indianapolis Star that “we do not want the team to move,” but that’s a typical sports owner non-threat threat, as we called it in the book. This is clearly a shot fired across Indianapolis’ bow, with the intent of getting headlines like … well, like the one that the Indy Star ran on its story.
The Pacers, you may recall, received Conseco Fieldhouse courtesy of local taxpayers in 1999, keeping all arena revenues while paying all of $1 a year in rent to play in the new facility — the one thing they did agree to pay for was operations costs, now estimated to run about $15 million a year. The team was smart enough to negotiate a lease opt-out clause for itself, though, one that it’s now threatening to invoke to get out of the lease if it isn’t renegotiated to reduce the Pacers’ costs to, well, zero, or thereabouts. Morris griped to the Star that despite the Pacers playing rent-free and keeping all revenues, “the losses have been really substantial and the only chance we have is to be able to use all the resources that are generated here to operate the basketball team.”
The stadium board, meanwhile, is running a deficit that hit $47 million last year. And at the same time as the Pacers are demanding lease breaks, they’re asking for new upgrades, including, per the Star, “a new scoreboard, floors, furniture, kitchen equipment, wireless Internet and other amenities.”
While move threats are a standard part of the sports owner playbook, it’s worth asking where the Pacers could possibly go: Before the Seattle Sonics moved to Oklahoma City two years ago, they weren’t exactly besieged with tempting offers. Kansas City has an arena but no reason to agree to an Indy-type sweetheart lease; Las Vegas has lots of talk about arenas, but that’s about it. It takes a lot of damn gall to demand rent breaks when you’re not paying rent, and threaten to move when you have nowhere to go — but if you’re an NBA team, you can probably just swing by the league offices and fill up at their gall fountain.