Mike Ozanian, aka the guy who’s been overseeing the Forbes sports team valuations since before Forbes was even doing them, took a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets arena loan payments mess yesterday, and declared that the team may be “economically nonviable” in its current home.
On the face of it, this doesn’t make a lot of sense: Franklin County has skipped out on paying off its debt on the Blue Jackets’ arena (which the Blue Jackets initially took on, then decided it’d be way better if somebody else were stuck with paying for) because money from taxes on new casinos is running way below expectations. That doesn’t say anything about whether people in Columbus like hockey, just about how much they like spending their money at casinos — and about how rose-colored the glasses were that Franklin County officials donned before approving this deal.
What Ozanian seems to be getting at, though, isn’t anything about the current arena payments mess, but rather what it will reveal about the Blue Jackets’ shaky underlying finances. Team execs demanded the money in the first place, after all, because they said they couldn’t possibly pay off the arena that they themselves built while also running an NHL franchise in Columbus, and Franklin County agreed to bail them out. Now that the bailout money is on hold, Nationwide (which originally built the arena with the team) will have to wait on its loan payments. The Blue Jackets owners, meanwhile, will be on the hook for arena operations and maintenance, which are … actually just barely being paid off by what casino tax money is coming in, but, you know, if that number drops, then they might have to pay something toward running their own arena!
Certainly, any cost for the Blue Jackets will be a lot, given that Ozanian’s own figures for Forbes show that the team was losing larger and larger sums of money until the arena operating costs were taken off their hands in 2013. On the other hand, the team did make an estimated $4.9 million profit last year under the new deal, and casino revenues would have to drop by an awful lot before the Blue Jackets’ share of operating costs would make a significant dent in that. And anyway, under the bailout deal the Blue Jackets are committed to playing in Columbus through 2039, so it’s not like they could do much even if they were “nonviable.”
So mostly Ozanian’s article comes down to “County’s Threat to Make Blue Jackets Pay Own Arena Costs Reminds Everyone How Broke Team Was Before Public Bailed Them Out.” Poor, sad Blue Jackets. Hey, I know what would cheer them up — a nice fun trip to a local casino! Because that always helps!