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.

Panthers president: “The scoreboard is falling! The scoreboard is falling!”

Admittedly, it’s hard to beat the tweet for this Deadspin item:

It’s pithy, it’s funny, and it nicely gets across the point that the Florida Panthers are trying to get an extra $4 million in free upgrades to the arena they already got $185 million in public money for 15 years ago by putting out a completely insane list of events that they’ll only be able to draw if they get a new scoreboard, plus the insane amounts of money they’ll generate in “economic impact.” (The Jehovah’s Witness convention comes in at $96 million — “more than three times as much as an NHL All-Star Weekend,” notes Deadspin — and what’s a Jehovah’s Witness convention if you can’t have high-def replays, right?)

But just about any sports team worth its salt has a stack of ridiculous economic impact statements ready to go at a moment’s notice. What struck me about the story (which first appeared on the Miami Herald’s blog) was this amazing statement from team president Michael Yormark:

“We’ve put enough money into the building,” Yormark said. “We’re not in the position to buy one. If the scoreboard just collapses next year, which I’m sure it will, we just won’t have a scoreboard.”

This is, to my knowledge, the first time in recorded history that a sports team exec warned not that part of his building was in danger of falling down, not that he didn’t want to pay to fix it, but that it was literally in danger of imminent collapse and he was just going to stand by and watch it do so because why should he pay to fix it?

The Broward County commission, of course, was having none of this, and promptly told Yormark—

Update: The county commission voted in favor of funding a new scoreboard.