Panthers print out $80m subsidy demand on nicer paper, resubmit it to Broward County

The owners of the Florida Panthers responded to criticism of their demand for $80 million in public subsidies in exchange for pretty much damn near nothing by issuing a revised subsidy proposal at the end of last week, which looks like:

The new request looks largely the same.

Thanks, South Florida Sun Sentinel, for saving us having to read the rest of the article. There would be a small change in how the profit threshold would be calculated before the Panthers would have to share profits with Broward County, it looks like, but given that it’s pretty much inconceivable that the Panthers would ever hit that threshold anyway, this isn’t likely to be that significant a change.

New Panthers CEO Rory Babich, meanwhile, had this to add:

“We resubmitted our proposal to eliminate or modify certain previous requests to enable the discussions to focus more specifically on the economic terms of the arrangements,” he said in an email. ” …  We look forward to continuing to engage in an active and constructive dialogue with the county staff regarding the terms of our agreements with the County. We remain confident that a sensible, long-term solution can be found to help sustain the long-term viability of the Broward County-owned BB&T Center.”

Man, I can see how Babich got that job. I knew I should have gone for an advanced degree in gobbledygook.

Panthers now seeking $80m in arena subsidies, promise magic beans in exchange

Didja miss me? I spent most of yesterday dealing with a technology crisis (laptop hard drive go boom), and am still digging out, so will probably take a few days to fully catch up with all the news. Let’s get out the news shovel, though, and see how far we can get. For starters:

The Florida Panthers‘ owners demand for $61 million in rent breaks plus 22 acres of free land for development in exchange for nothing turns out not to be quite for nothing: Broward County would get a cut of any team windfall profits, as spelled out in the team’s current lease. Except the team seems dead set on ensuring that it would never actually have to share any profits at all, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel:

•If the arena profits exceed $12 million, the county would reap 20 percent of any profits. That’s not changing. But the calculation of “profit” would change, to help the Panthers keep more of the revenues. The team would continue to count as an expense $4.5 million in arena bond payments even though the county would be paying them. The Panthers also would move to the expense ledger a $250,000 annual arena management fee paid to the Panthers by the county.

•The Panthers would remove from the profit books the money made from seats in exclusive sections: Club Red and ADT. That move alone would allow the Panthers to keep $6 million or more in revenues without counting them toward the profit-sharing threshold, according to the auditor’s analysis.

•The Panthers’ contributions toward arena reserves, set aside for repairs and renovations, would be cut, saving the Panthers at least $650,000 a year, or $9.7 million in all.

Plus, the county’s ability to audit the Panthers’ books would be reduced, the county would cover all arena property insurance payments over $1 million (“an estimated $600,000 a year, or $9 million over the life of the contract”), the team would shift $500,000 in annual maintenance expenses to the county, and any payment to the county for the 22 acres of land is “to be negotiated.”

Add in all those additional breaks, and it looks like the Panthers owners are now demanding about $80 million worth of subsidies from Broward, in exchange for which they’d kick back 20% of any profits over $18 million a year, if somehow the Panthers start selling tickets like crazy and their accountants forget how to juggle the books to make it look like they’re only earning $17.9 million. County commissioners reportedly aren’t happy about this, so expect them to haggle the team down to a slightly smaller amount of cash in exchange for profit sharing that would kick in at a slightly lower impossible threshold.

Majority of Broward commissioners okay with “undetermined” bailout money for Panthers

It’s now been one week since Florida Panthers CEO Michael Yormark told Broward County officials that the team was “not too proud” to ask for a $61 million taxpayer bailout of the NHL team in exchange for precisely nothing, and a couple of days less than that since a county administrator issued a 125-page report arguing that the county should give the team something, anyway. How’s that all playing with the people who actually make the decisions?

The county commission support, voiced informally Tuesday for the first time at a public workshop, ranged from tepid to enthusiastic. But the consensus was clear.

At least six of the eight commissioners who will be voting on the deal support giving an undetermined amount of additional taxes collected from tourists to the Panthers, which leases and operates the county’s BB&T Center in Sunrise.

The Broward County Commission has eight members? That’s weird, having an even number—

The ninth commissioner, Stacy Ritter, can’t vote on the proposal because her husband is a lobbyist for the team.


Anyway, it looks like Panthers owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu are set to get an “undetermined amount” of tax dollars (plus possibly 22 acres of free county land to develop, because Florida just hands that stuff out like … you know) because they can’t figure out how to turn a profit on the team that they spent a quarter-billion dollars on last fall despite playing in an arena that they paid nothing for. (Though it’s worth noting that while Viola and Cifu claim they’re losing $20-30 million on the team, Forbes has that figure at more like $7-12 million, which would mean they’re more or less breaking even based on the $9 million a year they earn from non-hockey arena operations.) The lesson: If you’re going to be stupid enough to buy something you can’t afford, better to be stupid and rich; that way you may convince somebody else to pay your bills.

Panthers CEO on $61m in rent subsidies: We ain’t 2 proud 2 beg

When the Florida Panthers owners declared last month that they wanted free rent for the last 14 years of their lease at their Broward County-owned arena, it seemed like a new level of sports owner chutzpah. (In exchange for being allowed to duck out of their $4.5 million in annual rent payments, the team promised only to spend on payroll “at a level competitive with the rest of the National Hockey League,” which was essentially “Send money or we’ll shoot this team.”) But Friday’s Broward County Tourist Development Council meeting made clear that they’d not yet begun to chutzpah:

Florida Panthers officials appeared Friday before the Broward County Tourist Development Council to plead their case for the county to channel millions more in tourist tax dollars to the financially ailing team…

“We’re not too proud to say we need some assistance,” [Panthers CEO Michael] Yormark said.

Well, isn’t that nice! It’s so tiresome when billionaires (or maybe just 35-millionaires — this is the NHL, so who really checks on these things?) stand on pride before asking that their organization that’s turning a sizable profit on running their arena get additional public subsidies. I hope this leads to a whole new era in honesty among rich people, who will be able to go before Congress and request lower tax rates because they’re not ashamed to admit that they need new yachts.

The Panthers’ total rent break demand turns out to be $6.2 million a year for 14 years — a present value of about $61 million — which would actually mean the county would be paying the team to play in Broward for the next 14 years. Plus they want development rights to build a casino on 22 acres of county-owned land, because that’s what all the cool owners are asking for these days.

But anyway, we knew what the Panthers’ owners were going to say, more or less. What did Broward elected officials say? Did we get that derisive snort?

Not exactly:

“I don’t think we’re ready for this,” council member Tim Schiavone said. “We’re not in a position to spend that kind of money.”…

But council members were willing to compromise.

“I might be able to find some way to find some relief,” [Hollywood Mayor Peter] Bober said.

“We probably need to slow this down … attempt to find a middle ground,” said council member Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner.

“It may not be the entire ask, but we know at this point that something has to be done,” [county mayor Barbara] Sharief said.

County Administrator Bertha Henry, meanwhile, has written up a 125-page report that says while “we do not advocate consideration for [the Panthers’] request in its totality,” the county should give the team something in order to avoid being left with an empty arena.

Which makes a kind of sense, but, but … did somebody miss the part where Yormark and company wouldn’t actually be extending their lease at all in exchange for the added subsidies? The Panthers are contractually bound to Broward County through 2028, and would still be able to up and leave then even if they were awarded these rent breaks. So the reason for giving the team more tax money would be, I guess, that maybe if we’re real nice to them, we won’t make them mad?

The Broward County Commission begins debate on Tuesday over how much, if anything, to offer to the team. Note to self: Opening with outrageous demands works. At least if you’re a millionaire.

Florida house speaker: No new sales tax “checks” for stadiums this year

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said earlier this week that he’d be introducing a bill to require sports teams to show they actually have a reason to ask for sales-tax kickbacks, upped the ante slightly yesterday by declaring that he doesn’t intend on approving any sports subsidies this year at all:

“Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks,” Weatherford said during an interview with The News Service of Florida in his Capitol office.

Currently, the state of Florida pays $2 million a year to the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic in exchange for the teams doing the state the favor of existing. (The Miami Marlins got left off this list after getting the $2 million a year break for their previous stadium, but did get everything else they wanted, so no complaining.) Right now the Orlando City Soccer Club, David Beckham’s as-yet-unnamed Miami MLS expansion team, and the Daytona International Speedway are all lining up to ask for sales-tax rebates as well, but it sounds like they’re going to have to wait — until next year, anyway, when Weatherford will, at the ripe old age of 35, be term-limited out of office. If Weatherford has his way, by then there will be new laws requiring team owners to “go through the process with the Department of Economic Opportunity just like everybody else does that wants to create jobs in Florida” to prove that their projects will provide a return on the state’s investment, though it remains to be seen whether he has a chance in hell of getting it through the state senate, which has historically been much more lenient about this kind of thing.

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.