The Panthers want public funds to fix up the BB&T Center. Something in the neighborhood of $80 million in tax subsidies would be nice. They're asking because it'd be corporately negligent for a franchise not to at least try to milk taxpayers out of cash for something that won't economically contribute to the area, and the Panthers' latest proposal to Broward County is just rife with profitable little perks.
The Sun Sentinel goes through the 57-page contract submitted to Broward County commissioners, and notes six significant changes to the current agreement, all with the same upshot: more money for the Panthers, less money for the county. Let's see what we've got!
Redefinition of "profit." The BB&T Center was already built with public money, with an agreement that the Panthers would give back to the county if arena profit reaches a certain threshold. Sixteen years later, that's happened only once. Whether this is due to poor gates or some creative accounting—like the Heat use—is debatable, but the Panthers would like that accounting to get even more creative. They want to redefine what constitutes profit, so that they'll likely never hit the threshold—and never have to give back.
Under the proposal, tickets sold for club seating, suites, and other premium seating would no longer be counted as revenue for the purposes of hitting the profit threshold. On the other side, an annual arena management fee paid by Broward County to the Panthers would now be counted as a Panthers expense, for some reason. A county audit found these changes would result in the profit share threshold being raised more than $6 million annually.
Debt forgiveness. Currently, the county ($8 million), the state ($2 million), and the Panthers ($4.5 million) all contribute to annual debt payments on the arena's construction. The Panthers would like to stop paying their share, with the difference picked up by the county. Oh, and there's still $225 million in debt left to pay off.
A Panthers Resort! The team wants the county to donate a piece of vacant land next to the arena, where a hotel-casino would be constructed.
Goodbye, reserve fund. The Panthers currently put at least $650,000 a year into an arena reserve fund, which is supposed to be used for upgrades to the arena. (And yet, they convinced the county to pay $4.2 million for a new scoreboard last year.) The proposed contract would allow the team to stop maintaining that reserve fund.
Insurance cap. The Panthers's property insurance payments would be limited to $1 million annually, with the county forced to cover the remaining $600,000 or so.
No more maintenance fees. The Panthers currently pay $500,000 annually for arena maintenance. Under the new proposal, the county would take on those costs.
Oh, and the contract contains this little nugget which should inspire confidence in all Broward County taxpayers:
The ability of the county to check the Panthers' financial books would be reduced.
Stadium financing is sports' biggest scam, but it continues because the teams have the ultimate leverage: relocation. No politician wants to run the risk of being in office when a team leaves town. But on Broward County's side is the recent history in the area. South Florida is still furious over the Marlins' scam job, and just this month the Dolphins budged on renovations to the tune of hundreds of millions.
The Panthers are already alluding to the idea that the team can't stay in South Florida without an upgraded arena, even if they aren't using the R-word just yet. And they're bringing in the big guns: Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.
Over at Pro Hockey Talk they've got a portion of the team's Powerpoint presentation agitating for a new arena deal. Included is the idea that the loss of the Panthers would somehow result in concert promoters no longer playing the BB&T Center. The mechanism for this effect goes unexplained, but the threat is clear: Give the Panthers their tax money, or Broward County's old transplanted New Yorkers will lose their favorite singers.