Sports Business

SPORTS: This sports writer's open letter to Jim Irsay ...

September 4, 2006

Well, here we go again. Another season of high hopes for your Indianapolis Colts or, as many consider them, "our" Indianapolis Colts.

They feel we're all in this together. That includes you, the folks you've assembled there on West 56th Street, and everybody here in the local universe who supports the product by buying tickets, leasing suites, purchasing gear, being a sponsor, providing copious coverage, or simply being a fan in front of the TV.

Yes, at the end of the day, it's still your team. The buck and the bucks stop on your desk.

If it all goes south, you're accountable. It won't be the guy in Section 312. He'll be booing.

You're to be thanked for not taking the money and running to L.A. You insisted you wanted to keep the team in Indy and kept your word even as skeptics scoffed.

And you're to be respected for not regarding the Colts as a toy. They are your business and you have treated them as one. Success-Super Bowl success-is your goal, and you have devoted the necessary resources to make that happen, even though a key injury, a bad call, w-i-d-e right or unforeseen extenuating circumstances can ruin the best of seasons.

How well we remember.

But the expectation of success is there, and that's the key. This isn't a franchise that is screwed up and has no chance. You have a team that stirs the passions. Fans are stoked.

Jim, we've known each other awhile, though I dare not say well. I've been invited to your inner sanctum from time to time for interviews and I've always appreciated your warm demeanor even if the office thermostat was set at 60.

For sure, you are one fascinating dude.

And I've sure as heck admired how you've taken over the franchise following your father's death. You've made some excellent hiring decisions-e.g., Bill Polian and Tony Dungy-and allowed them to run the show without a lot of outside interference. Daniel Snyder or Jerry Jones you're not. Thank goodness.

Now, not that it matters much because ink-stained wretches don't wield nearly the influence they think, but I dare say no one with a public forum-daily or weekly-has lobbied for investments in the Indianapolis sports infrastructure more than I.

Even though the Colts and the Pacers (and the venues they play in) are big-ticket items, I have supported their presence here as significant factors in the rising tide that has lifted Indianapolis. We wouldn't be what we are today without them. And virtually every day as I drive past Lucas Oil Stadium, I sense the pride I will feel when it opens. Like Conseco Fieldhouse or Victory Field, it's going to be special.

Of course, Jim, as everyone knows, while the stadium will have multiple uses, even most of the non-football activities will generate money toward your bottom line.

But I-like a lot of others-was amazed to learn that a not-so-little item was overlooked or ignored. And that would be money to operate the stadium once the doors open. The estimate is $10 million a year for things like lights, heating, cooling and cleaning.

Jim, I don't know what your cash flow is, although my guess is it leans more toward torrent than trickle. Sure, you and the Colts have been good corporate citizens, and your personal generosity is to be admired.

But there's an undeniable perception out there the deal you've struck is more onesided than Notre Dame versus Navy.

We can't gauge the ultimate impact on the franchise bottom line because the books aren't open to the public, even though the public is paying for your team's playpen.

But let's be honest. The politicos are in a pecuniary pickle. Hizzoner, the mayor, has other pressing financial issues, like public safety. Meanwhile, the state said it would find the money to build the stadium (and already there are concerns about cost overruns) but not to run it.

Jim, here's where you could step forward and be a white knight with a horseshoe on your helmet. Surely there's enough there in the pile of cash from stadium revenue-including the naming rights-to carve out a chunk for operating costs without sacrificing the money it takes to field a competitive team. At the very least, this would go a long way to quiet the critics who think you're nothing more than a cat getting fat at the public trough.

I don't think, at heart, that's you. This could be a chance to prove it.

Have a great day ... and season.

Bill

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column,go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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