Benner/Sports and Colts and Lucas Oil Stadium and Capital Improvement Board and Government & Economic Development and Sports Business

An open letter to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay

February 9, 2009


Dear Jim:

It's me again. You probably don't remember, but 2-1/2 years ago—Sept. 4, 2006, to be precise—I penned my first open letter to you in this very space. I never heard back from you on that one, not that I expected to. Hey, you're a busy guy.

I wrote that letter when perhaps only a handful of experts were warning of a financial crisis, and certainly no one was paying any attention to them. Besides, we were flush, living large, watching our 401(k)s and home values grow.

You were doing pretty well, too, Jim. Your Colts were six months away from climbing football's Everest and winning the Super Bowl. We'd all gotten hooked on the Horseshoes, me included. The RCA Dome didn't have enough seats and suites and other revenue sources and there was the fact then (and now) of this place called Los Angeles sitting out there without an NFL team of its own.

To your credit, Jim, you didn't issue threats. Didn't have to. You had leverage. Savvy president. Humble coach. Superstar quarterback. Team the networks loved. And a city desperate to not lose its hard-won big-league status.

The result was, you and your representatives were able to negotiate a deal that couldn't have had any more sweetheart on it than if it had been signed on Valentine's Day.

The local Dems and the state GOP tossed the funding back and forth like a literal political football. And they eventually came up with a plan that covered bricks, mortar, bells and whistles but neglected one little thing: how to pay for the operating costs. You know, like heating, cooling, lights ... that sort of stuff.

The cost at the time was estimated to be about $10 million a year.

Anyway, Jim, that's what prompted me to write the first time. Here's what I said then.

"Surely there's enough there in the pile of cash from stadium revenues—including the naming rights—to carve out a chunk for operating costs without sacrificing the money it takes to field a competitive team. ... 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."

Well, of course, you didn't take my advice. Imagine that. Anyway, those critics soon were swept away by the Super Bowl euphoria, then the excitement over the runup to the stadium opening.

Timing is everything. Imagine debating whether to build a stadium now.

Anyway, here we are, Jim, 30 months later, and the folks that run your team's playpen, the Capital Improvement Board, now are looking at a projected $20 million hole with those operating costs. That's on top of other financial problems.

Yes, I know, a contract is a contract; a deal is a deal. But again, Jim, you could engender so much good will if you would step forward and agree to take a look at that lease and, at the very least, provide some—just some—short-term relief until this financial crisis passes.

In my '06 letter, I praised you as a great and charitable owner who had put together a franchise that was to be highly admired both on and off the field. That hasn't changed.

But, now, people are scared they can't provide for their families. They're scared they can't keep and find jobs. They're angry at the greed they see in the face of these tough times.

And they don't see that greed just on Wall Street. They see it on West 56th Street and throughout the front offices of professional teams across America.

I think your willingness to step forward would show folks, at least locally, that you want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I also believe that those of us who use the venues need to step up. The idea of a ticket/ consumer tax is being floated. I can't disagree with that. All of us who benefit from these buildings must be ready to share in the burden.

And, yes, that would also include those who patronize the Pacers, Fever, Indians.
___

Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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