MORTON: Indy's road to Oz will end soon for sports team owners

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MortonThe seemingly endless yellow brick road to Oz, or what residents of central Indiana have come to accept as privately owned professional sports franchises seeking financial sustenance to build and upgrade, is nearing a tipping point of practical expenditures.

The recent announcement that Pacers Sports & Entertainment reached a 10-year, $160 million agreement to ensure the NBA franchise maintains its home at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is definitely the right move by the Capital Improvement Board, the organization that owns the city’s professional sports venues.

Coincidentally, this agreement was announced as Stadium Magazine released its annual report ranking Lucas Oil Stadium as the National Football League’s top venue for stadium experience. For Colts fans, that’s good news given that taxpayers will pay $620 million of the $720 million construction costs financed by the state and city of Indianapolis for the stadium.

Other recent financial assistance packages include the state-funded $60 million refurbishment of the coliseum at the state fairgrounds that is now home to the soon-to-premier Indy Fuel hockey team and the $100 million, 20-year payback agreement by the state with Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This year’s legislative session also included an aggressive, yet unsuccessful, campaign by Indy Eleven seeking state funding for an $85 million soccer stadium.

We should all thank Max Schumacher, president and chairman of the Indianapolis Indians, for the organization’s continued self-investment to maintain and improve what many consider minor-league baseball’s finest stadium. Unlike the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts, the Indians pay all costs to preserve and upgrade the 18-year-old stadium, plus $500,000 in annual rental fees.

To clarify, CIB is funded by revenue accrued from hotel, food and beverages, and admissions taxes. Additional revenue is collected from rental fees, parking garages, car rental taxes, cigarette taxes, and also downtown income and sales taxes. By law, the revenue is restricted for purposes associated with the professional sports venues and the Indiana Convention Center.

There is little debate as to the importance sports has had on Indianapolis since the forward-thinking sports strategy was established in 1979. However, CIB and the state don’t have unlimited resources, and must be extremely prudent to even consider additional financial liabilities to support professional sports facilities.

CIB is obligated to invest in the sports venues it currently owns and supports (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field). Accordingly, the city and state need to learn to say no to newcomers that come to the city’s pay window seeking a “please build it for us” proposition.

There is no debate that the Colts, Fever, Indians and Pacers are woven into the sports-licensed fabric of Indianapolis. Despite the city and/or state being on the hook to pay the financing for their respective home fields and stadiums, losing any of the teams would be a huge negative, and any replacement franchise would seek an even less attractive financial package. Besides, CIB needs the revenue from the combined 140 regular-season games the teams play annually to pay down the debt accrued to build the stadiums.

In two sold-out home games, Indy Eleven has demonstrated that minor-league professional soccer has a future in Indianapolis. Can the city and/or state help support a stadium near equal in cost to the $100 million-plus that owners would be required to pay for a minor-league soccer franchise? Could the Eleven establish a public-private partnership with Indiana University and continue to invest in the long-overdue refurbishment of Michael A. Carroll Stadium as its permanent home without building another stadium on the shoulders of taxpayers?

What happens when the emergence of lacrosse in the grass-roots market results in the professional league’s entering with a, “We’re here to, you know, … ” message? Are cricket and other sports still to be established domestically soon to follow?

“No” should be the answer to any team executives seeking outright funding for sports venue projects. Without significantly increased revenue to CIB coffers, the requests to finance home-team stadiums require more parity by team owners to help pay construction and maintenance costs. Also needed are a short-term proven team history, realistic ticket sales projections, and a taxpayer-favorable business model for stadium financing.

Otherwise, please think of the successes of the likes of Arlington, Texas; Foxboro, Mass.; and Glendale, Ariz.—where the teams’ home “city” negotiated more favorable terms to build stadiums in suburban communities. Maybe Boone or Hamilton counties want to enter the big leagues.•


Morton is principal of Indianapolis-based Sunrise Sports Group. Views expressed here are the writer’s.


  • Indy 11 should be Indiana 11 and located in Hamilton County
    The Indy 11 should be Indiana 11 and should be located with a new stadium in Hamilton County, perhaps near Fishers on I69 or Carmel near Keyston or Meridian. Indianapolis should not have any more professional sports stadiums, soccer North of Indianapolis, hockey at the Colliseum, IUPUI at the Colliseum, Rugby in Carmel, Soccer in Carmel, Lacross in Carmel, Cricket in Carmel. Get real, the fans are in Hamilton County. Hamilton County could even support a A or AA baseball team.
  • Soccer
    Expect Indy Eleven to be at the trough in a couple years. They even thing they need a new stadium. Improve the IUPUI stadium, parking already in place.

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  1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these people....do you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

  2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

  3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

  4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

  5. I remain amazed at the level of expertise of the average Internet Television Executive. Obviously they have all the answers and know the business inside and out.