Our libraries are at risk! Our schools are in trouble! We need more police officers, new sewers and better streets!
So say those who decry the new Conseco Fieldhouse deal. All their claims are true. But they don’t change the fact that
we need the Indiana Pacers, too.
Conseco Fieldhouse does not belong to the Pacers, but to the city. On July 12, the Capital Improvement Board, the government
entity responsible for the facility, agreed to pick up $10 million of its annual operating costs the next three years, and
pay for $3.5 million in capital improvements.
That’s a lot of money. But it’s much less than the $15 million a year the Pacers asked for, or the entire $14
million to $18 million in annual expenses that the city would be stuck with if the Pacers dribbled out of town. Given that
the team claims it has lost money every year but one since moving to the fieldhouse, the team’s future here could have
been in jeopardy had CIB not made a deal. And CIB plans to cover the new costs it has assumed without any tax increases—no
small feat in the current economic climate.
CIB was wise to cut a short-term deal. By the time it expires in three years, the convention center expansion will be complete,
the economy may well have rebounded, and NBA team owners may have succeeded in lowering players’ pay. The union agreement
that covers player salaries expires next July.
With any luck, in three years, both the Pacers and CIB will be on firmer financial footing.
Studies say the Pacers generate $55 million a year for the local economy, including $15 million in local tax revenue and
1,000 jobs. The presence of the Pacers and the WNBA Indiana Fever has a ripple effect on the 66,000 people employed by the
local hospitality industry.
Professional sports also benefit our city in less tangible ways. Having the Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts here brings
Indianapolis national recognition, and helps sell the city as a place to live, work and locate a company. They have played
an important role in revitalizing our downtown and buoying our economy. They give Indianapolis cachet.
The team’s detractors make some legitimate points. The team’s performance (on and off the court) has fallen short
in recent years, and the need for a bailout is unfortunate at a time when basic city services are in jeopardy. But letting
the team go wouldn’t solve those problems and, in fact, would create new ones.
In a statement released after the CIB announcement, the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce likened our major facilities
downtown to a sports and hospitality ecosystem. “If you remove part of the system—by losing the Pacers, for example—you
devalue all of it.”
None of us can afford that.•
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