Maxwell Anderson's IMA



called being over a barrel – the graceless posture that comes from being

bent in such a way that one's hind quarters are put on prominent display.

Meanwhile, one's head, the inaptly named "seat" of reason, takes a dive.


pretty much describes Indianapolis in the matter of Conseco Fieldhouse and the

Indiana Pacers. For over a year, the Pacers, AKA shopping mall tycoon Herb

Simon, have been complaining that operating costs at Conseco are too high.

Those costs apparently run $15 million to $18 million a year.


not hard to imagine that, when the deal between the Pacers and the city was

first struck more than a decade ago, the idea of the team paying Conseco

operating costs seemed like a reasonable trade-off. In exchange for picking up

the operating tab, the Pacers wouldn't be charged rent for use of the hall. And

the agreement stipulated that the Pacers would make any money associated with

nonsporting events booked into the arena, from rock concerts to performances by

Cirque du Soleil.


the meantime, the city could count on the Pacers, better known as "your"

Indiana Pacers, until at least 2019.


haven't worked out. Although Indiana prides itself on being America's sweet

spot for basketball, the Pacers are a money-losing proposition. At least that's

what Mr. Simon says. He claims the Pacers have been in the red every year since

moving into Conseco Fieldhouse, blowing through about $60 million over the last

two seasons alone.


not clear whether the Pacers simply failed to budget for the costs of operating

what many spectators consider to be a state-of-the-art basketball facility, or

if the costs associated with that facility, not unlike the salaries of many

basketball players, have grown in unexpected ways over the past ten years. Who

would have thought that somebody like the injury-riddled Mike Dunleavy –

that's "your" Mike Dunleavy -- could command $10 million a year?


Pacers told the city they wanted it to begin picking up operating costs. The

timing of this demand could not have been worse. The Capital Improvement Board,

the city body responsible for managing sports facilities and other downtown

resources, had just learned that operating Lucas Oil Stadium was costing about

$40 million more than anticipated. Not only that, the overall economy was in

the tank and citizens had just staged a mini coup, throwing out an incumbent

mayor over skyrocketing taxes and a lack of attention to street-level services.


city, particularly the CIB, has been running a fast shuffle since then, trying

to keep its balls (as it were) in the air.


is a town, remember, where the contemporary origin story goes something like

this: Things had turned to dust in this once proud place. People called us

Naptown, the city that always slept. But then a group of young and restless

civic leaders came upon a Great Idea. And that Idea was to christen this place

the Amateur Sports Capital of America. The power of this idea woke our sleeping

city, leading to the revitalization of downtown, the building of great temples

and the arrival tourists.


was probably inevitable that the glamour and corporate power of professional

sports would come to dominate this narrative. What is an amateur sports

capital, anyway? The point here is that city leadership invested heavily in the

fixed idea of sport. It was something that was easy to understand and easy to

sell to a community notorious for its suspicion of Big Ideas.


Indianapolis is a small market and pro sports bring large market demands. Hence

that barrel Herb Simon invited Mayor Ballard and the CIB to bend themselves

over. The mayor, of course, tried to put the best, er, face on this position.

"The Fieldhouse is a city-owned public building that must be run with or

without the Pacers," he said in justifying the city's picking up $10 million

per year in operating costs for the next three years, along with another $3.5

million for facility upgrades.


the mayor said this agreement was not about the Pacers, he spoke at length

about the underlying fear of losing the Pacers to another city — $55

million and thousands of jobs that, he said, help fund neighborhood

improvements and provide employment for everyday folks. "Your" Indiana Pacers,



the mayor neglected to say was that 2019 is just a couple of elections away.

What's more, we don't know what Herb Simon's plans are. Given the team's lack

of financial success, might he be looking for a buyer? Then what?


how is it the Pacers still get to keep the money from nonsporting events at the



Ballard has been doing yeoman's work lately, finding stopgap ways of keeping

libraries open, buses running and, for three more seasons, the Pacers

dribbling. Until the city arrives upon a new vision for itself –something

that takes over where sports leave off – don't be surprised if he looks a

little bent out of shape.