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.