The Florida Panthers want help off-setting massive financial losses from Broward County. In order to get that help, they need the nine county commissioners to come to a majority on a vote to assist the club $80 million in tax subsidies over the next 14 years.
According to a report from the Sun Sentinel, the team currently has the support of four commissioners, which at this point won't cut it, obviously. One commissioner can't vote because her husband is lobbying on behalf of the Panthers. The rest seem rather unenthused by the Panthers' latest proposal and won't agree to a deal without some kind of return to the county.
More from the thorough Sun Sentinel report:
A majority of Broward County commissioners support negotiating a new deal with the Panthers, who say they are hemorrhaging money and need a hotel-tax subsidy package worth $80 million or more over the coming 14 years. But the eventual deal will likely hinge on whether the Panthers agree to give more profits generated from the arena back to the county, commissioners said in interviews with the Sun Sentinel.
Yet in the details of the lengthy contract are changes to the profit calculations from the current agreement — changes county officials confirmed are favorable to the Panthers, and not to the county.
"As currently written in their proposal," Deputy County Administrator Rob Hernandez said, "it would definitely have an impact on our ability to share in any of the profits."
An internal audit document from County Auditor Evan Lukic says the effect would be to push the profit-sharing threshold millions of dollars higher.
"The proposal includes implicit reductions to the county profit share," an audit document obtained by the Sun Sentinel says. "The proposal effectively increases the $12 million profit share threshold to over $18 million.''
The team's main request is to be relieved of contributing toward the debt on the arena; the county would pay the remainder of the $225.1 million debt, with help from a $2 million annual state subsidy.
In effect, the Panthers are looking to play rent free in the BB&T Center, which should be a non-starter. However, the other factor when it comes to profit sharing is that there has to be profits to share. Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu told the Sun Sentinel, there isn't any and may not be from the Panthers side of things. There is money being made in concert and other entertainment events held in the building.
This could spark the relocation rumor mill if the Panthers are unable to get what they want out of the county, but those commissioners holding out are doing right by the tax payers. Public funds to professional sports franchises so rarely work out for the benefit of the people effectively paying to keep the team where they are.
This is also a bit of the art of negotiation. The Panthers are asking for a ton of money and offering very little in return aside from being the primary tenant in a venue that needs one to stay viable. They have to ask for everything they can get, but they shouldn't just get it because they asked. There will have to be some compromise here.
The team also has to find a way to draw more people to the building.
These fans aren't magically going to appear. The Panthers are 27th in the league with an average home attendance of 14,767. Each week another picture of a mostly-empty building for a Panthers game is another stark reminder of the uphill battle the team faces.
The county absolutely does not want to lose a primary tenant for the BB&T Center, but they can't be giving the Panthers a deal that really only benefits the Panthers. It's a tough situation, but an important one for the future of both the team and the people of Broward County.