Here we go again with the NBA rumblings.
Mayor Greg Fischer has reignited the debate about a possible National Basketball Association franchise in Louisville as a way to shore up the financial stability of the KFC Yum! Center. Responding to a question about the topic at a recent Chamber of Commerce event, the Mayor said, “If we have an opportunity, I will pursue it with full force.”
UofL gave up a great deal, in exchange for a great deal, giving both parties the state of the art basketball facility.
We don’t know whether the person asking the question was former Jefferson County Attorney J. Bruce Miller or one of his associates but we wouldn’t be surprised. Miller has been talking NBA for decades. The city blew an opportunity to move the Kentucky Colonels franchise to the NBA in 1976 for a couple of million dollars.
Fischer seemed to be echoing one of Miller’s arguments when he intimated a problem with the University of Louisville controlling the lease “for now.” A not so thinly-veiled threat that his administration may challenge the university’s control over the arena’s dates.
Miller recently commented on another Louisville blog: “The University is going to have to become a good citizen and give up the results of its unfairly negotiated deal (with a majority of Arena Authority members being UofL afficionados).”
Then Miller adds, “I can get the NBA team, but the University must first stand up and become a responsible public citizen.”
Guess Miller has given up on Freedom Hall, huh?
We’ll generously give him the benefit of the doubt that he was only referring to the arena issue. And we’ll concede that Miller probably thinks he has the community’s best interests in mind by seeking an NBA franchise and that he has been a UofL season ticket holder . But Miller has never been that complimentary of the University and his interest in a pro basketball franchise would take priority over anything UofL.
A downtown arena was the least desirable location for the University, knowing an on-campus arena would serve as a catalyst for unprecedented business development on and around Belknap Campus.
Not surprisingly, Miller fails to acknowledge the screws the city applied to the university during the arena debate, UofL agreeing under enormous pressure to abandon its pursuit of a on-campus facility or a new arena at the Fairgrounds. Jim Ramsey, Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino wanted the arena in close proximity for players and students, as did a huge segment of Louisville fans.
A downtown arena was the least desirable option for the University, recognizing that an on-campus arena would have served as a catalyst for unprecedented development on and around Belknap Campus.
But Jerry Abramson, then Mayor of Louisville Metro, applying all the political muscle available to him, was able to get the University to change course but only after the city agreed to a long list of demands, including, among other things, 88% of the revenue from the suites, payments for naming rights, and control over scheduling dates — essentially the things the University would have been entitled to with an on-campus arena.
UofL gave up a great deal, in exchange for a great deal, giving both parties a state-of-the-art basketball facility. The details spelled out in great detail in the local media. There was nothing secretive about the wheeling and dealing. There was nothing unfair about the agreement to either party, based on the information available at the time.
The KFC Yum! Center arrangement has worked out well for the University, if not for the city. According to The Wall Street Journal, U of L reported $40.9 million in revenue in the last fiscal year, according to government data—nearly $12 million more than any other team in college basketball. The city, however, is falling far short of making the bond payments because of an overly generous forecast for the special taxing district.
Now the city wants to renegotiate the deal. We can understand that, but we’re also confident that the University will be negotiating from a position of strength. But because the best interests of the community are driving forces, UofL will probably agree to more revenue sharing and scheduling flexibility.
However, everyone should remember the KFC Yum! Center was built with the explicit understanding that University of Louisville basketball would be the primary tenant. Anything that threatens that arrangement or forces the University to relinquish majority control over the arena could be a step backward, resulting in serious financial consequences and a return to the Freedom Hall scheduling quagmire .