UofL must maintain control of Yum! Center scheduling

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 .

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Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

10 thoughts on “UofL must maintain control of Yum! Center scheduling

  • July 31, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    i like the thought of getting a nba team to louisville, i think the city is big enough to support it… but the passion wont be there like it is for college ball. its a worthy experiment, but an expensive experiment that will undoubtedly fail. scheduling should remain in the hands of the university, and the nba transplant team need to either embrace the college ball atmosphere or stay put

  • August 1, 2012 at 8:05 am

    NBA will not care about the City of Louisville. It only cares about the NBA and its owner. We need to keep them out of Louisville.

  • August 1, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Any potential NBA franchise interested in relocating to Louisville MUST understand that they would be second priority in the KFC YUM Center.

    If they can’t deal with that, let them spend money to re-organize Freedom Hall to their needs or look elsewhere.

    We had our shot at the big time when the ABA and NBA merger took place. We blew the “gimme putt”.

    I’d rather see a WNBA franchise first. No scheduling conflicts at the YUM, since the WNBA season is played in the summer months.

    • August 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      I think your idea makes a lot of sense, Paul. Maybe we ought to get Cissy Musselman working on this? An NHL franchise would be great, too, if it didn’t lead to a repeat of all the slipping and sliding that occurred at Freedom Hall after those events.

      • August 3, 2012 at 8:48 am


  • August 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I like the Pro-Team(Wnba)suggestion! It would give the city a Pro-Team and hopefully some more money. While providing the city & surrounding counties citizens something to do and talk about during the slow boring summer months.

    Also, I think it would promote the “women sports” in the city and surrounding counties without any or much competition from other sports. However, I believe those in the money and with power want a NBA Team. Therefore, it probably want happen, especially since it could be a success.

  • August 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Mayor Fischer and his buddy Bruce Miller will undoubtably persue an NBA franchise. They will fail not because of the University of Louisville holds the scheduling rights, but because any NBA franchise would want favorable tax incentives which neither the city nor the State can afford. Ultimately they will blame their failure on the University of Louisville in an attempt to cause enough public outcry to force UofL to renegotiate their deal.

    write it down.

    • August 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      That will bear watching. But the city will be up against a tough and savvy political foe with tons of support in the community. They did that the first time around and it didn’t work out for the NBA proponents.

  • August 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Pardon my ignorance but what is it with this J. Bruce Miller guy that makes him so obsessed with bringing an NBA team to Louisville? Something seems shady about this guy getting checks from the City comprised of our tax dollars to investigate the viability of an NBA team here when very few people seem to be in favor of the idea. Like it or not, this is a college sports town. The Metro Council can write this guy all the checks in the world and it won’t change that.

    • August 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm

      Larry, I believe he was part of the old Kentucky Colonels franchise and never got over closing down the team. We were led to believe at the time that all John Y. Brown, Jr. had to was to invest $2 million in the team and Louisville would have been in the NBA.

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