There was a time when you just couldn’t deny it. Indiana was a basketball state until the Indianapolis Colts came to town. Despite all the success the Pacers had in the American Basketball Association and the rich history of both college and high school basketball, NFL football came to town and with a Super Bowl victory the Colts supplanted all the noise that was hoops related in the state.
Sure, a couple of modern-era NCAA Tournament championships at Indiana University and an NBA Finals appearance by the Pacers aside, Indiana was morphed into a football state over time, and the NFL stranglehold continues to be a powerful reminder of the insatiable appetite those throughout our state have for pro football.
Despite the variance in terms of popularity, there are some obvious similarities one can draw when examining the two franchises, as well as some glaring differences, so at the risk of becoming persona non grata with both organizations, l thought it would be at the very least, quite interesting to simply compare them to one another and dissect the facts.
Let’s start with the multibillionaires who currently own the teams. Herb Simon, if nothing else, has been a good steward of the franchise.
He, along with his late brother Melvin, stepped in when the Pacers were in murky financial waters and purchased the team for a mere $10.5 million in 1983. The team is currently valued at approximately $1.2 billion, so for that reason alone it’s obvious why there’s always a willing buyer when an NBA franchise is out up for sale.
Over the nearly 40 years in which the Simons have owned the club, there’s been a number of significant changes, including a new arena and one trek to the NBA Finals, both of which were engineered by then-general manager Donnie Walsh, who today remains a close confidant of the owner.
Over the years the Simons have enjoyed the generous underwriting of the Capital Improvement Board, which included that new arena that was recently upgraded substantially just in time for when the NBA All-Star Game comes to town next year.
Simon recently shed his tight-fisted image in terms of coaches’ salaries by paying future Hall of Famer Rick Carlisle over $7 million annually in an attempt to return to a competitive level.
All in all, Pacers fans have been relatively fortunate under Simon’s tutelage in terms of stabilizing the franchise, but a vast improvement in terms of competitiveness is without question, long overdue.
The situation surrounding the Indianapolis Colts is rather different, but in some senses, some similarities exist.
When the late William Hudnut convinced both government and civic leaders that a domed stadium could lead to an NFL franchise here locally, many individuals scoffed at the idea.
Enter one Robert Irsay who was disgruntled with his financial arrangement in Baltimore and looking to pad his coffers with both a new stadium and a sweetheart deal that contained both revenue sharing and the constant financial support of the same Capital Improvement Board that subsidizes the Pacers.
With his passing in 1997, the team was inherited by his son James who has shown a propensity for both the good life as well as overpriced free agents. When subpar football delivered a No. 1 pick named Peyton Manning, a Super Bowl championship was delivered in February 2007 and the mega-generous deals from our fair city kept coming with the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008, which was built for $720 million, which seems like a bargain at today’s prices.
Irsay has also benefitted greatly from the tenure of the Colts’ chief operating officer, Peter Ward, who is widely recognized around the NFL as a phenomenal administrator, one who is clearly Irsay’s right hand man and then some.
The Colts would return to the Super Bowl in 2010 only to come up short against the New Orleans Saints, but they had long cemented their spot atop the perch of the Indiana sports landscape previously. Despite some uninspiring football in recent years the team remains wildly popular with their loyal fan base.
The obvious connection these two franchises share is the monumental financial support they receive from the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana. That’s simply commensurate with having professional sports in one’s community, and while there can be a robust debate concerning the pros and cons of it all, it’s only going to get more expensive for the taxpayers along the way.
Enjoy the games, Indy, as you certainly have paid for them.
Question is, how do you feel about the return on your handsome investment?
Danny Bridges, who hasn’t lost sight of the fact that he doesn’t pay to get in and for that reason alone is the luckiest stiff in town, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at email@example.com.