Panthers ask for public funding, promise competitive team in return (no, really)

The Florida Panthers claim to be losing more than $20 million a year and are asking for more public funding help with the BB&T Center. Part of the return they promise is to have a competitive payroll and, presumably, a competitive team. The problem is, the franchise has never shown it’s even capable of meeting that basic big-league goal.

Crying poor and asking for more money. This is the tack taken by some NHL owners – and indeed, owners in all sports – to squeeze every last penny out of the community it supposedly partners with for arena costs. The Florida Panthers are taking their own swing for easy cash by claiming they are a money-losing endeavor. Never mind that the owners pull in a profit operating the BB&T Center.

According to this Sun-Sentinel story, the Panthers hockey team is losing more than $20 million a year and is seeking to rewrite its contract with Broward County so that the public assumes responsibility for $70 million in arena costs currently being handled by the team.

But here’s the rib-tickling kicker to how the Panthers would repay a re-worked deal:

The Panthers would commit to investing in hockey team payroll “at a level competitive with the rest of the National Hockey League.”

It’s not the first time the Panthers made a promise to get public funding help. When this arena was first built in 1998, with public financing, the team promised profits would return to the taxpayers. According to the Sun-Sentinel article, this has only happened once.

Supposedly, having a competitive payroll wouldn’t just mean tossing money down a hole to follow through on a promise in its literal sense, but use it to (finally) build a competitive team. Because team president Michael Yormark knows the very basics of what his fans want:

“I think the community wants a healthy arena,” Yormark said. “They want a healthy sports team. They want the benefit that a professional sports team and world-class entertainment brings to their community.”

Well, ya, of course that’s what they want. I’m sure they don’t want a continuation of the tire fire the Panthers have been for 20 years. They also don’t want to be fed hollow, pandering promises.

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Here’s the rub: is the team capable of building a competitor, even if it didn’t have a salary cap to consider? This is a franchise with a long and frustrating history of nightmarish personnel decisions.

When new owner Vincent Viola purchased the team before this season, he came with the usual song and dance about turning it around and being dedicated to icing a winner. Gary Bettman put on his show by telling Panthers fans the team had a long-term future in Florida and that they should be “focused on the commitment to winning.”

“We’re all about hockey and are very singularly focused people,’’ Viola said. “That’s what we’re about, the Florida Panthers. We will do everything we can and we will win here. We’re excited about that.’’

If that’s the case. Put a team on the ice that isn’t a lock for the lottery every year and overpays veterans just to spend the minimum allowed. Improve a franchise that is the biggest running joke and most irrelevant in the NHL (and since two teams were recently toying and dealing with bankruptcy, that’s saying something). Before you ask for more cash and promise the most basic big-league practice, show you have the means to even achieve it.

Actions speak louder than words and the Panthers’ actions bluntly say this is about one thing.

And it ain’t winning.