Pacers must make 'difficult decisions'

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers co-owner Herb Simon passionately says he doesn't want to see the city without his franchise.

His wishes and the bottom line appear to be at odds.

Among the key issues for the struggling franchise is its operation of Conseco Fieldhouse. The building where the team plays its home games belongs to the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board, and the Pacers have been paying its $15 million operating cost. Pat Early, the board's vice president, said the Pacers have made it clear that they no longer can pay that amount, in part because they could lose $30 million this season.

Early said the Pacers haven't threatened to leave, but the team would be forced to make some "very difficult decisions" if it remains saddled with the operating cost of the facility or if attendance continues to lag near the bottom of the league.

"It's possible they could move the team," Early said. "It's possible they could sell the team. It is also possible they could shut the team down. What's not possible is the Pacers losing the kind of money they're losing this year indefinitely."

Simon said he doesn't want to move the team, though he acknowledges that the financial losses have accelerated the past three years.

"I have no thought of leaving Indiana," he said. "Only a thought of preserving the Pacers and keeping them in Indiana. That's the only issue right here."

Simon, who has owned the team with his brother, Mel, since 1983, said he doesn't need help with the Pacers.

"We can handle the team," he said. "It's the operation of the facility that's causing us the problem. We're not asking anyone to pay for us. It's just the operating of the facility."

The Pacers and the Capital Improvement Board struck their current deal 10 years ago, and Early said they are in the early stages of renegotiating. He said the board can't pay the operating cost because it already faces a $43 million shortfall, and he's unsure who would.

"That's the big question," he said. "Really, we do not have the funding sources to allow us to be able to do this. We've contacted the state, the Legislature ... we're trying to figure out, are there solutions?"

At the heart of Simon's desire to rework the deal is the fact that he's 74 years old and wants to pass the team along to his heirs at some point.

"The whole reason to do this is to put the team in the financial spot where it can stay here forever," he said. "I'm getting on. I can't be here forever. I can't pass on a structure that doesn't make sense to other people."

Conseco Fieldhouse hosts many other events such as circuses and concerts, and Early said the city would suffer if no one picks up the operating cost, rendering the facility unusable.

"All the arts and entertainment and all that stuff is part of the overall environment we've been able to develop the past 40 years," Early said. "You start taking pieces of the puzzle out, and I don't know at what point it starts falling apart."

The Pacers have lost money nine of the past 10 years, were last in the league in attendance last season, and are only slightly better this season. Pacers fans will have a great deal of say in whether the team stays.

"Maybe the cost of keeping an NBA franchise in Indianapolis is more than the people of the city are willing to incur," Early said.