800px-Bankers_Life_Fieldhouse,_Indianápolis,_Estados_Unidos,_2012-10-22,_DD_02In his column in today’s Indianapolis Star, Bob Kravitz is right. Mostly.

This morning, the City of Indianapolis and the Indiana Pacers are announcing a deal to keep the team at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the next 13 years. According to the Star“In exchange, the city will provide $160 million to cover operating costs and facility upgrades.” In other words, our tax dollars are being used to prop up the fortunes of millionaires (and the careers of politicians). We are assured that this sort of deal is par for the course these days–that if we want to keep the Pacers here, we have to do the deal, because if we don’t, other cities are already lined up with the cash.

Which makes it–okay? Smart?

Kravitz’s point, more or less, is this: If you like NBA basketball, for whatever reason, it’s a good deal. Let’s just admit we like basketball and get on with it.

The thing that bugs me, though, is that these community pitch-ins for our basketball (or football) team are always sold within the context of the great economic impact the team has on our city. And that is just a lie.

A couple of years ago, The Journal of Urban Affairs released a study entitled “Are Basketball Arenas Catalysts of Urban Development?” (Richard Florida wrote an illuminating piece about the study in Atlantic Cities.) The study found “”no statistically significant association between having an NBA arena or an NBA franchise and…regional personal income.”

In fact, the study did show a positive economic impact of our arena to the city. But it was probably because of “income transfers from the suburban area around the central city.”

That’s fine by me. I’m happy when people from the suburbs spend money downtown. But let’s don’t pretend it’s an actual net economic gain.

Let’s don’t talk about all the jobs the Pacers create. These mostly service-industry jobs would still be here–they’d just be located in Carmel and Fishers and Greenwood–and also in Irvington and Beech Grove and Greenfield and Cloverdale.

Because people aren’t going to stay home and shuck corn if the Pacers leave. They’re going to find other things to do. Maybe they’ll go to more high school basketball games. Maybe they’ll go to the theater or the symphony or the movies. Maybe losing the Pacers would be good for artists and musicians and kids.

What else could we do with more than $12 million a year for the next 13 years? We could repair a lot of streets and sewers. We could invest in education and the future of our children. We could address the rising problem of violent crime in our city that threatens to keep people locked in their homes no matter how much they love basketball. We could enrich our lives with art. We could build parks.

So let’s just admit we like the Pacers more than any of those things.

We like seeing our city’s name on national TV. We like beating New York and Chicago and Los Angeles at something. We like rhythm of the game, the arc of the jump shot, the unstoppable authority of the slam dunk. We like the cheerleaders and the booze.

And we would rather spend $160 million on that stuff than on education or infrastructure or public safety.

Because we’re never getting that money back. Remember the study I quoted above: there is no net financial benefit to our metropolitan area of keeping the Pacers here.

Otherwise, I think Kravitz is right on. Let’s just admit how much we love the Pacers. That’s the only way it makes sense.


Fieldhouse photo by Poco a poco (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.