The Florida Panthers lose a lot of money. A lot of money. We're talking $30 million or more per year.
They've repeatedly asked their local government in Broward County -- which owns their home arena, BB&T Center -- for millions and millions in help and a reworking of their current lease. Deadspin has outlined quite well if you're interested in the details. The short version is that the Panthers situation is unsustainably bad, and that's not us saying that. That's what team ownership has said directly.
"The arena and the team have lost a significant amount of money year over year for the last 10-plus years and the current business model is not sustainable," co-owner Doug Cifu said in an August interview with Fox Sports Florida.
But while calling their current circumstance unsustainable, the owners -- Cifu and Vinnie Viola -- have also repeatedly said that they're committed to remaining in South Florida. The latest instance of that came in an open letter to Panthers fans released late Wednesday afternoon, in which they "reiterated their commitment to Broward County, South Florida and our Panthers fans and business partners."
They also said they have "no plans" to move the team -- which, as you can assume given their financial losses and the words spoken by their co-owner, has become a huge point of speculation.
Here's the full letter:
As we close in on the one-year anniversary of our ownership of the Florida Panthers, we want to reiterate our commitment to Broward County, South Florida and our Panthers fans and business partners. As we said at the press conference when we bought the team, we view ourselves as stewards of the team for the community and our plan is to build an organization that makes South Florida proud and to win the Stanley Cup in South Florida. Despite media speculation to the contrary, we have no plans or intentions to move this franchise.
We made a commitment to the Panthers and to South Florida when we bought the team to build a successful organization on and off the ice. We have been working hard to live up to that commitment. Starting with the trade to bring Roberto Luongo, one of the world's top goaltenders, back home to South Florida, and continuing with our committing over $80 million to new players, including bringing six talented veteran free agents to South Florida and resigning all of our restricted free agents, we have dedicated ourselves to improving the team. Off the ice, we continue to expand our community outreach initiatives and look forward to continue to contribute to the quality of life for residents.
It is no secret that the Panthers and BB&T Center have lost tremendous amounts of money over the last dozen years. We are working hard to address this situation, which we believe we can do with the support from our loyal fans, our business partners, the business community and our community-at-large.
We look forward to a winning season and bringing a Stanley Cup to South Florida.
With Warm Regards,
Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, Co-Owners
That's basically just a continuation of the two points the Panthers keep making:
- The team is totally committed to staying in Broward County
- ... but that they can't keep losing money like they are
Of course, the two are mutually exclusive. It's no secret that the team wants more money from Broward County, and they're continually going just shy of threatening relocation unless they get that money. They've made it clear that if they don't get that money, which they need in order to be profitable in South Florida, they're leaving, even if they haven't outwardly said it in as many words.
That's what words like "unsustainable" mean. It's also how you get ominous PowerPoint slides like the one embedded here, in which the Panthers outlined just how awful it would be for the County if they were to leave BB&T Center -- which, again, is owned by the County and operated by the Panthers. For the County's part, the mayor has said that they've hired a consultant to examine the possibility of letting the Panthers out of the lease.
The talk of relocation is on the table, and it wasn't put there by pundits in Quebec City or Seattle or wherever else they want an NHL team of their own.
Nobody is saying that a Panthers move is necessarily imminent or guaranteed to happen. But the speculation isn't completely unfounded, and in fact it's almost entirely based on words coming directly from the ownership of the team: they're losing money and they need to stop losing money soon or things are going to change.
Maybe change means the team gets competitive on the ice and fills the seats, resulting in revenue and a profit. Maybe that means Broward County gives them the money they're asking for. Or maybe it means they relocate to another city.