County officials say they won't support a bailout of the Florida Panthers hockey team without a better financial return for taxpayers.
But the Panthers appear to have something else in mind.
In the depths of the 59-page contract proposed by the team are items their representatives haven't publicized — terms that would make it more difficult for the public to receive a share of the profits at the publicly owned BB&T Center in Sunrise.
A majority of Broward County commissioners support negotiating a new deal with the Panthers, who say they are hemorrhaging money and need a hotel-tax subsidy package worth $80 million or more over the coming 14 years. But the eventual deal will likely hinge on whether the Panthers agree to give more profits generated from the arena back to the county, commissioners said in interviews with the Sun Sentinel.
Yet in the details of the lengthy contract are changes to the profit calculations from the current agreement — changes county officials confirmed are favorable to the Panthers, and not to the county.
"As currently written in their proposal," Deputy County Administrator Rob Hernandez said, "it would definitely have an impact on our ability to share in any of the profits."
An internal audit document from County Auditor Evan Lukic says the effect would be to push the profit-sharing threshold millions of dollars higher.
"The proposal includes implicit reductions to the county profit share," an audit document obtained by the Sun Sentinel says. "The proposal effectively increases the $12 million profit share threshold to over $18 million.''
The team's main request is to be relieved of contributing toward the debt on the arena; the county would pay the remainder of the $225.1 million debt, with help from a $2 million annual state subsidy.
That's not all the Panthers are asking for. Here's what else is in the 59-page Panthers proposal:
•If the arena profits exceed $12 million, the county would reap 20 percent of any profits. That's not changing. But the calculation of "profit" would change, to help the Panthers keep more of the revenues. The team would continue to count as an expense $4.5 million in arena bond payments even though the county would be paying them. The Panthers also would move to the expense ledger a $250,000 annual arena management fee paid to the Panthers by the county.
•The Panthers would remove from the profit books the money made from seats in exclusive sections: Club Red and ADT. That move alone would allow the Panthers to keep $6 million or more in revenues without counting them toward the profit-sharing threshold, according to the auditor's analysis.
•The Panthers' contributions toward arena reserves, set aside for repairs and renovations, would be cut, saving the Panthers at least $650,000 a year, or $9.7 million in all.
•The ability of the county to check the Panthers' financial books would be reduced.
•The team's payment for property insurance for the arena would be capped at $1 million, and the county would pick up the rest. That's an estimated $600,000 a year, or $9 million over the life of the contract.
The team would back away from financial responsibility for maintaining the arena, and would ask the county to pick up $500,000 a year in maintenance. That piece of the deal would cost the county $7.5 million in tourist taxes.
•A 22-acre piece of vacant land owned by the county next to the arena would be given to the Panthers for construction of a hotel-casino. The county's financial return would be negotiated.
As the proposal heads into heavy negotiations, commissioners Tuesday hired a consultant, Squire Sanders, to help.
Though the team's new owner, Vinnie Viola, hasn't made a public appearance since asking for the millions, team co-owner Doug Cifu and other team executives lobbied county commissioners individually Thursday and Friday.
They face a tough road.