Now the Florida Panthers Want A Public Handout: A $4.2 Million Scoreboard

First, the Miami Marlins duped their way to a deal that will eventually cost taxpayers $1 billion for a new ballpark. That's panned out about as well as early stock investments in Hindenberg, Inc. Then the Dolphins tried their hand with a campaign to get more than $200 million for Sun Life Stadium renovations. Those plans exploded up in Tally like a hydrogen-filled zeppelin.

Now the Florida Panthers want in on the public handout game. They're asking for $4.2 million to buy a new high-def scoreboard.

Let's clear this up first: The Panthers are a squad that once played a contest known as "hockey" in the downtown Miami Arena. In 1998, they packed up their ice skates, zambonis and -- uh, warm hats? Whatever else "hockey" players need, at least -- and moved to a new stadium in Sunrise.

The team has apparently used the same scoreboard ever since inside the stadium now known as BB&T Arena. So today, they're going to the Broward County Commission -- which owns and operates the arena -- to ask for the new scoreboard.

"We have puts tens of millions of dollars into this building since it has opened,'' team President Michael Yormark tells the Miami Herald this morning. "The county has not put one dollar into this building as a gift or as capital improvement. Not one. We've taken loans out, but we're responsible for those. It's their building. They own it."

At least one county official isn't buying that argument. County auditor Evan Lukic tells the Herald that the team "is responsible for replacing the scoreboard. We are not."

Obviously, $4.2 million for a scoreboard is pennies compared to the Dolphins' request and micro-pennies compared to the deal the Marlins crafted with Miami politicos.

But the team could hardly have chosen a worse moment to ask for any public largesse. Especially when Yormark's second argument to the Herald -- "The scoreboard is a permanent fixture. If the Florida Panthers leave tomorrow, we couldn't take it with us." -- sure sounds like it's walking that fine line of threatening to move without threatening to move.

It's a tactic sports teams have become expert at using and at heart, it's emotional blackmail of a fanbase that's just as despicable whether it's in the service of a $1 billion ballpark debt or a piddly $4.2 million scoreboard.

If Broward taxpayers want to buy the Panthers a new scoreboard, more power to them. Don't sign that dotted line because you're worried the NHL will pack up and leave town.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink