CHARLOTTE -- Bob Johnson may be disappointed by Charlotte's lukewarm reception to his basketball team, but the Bobcats and the city appear stuck with each other for some time.
Johnson complained this week that Charlotte's corporate community isn't buying enough of his most expensive club seats and suites, and that he's losing money on the 4-year-old NBA team.
But Johnson, the team's majority owner, said he won't sell or move the team -- and acknowledged that his arena deal with the city makes leaving virtually impossible.
Details of the controversial arena contract show that Johnson received one of the best deals in the NBA, but he also is anchored to Charlotte for years.
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The team must pay the city of Charlotte $200 million in damages if it leaves before 2010. The penalty declines gradually over the next 20 years, to $150 million if the Bobcats bolt between 2010 and 2015, to $70 million if they leave in 2018 or 2019.
The team is free to go after 2030, when the city is expected to finish paying for the $265 million Time Warner Cable Arena.
The team paid about $20 million towards the arena's cost, a smaller share than what most NBA teams contribute. The Bobcats manage the arena and can keep all potential profits. They also must absorb all losses.
The deal puts the team in position to be competitive, said one expert.
"Charlotte has a fantastic arena deal," said Kurt Badenhausen, a reporter with Forbes who covers sports business. "It's probably the best in the NBA."
Bobcats Sports and Entertainment manages the arena and can book whatever concerts or events it wishes. The arena deal requires that the city get at least 12 "city dates," which can be used for events such as high school graduations or conventions.
The city doesn't require the team to disclose its finances, and Johnson has declined to say how much the team has lost.
"If they make money, it's theirs," said Charlotte city attorney Mac McCarley, who worked on the 2003 arena deal. "If they lose money, it's theirs."
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who supported building the arena even after voters rejected the idea in 2001, said he's not worried about the city's investment. The deal places all risk with the team, and the city's financial investment is finished, he said.
"With the old coliseum, we would be responsible for its losses," McCrory said.
The Bobcats must pay for operating costs such as electric bills. They also reimburse the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority for all "back of house" costs such as security and janitorial services. Those costs were about $7 million last year, said Mike Crum of the CRVA.