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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Indians willing to share a portion of ticket sales with Spokane County

Feb. 14, 2023 Updated Tue., Feb. 14, 2023 at 10:21 a.m.

The Spokane Indians take on the Vancouver Canadians during the season opener April 8 at Avista Stadium.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Indians take on the Vancouver Canadians during the season opener April 8 at Avista Stadium. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The monthslong negotiation between the Spokane Indians and Spokane County over mandated upgrades to the county-owned Avista Stadium may have overcome a major hurdle.

In response to the county’s demands that the Indians share a percentage of their revenues, the team is offering a portion of its ticket sales. It’s now up to the county to either accept the ballclub’s offer or push for an even bigger slice of the Indians’ earnings.

The Indians and Spokane County have no choice but to upgrade Avista Stadium, the team’s home ballpark.

Avista Stadium needs a minimum of $16 million in improvements before the start of the 2025 season in order to comply with new Major League Baseball requirements, which are primarily intended to improve the lives of minor league ballplayers. If the Indians and county can’t upgrade the stadium in time, Spokane will almost certainly lose MLB-affiliated baseball.

The Indians also plan to add fan amenities, such as an outfield concourse, which will bring the total project cost to $22 million.

So far, the Indians and Spokane Valley have each pledged $2 million for the Avista Stadium project. The Indians are also lobbying the state Legislature for more than $5 million, and the county is hoping Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers may be able to secure some federal dollars for the effort.

Spokane County commissioners have committed up to $8 million, provided the Indians can come up with another $8 million in matching funds.

That $8 million offer comes with more conditions. The county wants to raise the Indians’ annual rent from $25,000 to $100,000 and make the team pay for all future maintenance and utility payments. The county currently spends about $150,000 per year on Avista Stadium.

On top of raising the rent and passing on maintenance costs, the county commissioners are demanding that the Indians share a portion of their revenues.

During a public meeting Monday, Spokane County CEO Scott Simmons said the team has made the county a revenue sharing offer.

Simmons said the Indians are willing to give the county $1 for every ticket sold, with one major caveat: The revenue sharing would only kick in once the Indians have sold 250,000 tickets in a given year.

For instance, if the Indians sold 250,001 tickets in a season, Spokane County would get $1. If the Indians’ annual attendance was 275,000, Spokane County would get $25,000. The revenue sharing agreement would begin after the Avista Stadium upgrades are completed.

Spokane Indians President Chris Duff said if the commissioners sign off on that revenue sharing agreement, the team will accept the county’s other terms.

The county and Indians haven’t had a revenue sharing agreement in the past, so the fact that the team would agree to one is significant.

If the agreement had been in place last season, however, Spokane County wouldn’t have received any money from it. The Indians drew about 234,000 fans in 2022.

“They would have to have an even better year of attendance before we would even see a dollar,” Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns said. “I would lean toward saying that number’s a little high.”

Duff said the Indians are budgeting for 250,000 in attendance for the 2023 season. He said the team expects to draw between 275,000 and 300,000 in the coming years.

Those projections may sound optimistic, but there’s good reason to expect the Indians’ attendance to grow.

The Indians became a full-season minor league club in 2021. That climb up the minor league ranks means the team now plays 66 home games per year, as opposed to 38 before. It will take time for Indians fans to adjust to the new schedule, Duff said.

“We have not reached 250,000, but last year was our first long-season season that we’ve had, and last year was the coldest and wettest spring on record,” Duff said. “We anticipate our attendance growing.”

Spokane County Commissioner Al French said he wasn’t “crazy” about the Indians’ revenue sharing offer.

“If this is the best we can get to, I’ll adjust my expectations,” French said.

Commissioner Josh Kerns wouldn’t say whether he’d be willing to sign off on the $1 per ticket idea.

“My goal is to get the best deal possible for the taxpayer,” he said.

Commissioner Chris Jordan, who took office in January, stressed that he doesn’t want to see the Indians leave Spokane over a stadium dispute.

Like Kerns, Jordan wouldn’t commit to signing off on the Indians’ counter offer. But he said he feels the county’s negotiations with the team are in a good place.

“I give my fellow commissioners credit for pushing hard for a better deal for taxpayers than what was originally on the table,” he said.

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