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Good News And Bad On Miami Dolphins Stadium Deal

Memo Pad Sports

Good News And Bad On Miami Dolphins Stadium Deal


Incredible as it seems, Miami-Dade voters might actually be allowed to decide whether or not tax dollars are used to renovate the Miami Dolphins football stadium.

The Miami-Dade Commission has set May 14 for a referendum, contingent on approval by the Legislature. If it comes to pass, the event would be monumental.

Seldom is the public given a voice at the ballot box when fat subsidies are handed out to sports tycoons. This time, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had no choice.

Local politicians caught hell for the Marlins ballpark ripoff, which was kept from the reach of fuming voters. Out of sheer dread, Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez and others demanded a referendum on the Sun Life Stadium project.

That was the good news. The bad news is that the deal still stinks.

The county would jack up the so-called bed tax on hotel rooms, and from that revenue the Dolphins would receive more than $289 million over the next 26 years.

That’s the only sure thing about the arrangement — every penny of that tax money will be spent.

The team is supposed to refund at least $112 million to the county 30 years from now. How that dollar figure was settled upon doesn’t matter, because the chances of the check ever being written are roughly the same as that of Lindsay Lohan becoming a nun. It’s more whimsical than fantasy football. It’s fantasy financing.

Thirty years from now, this stadium contract will be a foggy memory. Sun Life will have been either bulldozed like the Orange Bowl, or refurbished several more times under new terms negotiated by a new cast of lobbyists and politicians.

The proposed upgrade of Sun Life would attract some new and desperately needed Dolphin season-ticket holders, but the primary selling point is that it will bring new Super Bowls to South Florida.

Rushing the referendum was necessary because on May 22 the NFL will pick the sites for the 50th and 51st Super Bowls. The league hasn’t formally committed to give one of those two games to Sun Life Stadium, even if the renovation plan is ratified by voters.

Never fear. The county and the team management cooked up a simple formula obviously modeled on frequent-flier mileage programs.

The units of measurement are called “Marquee Event Points.” According to the deal language, the stadium must accrue a total of 120 over the next 30 years.

There are Tier 1 and Tier 2 Marquee Events, with varying point allocations. For example, 15 Marquee Event Points will be awarded for “the first four Super Bowls and each World Cup Soccer Final game.” Talk about optimism!

A fifth Super Bowl would be worth 20 Marquee Event points, while college football championships and World Cup non-final matches would earn 10 points.

Tier 2 Events, which are defined as internationally televised soccer matches, will be worth one modest point to the stadium.

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen is an award-winning journalist, commentator, and novelist. Hiaasen has worked for the Miami Herald since 1976, and his writing focuses on environmental and corruption issues in his home state of Florida.

His latest book is Skink—No Surrender (2014).

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  1. charleo1 April 16, 2013

    If you’re a billionaire in the good old U.S. of A. life is sweet. And, if you’re looking
    around for a good investment for your hundreds of millions, and who isn’t? You
    could invest in art. Lot’s of money there. But, very esoteric. You’ll need to know
    a bit about the subject. Power boat racing is very exciting. If watching people watch you, spend a ton of money, is your thing, power boats are your game. But, if you’re
    looking for the best investment around, you can’t go wrong with a sports franchise.
    Take Jerry Jones. He was able to buy into the Dallas Cowboys in the early 80’s,
    for about 800 million. Today, the team is worth an estimated 2,5/3 billion. But,
    Jerry is not selling. He loves his football, that guy does. And, he loves his Cowboys.
    It’s nice to see someone completely fulfill their wildest dreams. And, Jerry has.
    But, it’s not necessary to love, or even know much about the sport the team you
    buy, plays. Jeffery Lori, owner of the Miami Marlins, spent hundreds of millions
    buying the contracts of some of the best loved ball players in the major leagues,
    while he was courting the politicians to finance a brand new stadium for his team.
    Then, as soon as the papers were all signed, he promptly sold those contracts, and
    fielded a team of players, most of them fresh up from the minors, for a fifth of the
    money he paid last year. But, the fans get to come out to his brand new ball park.
    So what, if the tickets and parking, and concessions all cost more, and the team
    is dead last. Jeffery’s happy. And, at the end of the day, there’s nothing more
    important than keeping our team owners happy! They are a bit like big kids. Bless
    their hearts. Jeffery got his new stadium built by the County. Now Stephen wants
    his stadium, at least fixed up. At a net worth of only 2.5 billion, Stephen Ross is one
    of the poorer football team owners. So, he really needs a maximum payout to fund
    his retirement. Like Carl said, ticket sales, especially season ticket sales are down.
    Stephen feels sprucing up the old stadium, the Dolphin’s first owner, Joe Robbie built
    with his own money 30 years ago. Ross feels it is just what is needed to perk up those slumping ticket sales. Oh, the Dolphins, the football team? Mr. Ross is very excited. They got a new team emblem. (No helmet on the Dolphin, anymore.) And the team?
    Missed the playoffs for the 6th time running. Woo Hoo! But, did manage their first 500
    season, since they lost every game but the last one, in what year? 05? 06?
    I don’t know. I like the Saints.

  2. RobertCHastings April 16, 2013

    Most large cities that have professional teams among the big four (football, basketball, baseball, hockey) face the same issues periodically. And, in most cases, it is the local taxpayers who endup footing the bill for either new or renovated stadiums. In Charlotte, NC the Hornets received a new stadium, then another one to replace it less than ten years later. When the Hornets left and were replacedby the Bobcats, another stadium was offered. The Panthers recieved a new stadium and are in negotiations for hugely expensive renovations. The Charlotte Knights, an International League farm team of the Minnesota Twins, are in the process of having a $25M stadium built in the downtown area. Hockey, however, was the first professional team in Charlotte to have a stadium built at taxpayer expense. NONE of these investments have actually given the promised return on investment, just as the one in Miami will not. Team owners are the ones who receive a huge return on their investments of – nothing, as was demonstrated by George W Bush’s association with his Texas baseball team. With an investment of virtually nothing, when he sold the team he walked away with enough money to finance his first presidential campaign.

  3. tobyspeeks April 16, 2013

    Unlike in Miami/Dade, here in Wisconsin the entire state got to vote on an increase in sales taxes for the five counties that make up S.E. Wisconsin to fund the Brewers’ Miller Park. Isn’t it strange how people unrelated to anything that happens down here let alone go to any games has a voice in how much I pay for sales tax. Sales tax that benefited and still 15 years later are still benefiting a rather wealthy ball club and an incredibly filthy rich brewery?


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