Mazzella said the county must familiarize itself with the Heat’s complex finances and review the team’s capital budgets, including how much the Heat spends on equipment leases such as those for LED screens and monitors. The county, as the owner of the arena, should also be notified of lawsuits filed against the Heat.
The inspector general suggested the county learn how the team makes money from lucrative concessions and “premium” ticket sales, including suites. Also, the county should know more about non-basketball events at the arena, since those revenues impact potential profits, he wrote.
Mazzella also criticized the Heat, questioning $3.3 million the team spent on capital improvements. He said that money should have gone toward negating losses instead.
And Mazzella questioned certain Heat expenditures, including $12,300 spent on political contributions and $614,000 on lobbyists. The Heat said $10,000 went to a National Conference of Mayors convention in Miami, presided over by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
Lopez, the Heat’s lobbyist who earned a large chunk of the $614,000 in question, called all of the team’s expenses “legitimate” and said the Heat will work harder to get its budgets to the county on time.
Eric Woolworth, president of the Heat Group’s business operations, said in a statement that the audit failed to recognize the successes of the partnership between the Heat and the county — especially the revitalization of downtown Miami — and that it gave “short shrift on the risk” the company took in undertaking construction.
Woolworth also said Mazzella misinterpreted provisions of the agreement relating to capital expenditures and business expenses.
The Heat played its first game at the AAA in 2000, after a dozen years at the old Miami Arena in Overtown. Blessed with fan and corporate support, the team pined for the millions in new revenue anticipated from the sales of expensive suites, exclusive seats and high-end retail at the new arena.
Broward County offered a better financial deal for the team to play at the BankAtlantic Center, but Heat owner Micky Arison wanted his team to remain in Miami-Dade, where he has a home.
In the end, Arison put $210 million toward construction, with the county spending $37.6 million to purchase the 17 waterfront acres along Biscayne Boulevard from the city of Miami. The county also paid a $5 million subsidy before the arena opened and agreed to give the team $6.4 million a year for operations.