Michael Lipman runs a ticket brokerage in Miami. By his math, he’s enjoying the country’s most lucrative market for basketball and perhaps the worst for baseball. But he knows those dynamics won’t last forever.
“Miami is a great, great town for winners,’’ said Lipman owner of Tickets of America. “But when a team heads south, watch out... We bought a lot of season tickets for the Marlins. We gave them back. They’re an unsellable product.”
Lipman’s comments touch on an old complaint about the Miami area being the home to fair-weather fans. But the issue also serves as a subtext for ongoing debate over how much tax money should go to South Florida’s professional sports teams.
The ups-and-downs of fan loyalty weigh on the Miami Dolphins’ campaign for a tax-subsidized renovation of Sun Life Stadium on the heels of a disappointing 7-9 season that left Miami Gardens with one of the emptiest stadiums in the NFL. At the AmericanAirlines Arena, Heat executives are trying to renegotiate their current deal with Miami-Dade for a yearly $6 million subsidy of operations as they contemplate what would happen to ticket sales once the inevitable day arrives when LeBron James no longer takes the court.
The government-owned stadium in Sunrise that is the home ice rink for the Florida Panthers typically sells out about 80 percent of its seats, enough to make the tropical hockey team in the bottom third of the NHL in terms of attendance. As fans fume over the Marlins slashing payroll at the end of their first season in a tax-funded stadium, team executives say the lack of revenue at the box office left them no choice but to cut expenses.
Attendance plunged in the summer as the Marlins slid into a season that would see them win just 42 percent of their games, ending the year with 69 wins and 93 losses.
But in February, when individual tickets first went on sale for Marlins Park’s debut season, team President David Samson said he was stunned to see no sell-outs beyond Opening Day. He had counted on announcing at least a sell-out for Day Two as a way to build buzz and convince residents that Marlins Park was the place to be.
“I had the whole thing ready to announce,” he said in a recent interview. “In Miami, I thought, it’s an event town. If you see everything is selling out, [you think] ‘I’d better get tickets.’ We couldn’t get it done.”
He recalled draped-off sections in the American Airlines Arena in the years when the Heat were without a Shaquille O’Neal or James to draw big crowds. And how in 2001, shortly beforeMarlins owner Jeff Loria bought the franchise, the local television broadcast of a Dolphins playoff game was blacked out for lack of a sell-out.
“Each of the teams in this market has had issues over the years,” Samson said in a recent interview. “That’s a fact.’’
The Dolphins hope to rejuvenate their fan base with an expensive new line-up that includes free agents Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller and Dannell Ellerbe. The signings came as the team pushes a plan for a $400 million renovation of Sun Life, with the Dolphins funding about half of the work and the remainder paid by Florida and by hotel taxes collected in Miami-Dade County.
The renovation is aimed at attracting more Super Bowls and major soccer events. The centerpiece is a partial roof designed to protect spectators against the sort of downpour that drenched the Super Bowl in 2007 when it came to Miami Gardens. But the feature will have the added benefit of shielding spectators from the hot sun during Dolphin games early in the season — one of the challenges team executives have cited in trying to boost ticket sales.