The good news for the Miami Dolphins: Ticket sales are noticeably outpacing 2012 and there are encouraging signs that the home opener will be a sellout.
The rest of the story: Plenty of inventory remains, and, given last year’s historically low attendance, the franchise has little place to go but up.
Jim Rushton, the Dolphins’ chief revenue officer, said the Dolphins will “absolutely” have more season ticket holders than they did in 2012, when just 40,192 full-year packages were purchased.
That was the fewest season tickets sold by the franchise in three decades, and off by a third of the team’s count in 2006.
Rushton would not say exactly how many 10-game packages have been sold, but he did say that their new season-ticket sales were up 31.4 percent when compared with sales at the same point last summer — the third-highest jump in the league.
That’s had a clear impact on the franchise’s overall financial outlook, as total ticket sales are up 13.3 percent. The Dolphins drew an average of just 57,375 in 2012, their smallest gate in 23 years.
“Fan sentiment has been turning for the past seven, eight months or so, and the business side is also turning,” Rushton said. “We’re excited, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
The Miami Herald reported this month that the team had sold roughly 40,000 season tickets as of that point. However, that’s just part of the equation when it comes to filling the roughly 75,000-seat Sun Life Stadium.
The Dolphins have had great success with their new three-game promotion, Rushton said, and are luring casual fans with competitive single-game pricing. Kids 15 and under can get into any home game for $15 (with the purchase of a full-price adult ticket), and the Dolphins have made lower-bowl seats available on an individual game basis.
On the high end, the team also is selling many of its Dolphins Prime packages, an all-inclusive club-level pass that provides a buffet meal before the game and at halftime. The team also offers a family pack, which comes with four tickets, parking and food for $199.
“We’re on a rebound,” Rushton said. “It’s been a challenging few years for a number of reasons.”
The most obvious: the team’s 12-year stretch without a playoff victory. But the economy, a fickle fan base, improvements in home viewing and consumer savviness also have eaten away at the bottom line.
A year ago, the Dolphins elected to use the league’s new 85 percent capacity blackout rule, meaning they could get their games on television locally if they sold 51,000 of their non-premium seats.
Yet owner Stephen Ross still had to regularly buy out blocks of tickets to get over that threshold.
Rushton said a decision has not yet been made on whether the Dolphins will use the 85 percent provision again in 2013.
Anecdotally, however, it appears fan enthusiasm is on the rise. The team has already fielded 35,000 requests for training-camp passes, and has distributed more than 15,000 tickets to Monday’s scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium.
“We expect one of our largest crowds in a long time for a stadium scrimmage,” he said.
Not so radical
On Sunday, when Dolphins players get their yearly dose of NFL rules changes and points of emphasis, it might feel like they’re back at home and being told to eat their vegetables. Because most of the rules changes fall under player safety or for-your-own-good purposes.
Peel-back blocks prohibited in the tackle box; long snappers on field goals and extra points receiving the same protection as a “defenseless player;” an emphasis on calling post-whistle hits on ball-carriers.
On Saturday, NFL officials showed South Florida media members the same video the NFL shows players in explaining the changes. The most high-profile rules change, the prohibition of a running back using the crown of his helmet to ram a defender, isn’t as radical a change as it must first seem.
The runner must be outside a box that goes tackle to tackle, 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and to the goal line behind the offense; the runner must line up the defender; and the head must be lowered. With those qualifications, NFL line judge Adrian Hill said there weren’t many plays from 2012 that would have been flagged.
The infamous Tuck Rule has been removed. Instead of defining a passing motion as continuing until the quarterback tucks the ball all the way back under his arm, it’s being defined as the start of the tucking motion.
Said NFL senior director of officiating Al Riveron: “Before, we’d call it a fumble on the field, go to replay and change it to an incomplete pass.
“Now, we’ll call it a fumble on the field, go to replay and it’ll still be a fumble.”