South Florida’s failure to land a Super Bowl during the NFL owners’ meeting on Tuesday wasn’t just a loss but an epic blowout that caused members of the local bid committee to make dire predictions about the region’s future ability to land the big game even as bitter feelings spilled into their public statements.
The San Francisco Bay area was awarded Super Bowl 50 in a competition against Miami that wasn’t much of a struggle. At least 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners voted against South Florida.
Miami’s bid was then matched against Houston for Super Bowl 51 and, again, it was soundly defeated when at least 75 percent of the owners decided that game should go to the Texas city. “The bid was so good today, and knowing people want to be in Miami, I was a little optimistic we could prevail,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said. “But I think it didn’t surprise a lot of people that we didn’t prevail.”
The results were not surprising because both the Bay Area and Houston have something Miami doesn’t: A publicly financed $1.2 billion stadium is going up in Santa Clara; and Houston’s Reliant Stadium, which was built with public money, is less than a decade old and is already being renovated on the public’s dime.
Both stadiums were at the center of the winning bids. Miami, meanwhile, has Sun Life Stadium. It is almost 30 years old, and two attempts to secure public financing to help refurbish it have failed.
Seeing that, the NFL team owners dropped the hammer on Miami.
“I can tell you that I think the stadium is a very important part of any of these proposals,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “I had a couple of owners that did express to me privately that the condition of the stadium was an important factor for them in their votes, but again, I don’t know all 32 perspectives on it.”
South Florida Super Bowl bid committee chairman Rodney Barreto did not mince words after the vote. He blamed members of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation — specifically representatives Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca — for working against the measure to use tourist tax dollars to upgrade Sun Life.
Both Bileca and Trujillo referred to the Dolphins’ bill as corporate welfare, and worked both publicly and behind the scenes to thwart the effort.
“I lay this at the doorstep of a couple of Miami state reps,” Barreto said. “Rep. Bileca and Rep. Trujillo can look themselves in the mirror tonight and declare victory that they stopped the Super Bowl from coming to Miami — and probably for the next 10 years at least, if they invite us to participate again.
“That was an overwhelming vote. It didn’t even go to a second round in either of those votes. It was pretty obvious that the NFL is not happy with us. And by far, if you talk to the NFL staff, we had the better bid. It wasn’t about our bid. It wasn’t about what we put on the table. It wasn’t about the creativity of our bid. It wasn’t about the money we put on the table. It had all to do with the stadium.”
Neither Bileca nor Trujillo returned messages requesting comment.
Goodell, meanwhile, made the point that the same issue that hurt Miami this time could continue to do so in the future.
“I think it’s the stadium at the end of the day,” he said. “Their proposal was really quite exciting. They talked an awful lot about the great history and tradition we have of Super Bowls in Miami, and I think owners would like to be in Miami.
“But it’s competitive right now. We have great stadiums coming onboard that we haven’t even played an NFL game in that are going to be hosting the Super Bowl. Others are investing significantly to make sure their stadium is state-of-the-art and is a great platform and stage for the Super Bowl. That’s what we want.”
The NFL will award Super Bowl 52 next year. Miami typically shows interest in every championship game the league makes available. But Barreto isn’t sure the city will even be asked to participate next time.
“We lost a pretty tough loss and really two losses,” he said. “I don’t know why they would invite us back next year.”
Although South Florida bid committee members and Dolphins people were disappointed, not everyone seemed heartbroken.
The Super Bowl bid ran into early opposition from the Miami International Boat Show, which is held on one of the three dates the NFL wanted reserved for the 2016 and 2017 games. In previous years, South Florida declined to pursue Super Bowls scheduled for Boat Show weekend, but it dropped that policy in the push for the milestone 50th game.
Show director Cathy Rick-Joule said she was disappointed Miami would not be hosting the Super Bowl but relieved the two massive tourism events would not be competing for hotel rooms and event space.
“There is certainly a bit of a sigh of relief that this won’t impact our business,” she said. “We were extremely concerned about that.”
Auto dealership mogul Norman Braman, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, was the most ardent and deep-pocketed opponent of the Dolphins’ push for tourist tax dollars. He sees the NFL’s vote as a loss for the league rather than for the city. “Miami is a great place to have a Super Bowl game,” Braman said. “It is unfortunate for the league not to be here.”
Barreto shot back.
“Norman Braman, for whatever reasons — and he’s never stated them publicly — he’s against public taxes for facilities,” Barreto said. “But he wasn’t against the tax for the Performing Arts Center, which is right down the street from his dealership. And he wasn’t against it when the project was $300 million over budget, right?
“Whatever drives Norman Braman to do what he does, that’s his thing. It’s not mine. I’m about promoting Miami. I’m about having Miami being a great place to visit. I’ve raised my family there. I was born and raised there. I’m about giving back to my community. I’m a non-paid volunteer, and I’ve been doing this for 24 years. I enjoy it. And this is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.