One-Eyed Willy loves the Miami Hurricanes. He hates waiting in line for pizza.
So when Jason Lasseter — a 41-year-old pilot from Boynton Beach who uses the Twitter pen name One-Eyed Willy — had to trudge halfway around Hard Rock Stadium for a pie during UM’s season opener only to discover a 20-minute wait, he was steamed.
“Will there be more concession stands open this Sat?” Lasseter vented on Twitter. “Last week was a nightmare!”
The people who run the stadium heard him. And responded. Through a new Twitter account, @HRSGuestExp, a customer service agent assured Lasseter that more stands would be open for the next Hurricanes game. They were, and Lasseter left more than satisfied.
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Why is this story relevant as the Miami Dolphins’ 51st home season opens Sunday against Cleveland Browns?
A shade canopy, four massive video boards and improved seating — all made possible by a half billion dollar renovation project funded overwhelmingly with private money — might get fans in the door, but only a pleasant experience will keep them coming back.
That’s why the Dolphins’ in-house mantra is: “We’re positive memory-makers.”
Winning helps, of course. The football team has made far too few positive memories in the past decade; it’s up to first-year coach Adam Gase to fix that.
But everything that happens off the field is the responsibility of team CEO Tom Garfinkel, who acknowledged the organization had not done enough to address their customers’ needs.
“I think it was something where we had a false sense of accomplishment about that was really a weakness,” Garfinkel said of stadium customer service.
No longer. There are now two fan experience help desks on every level of the stadium. The team has hired 200 new ushers, trained by a representative from Ritz-Carlton, to serve the fans.
As Lasseter discovered, increased concessions should cut down the lines. High-tech metal detectors and ticket scanners should get fans in the door faster. A new Uber drop-off and pick-up zone in the east parking lots will make easier (and safer) to navigate the roads.
The team will continue to fix ingress and egress after the season, when it will complete the final stage of the three-year renovation project. (They’re also spending $50 million on their suites and club level.)
Plus a $250 million roof should make the September and October day games far more tolerable. A team-commissioned study found that seats under cover will be some 30 degrees cooler in the summer and early fall months.
And while fans attending the UM-Florida Atlantic game on Sept. 10 complained about several drenching leaks in the canopy, Garfinkel said those leaks shouldn’t happen again because work on the roof has now been completed.
Demand for comfort and courtesy exists, even in the age of NFL RedZone and 60-inch televisions. The team sold out every seat last year for the first time since 2004, and expects to do so again in 2016, said Dolphins Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Walls.
Just a few hundred tickets for the Browns game remained available at the box office as of Thursday morning. Seats on the secondary market ranged between $50 and $1,700.
And that’s for the least desirable game on the schedule. The cheapest get-in for Dolphins-Steelers on Oct. 16 is roughly $170.
This has some Dolphins fans asking: Has the new stadium priced out the middle class?
Walls insists it has not.
The team offers 17,000 tickets — or roughly a quarter of the stadium — for under $50 each to those who buy a season-ticket package. SunPass customers can save $15 on parking by going cashless.
And while the Dolphins have added exotic food options — from Shula Burger to the the first full organic restaurant in a U.S. sports venue — snacks for families on a budget are still available. The stadium offers popcorn for $3, a hot dog for $4 and a beer for $5.
“It’s important to still have an affordable experience for families to be able to come to the game,” Garfinkel said. “I think $45 tickets and [$4 bottles of water] .... helps you get there.”
Still, Stephen Ross’ vision was to build a “first in class” facility, and by all appearances, he has delivered.
Ross has added a splash of color to his stadium, in the form of 19 large murals on walls throughout the facility and the addition of 30 pieces of fine art now featured throughout the private clubs.
One of the walls murals, painted inside the ’72 Club, offers a dead-on depiction of legendary Dolphins coach Don Shula, from the intense glare to the eyebrows.
“Extraordinary,” Shula’s son, David, said at the unveiling of his father’s mural Thursday, with his father in California and unable to attend. “As his first-born son, it’s meaningful. You get the intense stare; I was on the wrong end of it.”
Ross and stadium officials asked Goldman Global Arts to assist with the murals, which were created by 19 artists from 10 countries. Goldman Global Arts is the company behind Wynwood Walls, the outdoor street art museum that has helped revitalize that community.
Ross wanted to build a facility that transcends football. The dimensions of the stadium are perfect for soccer, and Ross’ staff plans to take advantage of it. The Brazil men’s national team will play a series of matches at Hard Rock; Real Madrid will visit the stadium in 2017.
Plus, the stadium gives Miami-Dade County its only true outdoor concert venue for the biggest acts. Plans are in the works to create three different sized venues — ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 seats. Major music festivals are in the works.
“If you have those three different venues, you have the opportunity to bring in different acts and create different experiences,” Garfinkel added.
But Hard Rock is, first and foremost, a football stadium. Even after a decade of futility and changing demographics, South Florida still has an appetite for good football.
And a good time.
That’s why the Dolphins, Hurricanes and Hard Rock Stadium have to keep true fans like One-Eyed Willy happy.
Thanks to their new hands-on approach, they have.