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Port sports: $10,000 for tickets take them out to the ball games

Port Everglades will spend about $10,000 this year entertaining its staff, tenants and would-be clients at Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat and Fort Lauderdale Yankees games.

Taxpayers scolded port commissioners and administrators for excessive spending on travel and entertaining while adopting the port's first tax in six years last month.

Officials of the Broward port Wednesday defended the spending on ball games as a good marketing tool, though none of the clients the port is trying to lure has signed on as a result of attending the games.

"It's just strictly marketing," said Port Director Joel Alesi, who has attended at least three Dolphins games so far. "Hopefully, in the future I'll be able to tell you about a big deal we cut at a game."

Other Florida ports -- the ports of Miami, Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg, all of them just miles from pro football teams -- don't buy tickets to the games.

"Tell them to send me a ticket, would you?" joked Benson B. Murphy, executive director of the Port of Palm Beach. "We don't buy any. Period. We don't have to wine and dine people. We'll have a cup of coffee."

Carmen Lunetta, director of the Port of Miami, agreed, saying, "I don't feel it would be appropriate."

Port Everglades owns 12 season tickets to Miami Dolphins home games. Each home game, six people sit in $63 club seats near the goal line and another six sit in the regular $26 seats.

With parking, food and drink, the port is likely to spend up to $6,000 watching Dolphins games this year. So far, the port has entertained employees of labor groups, the Broward Sheriff's Office, shipping companies and steamship lines.

The port earmarked $4,305 to buy four season tickets to Miami Heat basketball games and spent $100 entertaining at Fort Lauderdale Yankees games, Deputy Port Director Gene Ciccarelli said Wednesday.

"The idea is to have a camaraderie," he said. "We're not going to miss a beat in our marketing efforts. Some of these things take years and years to come through."

Commissioner Joseph DeLillo attended one Dolphins game. He said the port entertains clients at ball games largely because the maritime industry is predominantly male.

"It's really used for public relations and sales and goodwill," DeLillo said. "If you take somebody to a football game, it has a good effect. Certainly as much as dinner."

One angry taxpayer, Fort Lauderdale's C.T. Radford, thinks the games are a useless "free lunch." Radford attended both public hearings on the port's tax. At one meeting, he approached commissioners with his pants pockets pulled out, empty.

"These people are out of their cotton-picking minds," Radford said.

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