Miami-Dade County

In South Florida, a fight over just how “Miami” to make Super Bowl LIV

With the Super Bowl heading to South Florida in 2020, there’s tension over whether to declare “Miami” or “South Florida” the big game’s official home.
With the Super Bowl heading to South Florida in 2020, there’s tension over whether to declare “Miami” or “South Florida” the big game’s official home.

Miami-Dade’s mayor was watching the NFL Network on Tuesday as league owners neared a final vote to award the 2020 Super Bowl to South Florida for the first time in 11 years. And something about the news irked him.

“Excuse me,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez recalled saying to an aide. “That should say ‘Miami.’ ’’

Sure enough, when Gimenez took the lectern at a triumphant press conference on Wednesday to celebrate the success of the “South Florida Super Bowl Bid Committee” in securing Super Bowl LIV, the logo under the microphone read: “Miami Super Bowl Host Committee.”

The shift in locales did not sit well with the tourism director of Broward County, whose agency helped reserve thousands of hotel rooms for the South Florida bid package and was asked to contribute cash for the effort, too. “We would be seriously disturbed by a ‘Miami’ Host Committee,” said Nicki Grossman, who next month is retiring as tourism chief after 22 years on the job. “Especially if there was any expectation that Broward would participate in the Host Committee funding.”

The NFL awarded the South Florida Committee Super Bowl 54 in 2020 during a Tues., May 24, 2016 meeting.

Geography has always been a sensitive topic when it comes to Super Bowls, with NFL franchises often drawing from a long list of nearby governments to fund the multimillion dollar tabs required to host America’s biggest day in sports.

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That’s certainly true in South Florida, where Broward and Miami-Dade have partnered to provide both the room reservations, free safety services and cash required by the NFL in exchange for host duties. Starting with the 2007 championship game, the official location shifted from “Miami” to “South Florida” for Super Bowls to be played at the Dolphins’ stadium.

If it says ‘Miami Host Committee, that could be the nail in the coffin of regionalism for South Florida Super Bowls.

Broward tourism chief Nicki Grossman

But the issue of Super Bowl branding has never been this complicated, given the stadium deal Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross negotiated with Miami-Dade two years ago in exchange for a privately financed stadium renovation the team now says will cost about $500 million. The deal, which pays the team $4 million from county coffers in exchange for securing a Super Bowl, requires the NFL to break from the past practice of housing official hotels and operations centers in Broward and instead have the major game-week activities in Miami-Dade.

“I felt it was only right that Miami, Miami-Dade, would be the focus of this event,” Gimenez said at the press conference at Miami International Airport celebrating the successful bid. “Yes, we are starting to rebrand it. It’s a region. [But] the brand name is Miami. That’s really what we wanted to accentuate … It’s part of the deal that we made with Mr. Ross.”

Gimenez brokered the 2014 stadium deal with Ross, and it could mean up to $5 million a year for the Dolphins if they can secure enough major events at the venue to qualify for the money, which is paid out of hotel taxes. The award of Super Bowl LIV marks the first time South Florida has successfully bid for the big game since 2005, when the NFL awarded the region what was then a record 10th Super Bowl. (New Orleans tied that record in 2013, but South Florida comes back on top in 2020 with No. 11.)

But the Super Bowl celebration also brings with it attention to the subsidy arrangement about three months before Gimenez faces reelection in a county where the 2009 Marlins deal (which he opposed, as a county commissioner) has made stadium subsidies an even more delicate subject for politicians.

In 2011, Ross and his lobbying team floated a plan to have both Broward and Miami-Dade contribute tax money to renovate the team’s stadium in a bid to extend South Florida’s record as the NFL’s top Super Bowl city. Broward commissioners berated the idea, prompting a warning from then-Dolphins CEO Mike Dee that the pushback might cost the northern county a role in future Super Bowls.

Both sides smoothed over that tension, and in 2014 Miami-Dade commissioners backed Gimenez’s plan to send public money to the Dolphins in exchange for the Miami-centric Super Bowl provisions in the deal.

The agreement requires the NFL to house both team hotels in Miami-Dade (in past Super Bowls, one went to Broward), along with the official media center (in Fort Lauderdale when the big game last came to South Florida, in 2010), and NFL headquarters hotel (also in Fort Lauderdale six years ago).

The geography issue came up earlier Wednesday when Gimenez called into pollster Fernand Amandi’s WIOD radio show. “All of the branding thus far, and what the NFL put out yesterday, was that the game was awarded to South Florida,” Amandi said. “When I think of Broward County’s refusal to participate in the stadium renovation costs,” Amandi said, “why is it not the Super Bowl in Miami?”

Gimenez replied: “That’s a great question. I was asking the same thing. I’ll be calling the Dolphins organization.”

Excuse me. That should say ‘Miami.’

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on watching news this week that the 2020 Super Bowl was coming to “South Florida”

It’s unclear exactly where organizers want to declare the official home for the 2020 Super Bowl, which will definitely be played in Miami Gardens. When pressed, Gimenez said: “I’m not sure what the logo will say. I know the committee will determine that.” Rodney Barreto, the bid committee chairman whose lobbying firm represented the Dolphins in the Miami-Dade deal, declined to explain the geographic differences in the two logos.

“This is going to evolve over time,” he said. “Miami is the brand. Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s the name. That’s the magic name. And everybody knows that.”

A split with Broward over Super Bowl branding would have real consequences for game organizers. Gimenez said in the press conference that Miami-Dade needs Broward for hotel rooms and event space for the game. Grossman, Broward’s tourism director, said the county’s hotels agreed to reserve 4,000 rooms for the NFL, less than a third of what she said were 15,000 pledged in the full bid package.

Hotels aren’t always eager to block off rooms for the NFL, since that requires offering wholesale rates for rooms that they could otherwise sell to the public during game week anyway. Grossman said Broward hotels may not stick with the Super Bowl room block for 2020 if Miami is marketed as the destination.

She said Broward already declined a request to contribute $2 million to the 2020 host committee, which in a press release this week said it planned to spend more than $40 million organizing the game. Most of that will come from private sponsors, but in 2010 Miami-Dade’s budget office said the county spent $4.7 million on the Super Bowl in terms of cash support and free police and fire services. Grossman said Broward is considering contributing less than $1 million for 2020, but only if both counties can be considered hosts.

“I can tell you that if this is a Miami Super Bowl Host Committee, then Miami will have to come up with the $40 million that Rodney put forward in the presentation,” she said. “If it says ‘Miami Host Committee, that could be the nail in the coffin of regionalism for South Florida Super Bowls.”