When Sun Life Stadium debuts the first stage of its spanking new home in September, the Dolphins expect a packed house with all 65,000 seats sold.
But decades-long fan Tod Aronovitz won’t be in one of them.
That's because Aronovitz — like many other longtime season ticket-holders — was forced to pick new seats as Sun Life Stadium undergoes a $400 million makeover.
And Aronovitz — who says his family has had tickets since the team’s inaugural season of 1966 — said he refused to renew because the seats he was offered weren't nearly as good as what he had. By the time it was his turn to pick — season-ticket holders were given a date and time to pick their seats based on how long they have been season-ticket holders — the seats he wanted were sold out.
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“At 3:05 p.m. on the second day of seat selection, all seats in Sections 124 and 128 (seats that were 10 to 20 yards worse than my longstanding seats) were sold out,’’ he wrote in a letter dated Feb. 25 to Dolphins and stadium owner Stephen Ross — and emailed to the Miami Herald.
“Your gentrification of the Dolphins seating plan is the latest debacle that had befallen the once proud Miami Dolphins franchise,” he wrote. “You have destroyed the relationship between the 1960s veteran Dolphins ticket holders with the Sun Life Stadium redo project.”
In January, renovations began on the 28-year-old home of the Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes. The stadium’s 76,000 seats started being ripped out in January to make way for a new seating bowl, with more suites. That means roughly 11,000 seats will be lost, many in prime locations — meaning the seats that people had for decades no longer exist.
According to the Dolphins, the season ticket renewal rate, so far, is close to 95 percent, which far outpaces the last several years. Last year, there were about 44,000 season-ticket holders. There are a variety of other reasons fans don’t renew from year to year — the team’s record, potential price increases and personal reasons. Should trends continue the Dolphins could have one of their largest season ticket bases in years.
It took about five years for Miami-Dade County and the Miami Dolphins to agree on a deal to renovate the stadium. In January, Ross announced he would fund $350 million and the county would pay a subsidy based on large events coming to the stadium. The overhaul was expected to take 19 months and add a weather canopy, upgrades to suites, premium seating and entertainment space.
But longtime ticket holders say the team’s most loyal fans are getting sidelined with the new seating map.
“I don’t think the process has been fair,” said Doug Jacobs, an insurance agent, who has had season tickets since 1970. He said that allowing people to buy more seats than they originally had limits the inventory of good seats. He doesn’t get to pick his seats until Friday.
“I am not overly optimistic,” he said. “I hear the seats that are closest to where I was are already sold out.”
But he said he is a true Dolfan and will likely get seats anyway.
“I love going to the Dolphin games,” he said. “If it was a difference of five yards, one way or another, I wouldn’t care, but it’s not looking good.’’
Another fan, Lornette Burton, said that “not knowing what kind of seats” she is going to get is unnerving. As an eight-year season ticket holder, she doesn’t get to pick her seats until March 20.
“It’s a long time to wait,” she said. “It’s going to be completely different.”
For Aronovitz, losing his seats was personal. In his letter to Ross, in which he also copied president and CEO Tom Garfinkel, he returned his 40th season souvenir hat, saying, “as I, my sons, and my grandchildren no longer have a need for this relic of a once strong franchise.”