Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Miami’s latest big-game snub proves stadium face-lift can’t cover other warts

Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel, left, owner Stephen Ross ,center, and Dolphins vice chairman Matt Higgins give a tour of renovations to Sun Life Stadium on Friday, Jan. 16, 2014 in Miami Gardens.
Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel, left, owner Stephen Ross ,center, and Dolphins vice chairman Matt Higgins give a tour of renovations to Sun Life Stadium on Friday, Jan. 16, 2014 in Miami Gardens.

Miami gets passed over in its bid to host this NFL season’s prestigious 50th anniversary Super Bowl, losing to Santa Clara, Calif. Now, Monday, Miami is beaten once again in a bid to host the next available College Football Playoff national championship game, in January 2018, losing out this time to Atlanta.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is pouring $400 million into privately-funded upgrades to his stadium, mostly out of his own deep pockets, but the return on investment has been slow in coming.

The reason why is no great mystery.

You can put fresh paint and new tires on that automobile, tune the engine, tint the windows, upgrade the upholstery and call it “pre-owned,” but it’s still a used car. Nothing can make it new.

Miami lost out on SB 50 because the San Francisco 49ers were building a state-of-the-art new stadium in the suburbs, while the home of the Dolphins (still doing business as Sun Life Stadium for another two months) was so decrepit by comparison that realization spurred Ross to give it an overhaul.

See, the NFL is fascinated by shiny new toys.

So apparently is the College Football Playoff, because on Wednesday Miami’s “like new” used car lost out, quite literally, to a top-end Mercedes-Benz so new it isn’t even off the assembly line yet.

Ross touted the ongoing renovations that eventually will include a canopy.

Atlanta countered and trumped him with its $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium now revving up under construction. It will have a retractable roof.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock referred simply to “better bids and better situations in other cities.”

Two other factors hurt Miami and Dolphins stadium in its reach for the highest prizes likes Super Bowl and CFP title games.

One is that, in its redesign, the capacity of Ross’ stadium has shrunk noticeably. This is a good thing for aesthetics or to spur local interest by making it a tougher ticket or to make smallish crowds seem slightly less pathetic.

But it is not a good thing in attracting the most major of major events. Dolphins stadium capacity used to be 75,540 and it could be rejiggered to accommodate slightly over 80,000 on special occasions. The new capacity is 65,326. That’s now in the bottom 10 of NFL stadiums, for example.

I thought of that as Hancock, in announcing New Orleans would host the 2020 CFP title game, noted its “very large stadium,” a phrase no longer applicable to Miami.

Ross’ refurbished used palace also still suffers, of course, from its location in Miami Gardens, not quite near anything a visiting fan might want to visit while here. This is an issue as we see other stadiums favorably situated downtown or in vibrant areas full of dining and nightlife options.

I thought of desolately located Dolphins stadium as I heard Hancock also extol ’20-bid winner New Orleans for its “concise and walkable downtown area” – another attribute not applicable to Ross’ stadium.

Miami’s premier football facility is equidistant between South Beach and downtown Fort Lauderdale, but neither tourist destination is conveniently near the stadium.

We have a lot to offer to overcome these obstacles, yes.

Our tropical location alone is partly why, for example, the annual Orange Bowl game at Dolphins stadium is in the rotation to host CFP semifinal games every three years – starting on New Year’s Eve at the end of this season.

But Miami’s losing streak in attracting Super Bowls and CFP title games is hardly a mysterious injustice. It may be cyclical, a matter of South Florida waiting its turn, but the hurdles comparative to many competing cities are real.

The stadium is still perceived as in the middle of nowhere, and now its reduced capacity makes it below-average in size, too.

A fresh coat of paint doesn’t make those things go away, and neither will a giant canopy hide them in its shade.

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