Greg Cote

Call it Rock & A Hard Place Stadium until Dolphins start winning

Hard Rock Stadium Announcement

The Miami Dolphins announced that their newly-renovated stadium will be called Hard Rock Stadium during a press conference on Wed., Aug. 17, 2016.
Up Next
The Miami Dolphins announced that their newly-renovated stadium will be called Hard Rock Stadium during a press conference on Wed., Aug. 17, 2016.

Traditionalists or the sentimental may still call it Joe Robbie Stadium. Because they can.

Or fans might simply refer to it generically as “Dolphins stadium” if they wish, then pivot to “home of the Hurricanes” on Saturdays. No law against it.

Heck, call it Steve Ross' Magic Canopy or the Miami Shade Machine for all I care.

The point is the new name of this place, Hard Rock Stadium, made official on Wednesday, should not matter in any real way except to the businessmen involved – the stadium owner, Ross, and the executives at Hard Rock International making the advertising outlay.

Fans don't care about the name on the building.

They care about the team in it.

Dolfans don't care that a global conglomerate of casinos, hotels and restaurants is paying just under $14 million annually for the next 18 years for stadium naming rights.

Will the team win another Super Bowl inside of those 18 years — now that is of some urgent interest. (Considering the Dolphins last won one of those on Jan. 13, 1974, Miami might count the sheer law of averages as its strongest ally).

Everything but the success of the team is window dressing.

Even the $500 million in stadium improvements underwritten by Ross and nearly completed are not as important to Dolphins and Hurricanes fans as both of those teams extracting themselves from the mire and reclaiming past glories. Regaining the national stage. Winning big. Mattering again.

At least the improved stadium (the giant shade canopy, the four video screens so big and wonderful you hardly need look at the field) provides a tangible benefit for fans.

A stadium name doesn't.

Yet they made a huge production of the Hard Rock unveiling at the stadium on Wednesday — one of bombast and noise. It was a show meant to impress.

Reporters get an up-close and personal tour of the Miami Dolphins stadium renovations on Thurs., June 2, 2016

A phalanx of Dolphins cheerleaders in full regalia greeted arriving media and guests. Flutes of champagne were offered. Five spotlights beamed from a stage. A DJ at a turntable made rock and hip-hop music thump. The Hard Rock brought displays of Taylor Swift and Bob Marley, mannequins wearing the outfits of Shakira and Flo Rida. Oh, and Prince's guitar.

Mr. 305, Miami rapper Pitbull, showed up fashionably late.

“I'm usually the most punctual Cuban in the room,” he joked.

On hand were representatives of Hard Rock International, the Seminole Tribe of Florida that owns it, the Dolphins (including top players Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and legend Dan Marino), the University of Miami, Orange Bowl Committee and Miami Super Bowl Host Committee. After the media event all the dignitaries donned goggles and hardhats and simultaneously smashed guitars — the ceremonial christening of all new Hard Rock enterprises.

(Quick aside: Longtime South Floridians remember when the Seminole Tribe of Florida was associated with airboat rides and the sale of discount cigarettes. Now they own a Hard Rock brand seen in 70 countries and are the new corporate face of the Dolphins and Canes. Amazing).

Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel announced a new partnership with the Brazil national team that will see the soccer gods here “six or seven times over the next several years,” he said. The newly renamed stadium also will host a Real Madrid match in 2017. The announcement was timed to make it appear it was directly tied to Hard Rock's arrival, although the stadium's appeal to major international soccer is longstanding and by design, an original vision of Joe Robbie's.

A Friday overhead view of Sun Life Stadium renovations from Snoopy 1.

Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen described Hard Rock Stadium as being “all about entertainment.” OK, then, Dolphins: Be entertaining for a change!

It was a lot of bunting and pomp Wednesday for an announcement that really only is important to the Hard Rock chain and to Ross' wallet.

I mean, unless the new name of your stadium is outright embarrassing, who cares? You sympathize with the problem of incontinence but still don't particularly want to see that blimp hovering over your team's home games at Depends Adult Diapers Stadium.

On its own, “Hard Rock Stadium” is a fine name. Better than most, even. It's a manly-macho handle befitting the sport of football. Although, in the Dolphins, Hard Rock is partnering with what has been a Soft Rock team for a long time now. With no playoff victory since the 2000 season, the Dolphins have put themselves and their fans in such a difficult spot that the team is figuratively playing in “Rock & A Hard Place Stadium” until it wins its way out.

The new name does pick up points relatively speaking, compared to previous names.

It is better than “Pro Player,” the now-defunct subsidiary of underwear giant Fruit of the Loom. Better than “Land Shark,” the third-tier beer brand affiliated with Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. And better than “Sun Life,” the Canadian company peddling life insurance.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross signs the last piece of steel before it is erected for the stadium canopy on Friday, July 29, 2016. He says the stadium's half-billion-dollar renovation project is right on schedule.

There are only downsides to the Dolphins' betrothing of Hard Rock if you're among the anti-gambling crowd averse to casinos, although, in the real world, of course, an NFL team and gambling go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I wonder. Will the Fins and Canes being sponsored by casinos increase their use of slot receivers? I'm just asking.

Also wondering if Hurricanes fans, whose nemesis is Florida State, like that their stadium's new name is that of a conglomerate owned by the Seminoles.

I fundamentally dislike the idea of corporate names on stadiums and arenas, as many careful or longtime readers know. In most columns I avoid them where possible. I go with generic descriptions, such as the Heat playing in “the downtown bayside arena.” Because why should I pimp for an airline? (Or a casino?)

TV networks that have lucrative partnerships with leagues are contractually bound to mention “Hard Rock Stadium” early and often during telecasts. But newspapers and other independent media are not. Neither are fans.

Consider: All that's left is for franchises to lease their very team's name to corporate sponsors. “The Heat Presented by McDonald's,” with golden arches on the jerseys. Would you start calling them the McDonald's Heat because you were told to? So why can't you continue to call it Marlins Park even after naming rights are sold?

I get the business rationale of corporate names. As necessary evils go, it's win, win. In this case, Hard Rock gets what it hopes will be years of favorable publicity, while Ross and his club get an added revenue stream – though hardly a major one. Ross is worth $12 billion. NFL teams get more than $230 million a year in national revenue sharing mostly from gargantuan TV contracts. That additional $14 million per year from Hard Rock amounts to the loose change Ross finds under his sofa cushions.

What I don't get is why most fans and media volunteer themselves as lemmings or sheep, immediately falling in line and repeating the new corporate name, as if they must. And so the Dolphins on Wednesday officially rang the bell that called on all their Pavlov's dogs to begin obediently referring to “Hard Rock Stadium.”

No, thanks.

In the mid-1980s a man had the dream and ingenuity and gumption to build a stadium on his own, without public funding. And, remarkably, against odds, he did it. (That man would die in 1990. The 100th anniversary of his birth would pass without notice last month).

Thirty years later that place is all dressed up shiny-new but it's still his building, his dream.

Now Hard Rock has paid big to plaster its name all over the place, and that's OK. That's business. But look behind all of the advertising and branding. Everything has changed, and yet nothing has.

It's still Joe Robbie Stadium.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments