Stephen Ross may not know how to renovate a football team, but he knows how to renovate a stadium.
Ross, the billionaire real estate developer, gets heaped with criticism for failing to turn around the perennially mediocre Miami Dolphins during his seven years as owner. Frustrated fans hankering for the glory days find those memories are fading.
But Ross deserves lots of credit for bringing our NFL-addicted nation’s biggest sporting event back to South Florida.
NFL owners voted Tuesday for Miami to host Super Bowl 54 in 2020. Rejected in recent years because of its aging stadium, Miami will be host for a record 11th time and the first time since 2010. It took three ballots for Miami to beat out Tampa. Atlanta won the 2019 bid and Los Angeles won 2021, so it was a sweep for new or modernized stadiums.
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Once improvements to the no-name stadium in Miami Gardens formerly known as Sun Life, Land Shark, Dolphins, Pro Player and Joe Robbie Stadium are finished, Ross will have spent $500 million of his own fortune to make it a worthy venue for the annual corporate spectacle.
The spruced-up stadium, also home to the Orange Bowl, hosted four Bowl Championship Series title games from 2001 to 2013, and will now become a more appealing site for the College Football Playoff championship game after twice being passed over.
Ross, who lobbied for years to get public funding for his renovations, finally decided he would invest, and his gamble paid off. Ross is listed at No. 80 on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires with a net worth of $12 billion.
It’s gratifying to see a franchise owner put his money where his mouth is just like any other business owner rather than threatening and cajoling insecure, sports-groupie civic leaders into handing over more tax dollars to the .5-percenters who run pro leagues. Most taxpayers can’t afford to go to Dolphins games, much less a Super Bowl.
Larry Csonka, appointed ambassador by the South Florida Super Bowl bid committee, made the big pitch for a place he first moved to in 1968, when the Dolphins practiced at Bobby Maduro Stadium, the spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles.
Choosing Csonka as salesman was a smart move, even though it was a pull on the heartstrings of nostalgia. The Miami of Perfect Season 1972 bears little resemblance to the Miami of today.
But our winter weather is irresistible. We’ve got restaurants, nightlife, beaches, yachts, not to mention Monkey Jungle. We have a history of memorable Super Bowls: Joe Namath’s guarantee; Joe Montana’s 92-yard drive culminating with a touchdown pass with 34 seconds on the clock; the New Orleans Saints winning three years after Hurricane Katrina; great games by John Elway and Peyton Manning; performers such as Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Cher, The Who, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, and in the best halftime show ever, Prince (with the Florida A&M marching band) singing “Purple Rain” in the rain.
Ross is placing a canopy over the 30-year-old, 65,000-seat stadium. He’s adding glam to the place for the high rollers who will attend the game.
Ross will get some of his money back. Our government leaders can never quite close a deal without giving away something. That negotiating ability is why Ross is incomprehensibly rich. Miami-Dade County will pay the Dolphins $4 million for each major event they lure to the stadium. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez calls it a “success fee.”
It will cost Miami-Dade and Broward County more millions from their tight budgets to hold the game in their backyard. The NFL, which generated $13.3 billion in revenue last year, paid Commissioner Roger Goodell $34 million, and is well on its way to Goodell’s goal of reaping $25 billion by 2027, always expects host cities to make financial contributions and provide free police and fire services (and the NFL, which does not pay its halftime acts, actually asked last year’s stars to pay the league in exchange for their appearance; they said no). VIPs need escorts to negotiate our traffic snarls, right?
What does South Florida get in return? Economic impact estimates are routinely exaggerated. There’s the cache of being the Super Bowl city. Even more than our usual number of celebrity sightings. Blimp shots of Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach and downtown for some 120 million TV viewers. Price gouging. A fan festival that includes a zipline down Biscayne Boulevard.
Maybe we’d get to see Adele or Eric Clapton or K.C. and the Sunshine Band at halftime.
It would probably be too much to hope for the Dolphins, under new coach Adam Gase, to actually play in Super Bowl 54. In fact, no host has ever played in a Super Bowl.
If Ross can’t get his team to the Super Bowl, at least he’s bringing the Super Bowl here.