Threats of the Miami Dolphins leaving South Florida is a card to be played in a future hand. For now it is thinly veiled. In his first interview after the bill to help fund modernization of Sun Life Stadium died in the Florida Legislature, CEO Mike Dee mentioned that the Dolphins are one of the few franchises in the NFL not bound by a long-term lease. He reiterated that owner Steve Ross has no plans to move the team out of this area, but pointed out that the stadium will need to be addressed by a future owner. Ross is 73. The Super Bowl was the carrot this time in the quest for tax dollars. When the discussion turns ugly, as it inevitably will, the arm twist for public support will be more urgent: Help pay or the Dolphins will have no choice but to look elsewhere. For those who ask why Ross, whose net worth is estimated at $4.4 billion by Forbes magazine, doesn't pay for his own stadium improvements, the answer is simple: The NFL prefers its owners not do that. The league wants communities to share the cost, and usually gets its way. Teams are less inclined to build their own stadiums, as Joe Robbie did for the Dolphins. New Jersey's Metlife Stadium is a recent exception, privately funded by the New York Giants and Jets with help from the NFL. Jerry Jones paid the majority of the cost for Cowboys Stadium. But for the 20 stadiums opened or renovated since 1997, 56 percent of the funding was public. A key stipulation in the NFL's G4 financing program for contributing to stadium projects, established in the latest collective bargaining agreement, is that public money must be part of the deal. That was not required in the league's previous program that helped fund the Giants/Jets and Cowboys stadiums. With the cost of new stadium construction running well over $1 billion and rising rapidly, the league will be pushing harder for tax dollars to help with the burden. That's why the aftermath of the Dolphins' failed effort to renovate Sun Life already sounds ominous. In the past week Dee has referred to the future of the stadium as "bleak" and "uncertain." During a recent media tour to outline the renovation plan, he said, "We are right now at Year 27 in that window where we're at the fork in the road. You're either going to do what it takes to modernize this place at a third of the cost of a new facility, or in five to 10 years somebody is going to walk in here and say this place can't be preserved." Disregarding the issue of paying for it, there is no question that Sun Life needs an overhaul. The Dolphins have altered their logo twice since the one on the side of the seats, circa 1987. Most significant, the football home of the Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes is still configured for the dimensions of baseball when the Marlins played there. Nearly half of the $400 million modernization plan unveiled in January was to rectify that. That would have included tearing out the lower bowl from endzone to endzone and recasting the stands to extend 18 feet closer to the field on each side. With 9,000 seats removed from the corners of the upper deck to accommodate video display boards, the effect would have been to bring the crowd closer to the field as in newer football stadiums. The proposed canopy roof would have accounted for about $120 million of the overall cost. New lighting would have been installed up to standards for high-definition television, and other infrastructure upgrades were planned. While all of that was billed as essential for keeping the facility competitive for Super Bowls, college football championships and major soccer events, the Dolphins' primary interest is their own future viability. Teams don't profit directly from hosting Super Bowls. They turn the keys over to the NFL. The benefit is to the local community. But if tax money is used to make an aging stadium as good as new, that is to the Dolphins' advantage.
Future cloudy for Dolphins with aging stadium
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel | May 12