South Florida’s Sun Life Stadium was state-of-the-art when it opened in 1987, and many fans still consider it a superior place to watch football. So why does Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross feel he needs to put $350 million (of mostly his own money) into a stadium that was good enough to host five Super Bowls between 1989 and 2010, along with four national championship football games as part of the now-defunct Bowl Championship Series?
Because there is a subtle “agism” where sports stadiums are concerned, and Sun Life is close to turning 30. The big championship games, key drivers in a stadium’s economic development value, are going elsewhere. The earliest a Super Bowl could return to the stadium would be 2019, and the venue is shut out of the new College Football Playoff (CFP) championship game through 2020.
The CFP blow came earlier this week when it awarded championship games to Atlanta (2018), Santa Clara, Calif. (2019) and New Orleans (2020). What do those locations have in common? They either have newly opened stadiums (Santa Clara), new stadiums about to open (Atlanta) or stadiums that have undergone substantial renovation (New Orleans). It probably doesn’t help South Florida’s feelings, either, that the 2017 game previously had been awarded to Tampa.
Sun Life’s next big test will come in May, when NFL owners choose sites for 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls. The list of other contenders sounds very familiar: Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa. Despite the NFL’s affinity for coming to South Florida in January/February, the league rejected bids from the stadium to host the upcoming Super Bowl (Santa Clara) and the one next season (Houston). Sun Life sat out the bidding process for Super Bowl 52 (Minneapolis), so this will be the stadium’s first bid on the game post-renovation.
The proposed upgrades look spectacular and could be complete in time for next football season. They include numerous new clubs and lounges, as well as a new partial roof/awning that surrounds the stadium, covering fans while leaving the field open to the sun. Ross generally is footing the bill, though the team believes the economic development is significant enough to seek as much as $90 million in state tax rebates.
Dolphins officials confirmed this week they are applying to the state for a $3 million annual rebate that can be awarded to stadium projects that involve a capital investment of at least $200 million. If approved, the rebate can be given for a period of up to 30 years. The Dolphins applied for the rebate last year, but the legislative budget impasse prevented any rebates from being awarded.
The Dolphins have indicated the renovation project could create as many as 3,400 annual full- or part-time jobs.
Building an expansion team presents a unique challenge to any team owner, and Orlando City Soccer is no exception as it prepares for the first season of its new National Women’s Soccer League team, the Orlando Pride. The city is pinning significant economic development hopes on the new soccer stadium and the renaissance it hopefully will create in the Parramore neighborhood.
Part of the attraction of an NWSL franchise is that it increases the number of events at the new stadium. But, the value of the extra events would be diminished if attendance is poor. Because expansion teams need time to build a seasoned roster, instance success is unlikely. The team needs to be competitive enough to generate fan excitement from day one.
In this past week’s expansion draft, the Pride may have taken a big step toward pulling off the balancing act. In the second round of the draft, the team plucked goaltender Ashlyn Harris off the Washington Spirit’s roster. (In an expansion draft, existing league teams must leave a few players “unprotected” and available to be drafted by the new team.)
Harris is a huge win for the Pride for competitive and financial reasons. She is likely to become a fan favorite immediately because she grew up in Central Florida and played at Satellite Beach High School in Brevard County. Harris has been open about her desire to play professionally in her home state, something the fans will appreciate and that has the potential to boost attendance.
From a competitive standpoint, Harris may be an even bigger find. She was a member of the U.S. women’s team that won the World Cup earlier this year. She remains on the U.S. national team and is expected to play in next year’s Olympics. That will cause her to miss some playing time for the Pride, but neither the team nor its fans are likely to mind.
That Harris was available was a mild surprise. Some soccer publications have hinted the Spirit “took one for the league” by leaving her unprotected and able to return home to Florida.
UCF Grad Finishes World Series
We recently touted the Florida connections for the National League Champion New York Mets, but the World Series finale Sunday underscored our error in neglecting to note the state’s even stronger connection to the World Champion Kansas City Royals.
Former UCF catcher Drew Butera made history when he came off the bench in Game 5 to catch the pivotal 12th inning for Royals. The final out of the Series came when Butera caught reliever Wade Davis’ called third strike against Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores. Here’s what it looked like:
In addition to being the focus of Fox Sports’ cameras when the celebration began, Butera became the first Knights player to win a world championship. He was drafted out of UCF in 2005 by, ironically, the Mets though he never played a major league game for the team. He first cracked the big leagues in 2010 with the Minnesota Twins. He also played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and LA Angels before joining the Royals in the middle of this season for the championship ride.
Davis, the game’s closer, also is a Florida native (Lake Wales).
Congratulations to Butera, Davis and all the Royals. A special tip of the cap to the other players with strong Florida connections: 1B Eric Hosmer (Plantation), CF Lorenzo Cain (Madison), LF Reymond Fuentes (born in Orlando, raised in Puerto Rico) and LF Terrance Gore (Gulf Coast College).