SBJ/20090126/This Week's News

Huizenga closes the books on the Dolphins

Wayne Huizenga is likely the last of a rare breed: a three-team owner who dramatically changed the sports landscape of an entire region. Last week, he closed a deal selling his majority interest in the Miami Dolphins, the final piece of his sports holdings that at one time included the Florida Marlins and the NHL Panthers. Following is a look at the Dolphins under Huizenga’s tenure.

Wayne Huizenga’s voyage as
owner of the Miami Dolphins
began in 1994.

1994: Huizenga buys 85 percent of the team and 50 percent of the team’s stadium from the Robbie family for $109 million plus the assumption of more than $15 million in debt. Huizenga already owned the remaining shares of the team and the stadium, having acquired those stakes in 1990.

1996: Pro Player — an amalgam of three New England clothing makers turned subsidiary of underwear giant Fruit of the Loom — signs a 10-year, $20 million naming-rights deal for what was then known as Joe Robbie Stadium, named after the Dolphins’ original owner.

1999: Fruit of the Loom files for bankruptcy protection.

January 2000: Team loses wild-card playoff game to Jacksonville 62-7. It’s Dan Marino’s final game with the team.

April 2000: Huizenga regains naming rights to the stadium and indicates the name will not change until a new naming-rights deal is secured.

June 2000: Dolphins announce that Huizenga plans to add one or more minority investors, with the increasing cost of NFL teams pushing many owners to consider selling ownership stakes.

May 2001: Huizenga calls off an attempt to sell a minority interest in the team, citing poor market conditions.

September 2001: After agreeing in principle to buy the AFL’s Florida Bobcats, Huizenga passes on buying into the indoor league.

2004: Still no new naming-rights deal for the stadium. Huizenga says the club recently said no to two potential deals because of the way the name would sound and because of concerns that fans would abbreviate it into an unfavorable shorthand moniker, but he declined to name the two companies.

Huizenga sought to put Dolphin Stadium on
a regular rotation to host the Super Bowl.

January 2005: Team concludes a 4-12 season, its first sub-.500 season since 1988.

January 2005: Huizenga changes the name of Pro Player Stadium to Dolphins Stadium and unveils a three-phase plan to renovate the 18-year-old facility using $300 million-plus in private financing.

March 2005: Huizenga asks owners to consider awarding the Super Bowl every three years to Dolphins Stadium, which he would expand with adjacent buildings and facilities for concerts and for team and sponsor parties.

April 2006: The stadium name is changed to Dolphin Stadium. Also unveiled are a new stadium logo; two high-definition video boards; and a new fascia LED ribbon-board.

October 2006: Fitch Ratings downgrades the debt tied to Dolphin Stadium, citing the steep debt load of the facility’s ownership company. The stadium company is selling $100 million in bonds through a government agency to finance renovations to the facility.

December 2007: Team flirts with a winless season, losing 13 straight before winning on Dec. 16. The Dolphins finish 1-15.

December 2007: Bill Parcells signs a four-year contract to become the team’s executive vice president of football operations.

Ross

March 2008: Stephen Ross acquires half of the team and stadium from Huizenga in a $550 million deal.

October 2008: Ross agrees to sell part of his share of the holding company that owns the team, underscoring the high price of operating in the NFL, but he and Huizenga each continue to own half of the team.

October 2008: NFL owners pre-emptively approve the sale by Huizenga of an additional 45 percent stake of the Dolphins to Ross. Huizenga will remain the general partner until he decides when he wants to let the stake go, giving Ross 95 percent.

December 2008: Dolphins win the AFC East, advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The team is eliminated in the wild-card round, losing 27-9 to Baltimore.

January 2009: Huizenga and Ross jointly announce the closing of the deal that gives Ross 95 percent ownership of the Dolphins and their stadium and makes him managing general partner.

Research by Danielle Oliver
Sources: Miami Dolphins, SportsBusiness Journal/Daily archives

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