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Volume 24 No. 159
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Facilities & Franchises: Top Execs Take Long View On Building Fan Base

From the challenge of building generations of fans to the challenges of working in harmony with other Florida franchises, today's opening panel at the SBD/SBJ Sports Facilities & Franchises conference featured a lively discussion among top execs of four of Florida's pro teams. With seven teams in the state joining the four major leagues in the last 25 years, the execs said that trying to establish themselves to generations of fans is one of their biggest challenges. Marlins President David Samson, whose team played its first game in '93, said, “We’re a little jealous of the Dolphins. They’ve been around longer, so they’ve been able to establish a much bigger tradition down here in Miami.” He added, “When you talk about trying to build a multi-generational team and affinity to your brand, it takes a longer time. None of us will be in these chairs by the time our franchises are really embedded in Miami.”

MAGIC GATHERING FANS: The Magic debuted in '89, and team CEO Alex Martins said, “The joke in our marketplace is that nobody is really from Orlando. The first decade when we would have games, particularly against Boston or New York or L.A., there would be more of their fans in our building than our fans. The kids that came to games that first decade with their parents as a five- or six-year-old are just now coming into the marketplace, coming out of college, getting their first job and becoming season-ticket holders or partial season-ticket holders. We’re really just starting to get the core of our fan base to grow.” Martins: “It’s going to take our franchise ... 40 or 50 years before we truly have that multi-generational fan.”

Dee says Miami's pro franchises have good
relationships with each other

PLENTY OF FISH: Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said the diversity of the South Florida fan base is the team’s biggest challenge. Dee noted that the team regards its market as a 100-mile stretch up the Atlantic Ocean that includes Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. “The ethnic diversity, the cultural diversity, the economic diversity -- you really have four or five different distinct markets, and in some cases distinct languages -- in this 100-mile patch,” he said. “Each of those markets demand and requires a specific marketing approach.”

YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND: The relationship between the Marlins, Dolphins and Heat appears to be one of mutual respect. Samson did not mention the NHL Panthers by name, but said, “The three ‘Miami’ teams work very well together.” Dee added, “I can’t speak for anyone else in this market, but we will not go to a sponsor and say, ‘The Marlins are this, the Marlins are that, don’t do business with them.’ That doesn’t make us look good.” Dee noted that he goes to Heat and Marlins games and said, “It’s far better to have that kind of relationship than it is to have one that is contentious or acrimonious, and I’m glad to say that (the Dolphins, Marlins and Heat) want that kind of relationship.”


  • Heat President of Business Operations Eric Woolworth, on the biggest challenge facing the team: “Miami has a reputation of being a big-event town. The challenge then becomes how can you make every game a big event, and what are you doing at your games to differentiate the experience from what people are having at home to make it compelling, to make people really want to come.”
  • Samson, on having two major arenas, BankAtlantic Center and AmericanAirlines Arena, in the South Florida market: “The decision to build two arenas was a major moment in the sports landscape of Miami. Even to this day, it has impacted our market in terms of other events and the competition that takes place. It’s an extra layer of competition that really is not necessary.”
  • Martins, on what he considers competition: “If we’re only worried about competing with each other, we’re going to get beat. We’re really not competing against each other in terms of sports franchises. We’re competing for people’s time with everything else, whether it’s going out to dinner and going to the movies or staying home and watching TV.”
  • Dee, on the public perception of Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross: “The guy bought this franchise to win a Super Bowl championship. Some of the things that have happened (unfortunately have) sent the wrong message, and we’re trying to correct that.”

Read our event blog for more from Miami.