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Volume 21 No. 2
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Fewer seats mean greater value for Dolphins

“The Nines” outdoor suites replaced seats near midfield at Hard Rock Stadium.
Photo by: MIAMI DOLPHINS
Imagine a stadium whose worst seats have been eliminated and whose best seats just got better.
 
That’s what the Miami Dolphins envisioned with their strategy to downsize Hard Rock Stadium and create a new template where all seats carry greater value regardless of location.
 
As part of the team’s $500 million, privately funded renovation, project officials eliminated about 10,000 total seats across multiple levels of the stadium. The upgrades, designed by HOK, led to a retrofit with all new seats that are now 25 feet closer to the field in a stadium originally designed for both football and baseball. The Dolphins stand alone as the only big league tenant after the Miami Marlins moved to their new ballpark in 2012.

Under the new model for the revamped seating bowl, 2016 season tickets cost $45 a game for the upper deck and up to more than $2,000 a game for the living room boxes, the most exclusive premium seats in the lower bowl, Dolphins President Tom Garfinkel said.

A greater mix of seating products across the board resulted in the Dolphins generating more revenue from fewer seats. For the past fiscal year, stadium-related income grew about 11 percent, driven mostly by the sale of new premium seats, according to Fitch Ratings, a credit rating agency.

“Over the years, I think teams have worked hard to create different experiences,” Garfinkel said. “That was one of the things we were trying to create, was how do we take and create multiple seating products across multiple price points, with multiple value propositions.”

On the 100 level alone, three sections of 2,200 seats near midfield on the stadium’s south sideline were replaced with 32 living room boxes and nine outdoor suites. Together, those two new premium spaces encompass about 900 seats.

The upper deck was converted into a more comfortable space after a roof canopy was installed over most of the seating bowl. The roof cover protects fans from the South Florida sun and seasonal rains that often made things unbearable for those sitting highest in the stadium.

By comparison, there are more expensive seats in the lower deck still exposed to the sun and rain, but they have indoor spaces such as Club 72 for premium seat holders to escape the elements, Garfinkel said.

In addition, the four new video boards installed in the upper deck corners replaced the least desirable seats and the last to sell for Dolphins games. More concessions and restrooms were built in the upper deck, and more food and drink options are available, Garfinkel said. New outdoor bars in the upper deck corners will open for 2017.

“It’s not just about whether you’re lower or closer to the 50-yard-line,” he said. “It’s about all the other things we can add to create value.”

New terrace tables, made by 4Topps, a supplier that got its start in minor league baseball making four swivel chairs attached to a small table, were installed in the corners of the 100 level. They’ve been so popular that the Dolphins may add more, Garfinkel said. He is familiar with the seating product from when 4Topps tables were placed in the outfield at Petco Park during his tenure as president of the San Diego Padres.

At Hard Rock Stadium, the end zones on the 200 level were reconfigured. Instead of a row with 16 continuous seats, those areas were redesigned with table space separating groups of two and four seats for fans to have a place to hold their food and drink instead of having to put those items on the floor, Garfinkel said.

“We created little environments where you can set your Pepsi and nachos next to you,” he said. “There were some capacity reductions in favor of creating all these seating products.”

As part of their research to determine the new seat mix, the Dolphins surveyed groups of 20 to 30 people tailgating together in the parking lots next to Hard Rock Stadium. In many cases, those groups would separate after going through the gates and sit in different seating sections.

“They got stuck sitting next to just two people, instead of being around the [larger group] they love to enjoy the game with,” Garfinkel said. “They tailgate together, so [the question becomes] how can we sell tickets inside the stadium in an environment where they can still be together inside?”

Through customer relationship management tools, the team was able to identify several groups to buy both premium and nonpremium seats, whether it was Club 72 or the terrace tables.

“We didn’t get everybody sitting together, but we tried to accomplish that as much as we could, and in a lot of cases, we were able to do that,” Garfinkel said. “And it kind of tends to grow from there. Once you can get people sitting together and get into the renewal process … it can be helpful.”