Jan 2013 – The Miami Herald: How the Dolphins Might Pull Off Stadium Coup

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How the Dolphins might pull off stadium coup

The odds are doubtless long, but two public relations pros believe the Dolphins can conceivably win public financing for stadium improvements.

By Casey Frank

If Tadd Schwartz nicks himself while shaving, he bleeds aqua and orange. He has been going to Dolphins games since he was a baby perched on his mom’s lap. He witnessed the overtime thriller between the Dolphins and Chargers (1982’s legendary “hook-and-ladder game”) and saw Dan Marino and Co. manhandle the 12-0 Chicago Bears in December 1985, arguably the most electrifying Monday nighter ever.

And yet even he acknowledges that securing support in Miami and Tallahassee for tourism tax-funded improvements to Sun Life Stadium will be excruciatingly difficult.

Difficult but not impossible.

For the long, hard road ahead, the Dolphins can thank the Marlins, who pushed through a grossly unpopular ballpark plan, promised a competitive team, saw their manager publicly declare his love for Fidel Castro, tanked in the standings, and then — after all that — stripped the roster of talent like a chop shop disassembling a stolen Ferrari.

Now come the Dolphins with their hands out. The revulsion of taxpayers was articulated by Herald reader Todd Springs, who wrote in response to a query:

“If [the Dolphins] had a set of numbers that would demonstrate the value of the currently privately owned stadium to the community and the added value that would be gained, they would show it to us. Instead, they blow sunshine up our skirts about what a ‘great community’ this is and how, to remain a ‘first class city,’ we have to make investments like this.”

And then there’s Norman Braman, the car dealer whose wallet financed the opposition to the Marlins’ tax grab. He immediately turned his sights on the Dolphins, accusing them of trying to “pig out” at the trough.

How do you overcome such antipathy? Schwartz believes it’s possible. And he’s not just some delusional super fan, but the president of a public relations firm, Schwartz Media Strategies. It recently waged a successful campaign to allow improvements at the Key Biscayne tennis center that hosts the Sony Open.

Schwartz and fellow PR wiz Sissy DeMaria, president of Kreps DeMaria, who once helped crush a Marlins scheme to pay for a new stadium with a tax on cruise passengers, offered these thoughts on swaying the hearts and minds of skeptical South Floridians.

Repeat, over and over, this mantra — The Dolphins are not the Marlins: You simply can’t compare the Marlins’ short tenure and serial ownership changes with the Dolphins, DeMaria points out. Long before the baseball franchise came into existence, the Dolphins were winning Super Bowls (two) and hosting many more at their stadium. That stadium was built by founding owner Joe Robbie using Joe Robbie dollars (hence the original name — Joe Robbie Stadium — obliterated after the new owners sold the naming rights). “The Dolphins are loved,” said DeMaria, while the Marlins have cultivated a hate/hate relationship with the community.

What’s more, said Schwartz, current owner Steve Ross, “is putting a lot of skin in the game” — and not just future spending, but money that’s already been poured into major improvements at Sun Life Stadium. On the negative side, unlike Marlins Park, Sun Life is privately owned.

Accentuate the economic impact: A lot of whoppers have been told about the supposed economic impact of the Super Bowl coming to a city, but there is clearly an economic impact. Fans with fat expense accounts fill hotels and they have money to burn on restaurants, taxis, entertainment and so on. The NFL may or may not be lying when it says the game will go elsewhere unless improvements are made, but it is clear that newer stadiums in cities like Phoenix and Dallas are vastly cushier.

Underscore “return on investment”: The Adrienne Arsht Center received a huge influx of public money. By way of payback, the center brings in tens of thousands of students each year, free of charge. That’s “return on investment” to the taxpaying public. The Dolphins might want to announce a similar initiative — an educational program, something to benefit families, whatever — in an effort to underscore that they care about this place.

Tug at the heartstrings: “The Dolphins are part of Miami more than any other organization,” said Schwartz. “This is a football town. When you think of Miami, you think of the beach, of bikinis and the Dolphins — maybe the Heat nowadays. It’s because of Marino and Griese and Csonka.”

Take on Braman directly: “They need to anticipate and defeat the opposition,” said Schwartz. “The Braman factor is really key to this because no one knows how to whip the target audiences into a frenzy over the use of public money more than Norman. Their campaign needs to drive the dialogue, or Braman will win going away.”

If you think of the campaign as a shiny new car, that car needs a really impressive hood ornament: Paging Don Shula. The Hall of Fame coach “is one of the most loved men ever in Miami” said DeMaria. “He would be a great face of the campaign.”