There was a time when great communities didn’t fret over what to name the coliseums and arenas in their jurisdictions. The Romans didn’t fiddle with the naming rights to the Coliseum. It was just “The Coliseum.”
For a while, we named our stadiums after agricultural products like The Orange Bowl. We named them after the cities and counties that were their homes as a way to build civic pride and national identity. But then the lure of money wafted by the nostrils of government officials who saw it as a way to subsidize the cost of providing the facilities to sports teams too poor to build their own.
The American Airlines Arena is a great example. The Miami Arena preceded it and was built in 1988 to the exacting specifications of the Miami Heat. It was shared by the Heat and the Florida Panthers. The popularity of the Heat grew faster than expectations and, what was once like Mary Poppins (“absolutely perfect in every way”), soon became dowdy and outdated. There were not enough seats and, more importantly, not enough suites.
Faced with the possibility that the Heat might bolt for another city, the County decided to take some of its bayfront land and put up a new arena. The Heat signed a new lease and got the right to manage the facility 365 days a year and also the ability to sell off the naming rights. The Heat got American Airlines to sign a 20-year, $40 million-dollar deal.
However, in 2018, the county announced that it was exercising the option to take back the right to negotiate a deal with the name sponsor. American Airlines, which also has its name on the arena where the Dallas Mavericks play, decided against keeping the Triple-A as the Triple-A.
There was no reason to panic. The county’s chosen consultant, Speculative Group, said that a new sponsor could be found in 12 to 18 months and that it would pay triple what American Airlines was forking up each month.
There was a lot of forking up after that, all centered in the Stephen Clark Building. We did not have a new sponsor in place as of January 1, 2020 when the old deal expired. What that means is that come March 31, 2020, the county is going to have to write a check to the Heat to make up for $500,000 that the sponsor would otherwise be paying just for the first quarter of 2020.
And then another half million dollars a quarter until a new sponsor is found, signed, and begins writing checks. That adds up to $2 million a year.
There could be a lot of reasons why the new sponsor was not in place and may not be for another year and a half. Mayor Carlos Gimenez is term limited out this November and maybe county staff didn’t want to take a stand until they knew who their new boss was going to be.
Or maybe the staffers have been too busy updating their resumes and the deadline just slid past them.
Whatever the reason, someone was asleep at the wheel. For a government whose motto is “Delivering Excellence Every Day,” it looks like the deliveries of excellence were stopped for over 500 days. We didn’t even rise to the level of mediocrity on this one.