Miami-Dade County faces dual sucker punches from boxing, pro football
By Michael Lewis
Miami-Dade is close to entangling taxpayers in two more sports boondoggles.
Boxing, in deep decline, wants the county to run a franchise in a new league, with matches beginning Nov. 18.
Pro football, meanwhile, is about to pass by county hall to seek hundreds of millions to upgrade the Dolphins' stadium Joe Robbie built from his own pocket.
Haven't we had enough sports fumbles?
Miami build an arena in 1988 that the Miami Heat left in the 1990s. Taxpayers still were paying off the derelict arena when the city finally sold it for less than half price a few years ago.
Paying a decade later is fast in some sports. We'll be paying off the $3 billion Marlins baseball stadium long after most of us are gone. And the public gets not a penny of revenue — the Marlins get it all.
Then there's our other ballpark, funded with the county taxes meant for tourism. Instead, Homestead built a fine stadium almost 20 years ago that's still awaiting its first professional baseball tenant.
Miami-Dade still hasn't gotten a dime from the second Miami Heat home, AmericanAirlines Arena, which got prime public waterfront with vows of payments to the county.
That's how our governments get into in professional sports — we lose, they win.
Now the Miami-Dade Sports Commission seeks to run a boxing franchise in a new global league of a dying sport because private enterprise won't. With our role still pending, matches start in six weeks — which leaves minus two years for proper planning.
A boxing league has never been tried. We'd be the guinea pig, lending the county's name and remaining credibility to a group that in theory would fund losses — but, as in the case of the Marlins, we won't study financials or know who exactly is involved.
There's no time to weigh such liabilities as injury to fighters, who aren't playing patty-cake. If the league folded, who'd hold the bag, a county that sponsored an untested project?
Even if details passed muster, why in the world would a county be a boxing proprietor? We have no expertise and no business getting involved, even if every commissioner got free tickets forever.
But this push to run brutal matches with unknown liabilities in an untested format for no good reason looks better than the other pending sports drive.
Professional football is huddling for another rush at county cash to upgrade what used to be Joe Robbie Stadium, home of the Dolphins.
The team tried in the legislature last winter for $200 million to add seating, a roof and improved lighting but lost.
Now that the county just raised taxes 56% to add $350 million bonding capacity, however, the Dolphins are already blocking and tackling opponents on the way to the lions' — or Dolphins' — share. Not the whole pot, only because Marlins Stadium might get $50 million.
Still, $300 million is hard to pass up if you're Steve Ross, the Dolphins' billionaire owner who brought in wealthy and famous minority owners with local ties. Why use your own money when the county gives away taxes?
And so, on Friday, Dolphins representatives and stacks of brochures filled a ballroom as Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of the Loews Hotels, spoke to the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
Hoteliers could try to block stadium expansion funds because in the past the team targeted bed taxes meant to add tourism. So Mr. Tisch told them what the Dolphins wanted: Super Bowls here fill beds and the National Football League wants the stadium upgraded in order to bring the game back.
Mr. Tisch favors that for his Loews hotel. But then, Mr. Tisch also is treasurer and an owner of the league's New York Giants, playing in a brand-new stadium even while the public is paying off a $110 million debt on the old one — shades of the Miami Arena.
The Giants also have a Super Bowl coming in 2014. And while a league official last year told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce that a Miami stadium open to rain could block future Super Bowls, Mr. Tisch told the hoteliers that rain, snow and cold should be no barrier. National Football League fans expect them — part of the game experience.
Especially a midwinter game in New York.
Still, taxpayers will be asked to enclose Mr. Robbie's former stadium or risk losing Super Bowl visitors forever. Just as we had to spend $3 billion to build an enclosed field or lose the Marlins forever.
Don't we ever learn?
We just raised taxes double digit in a tailspin economy while funding a home for Major League Baseball's most profitable team. So football wants the same. Fair is fair.
Billionaire Norman Braman got so fed up that he's trying to recall Mayor Carlos Alvarez, promoter of both baseball and the tax hike — both of which Mr. Braman opposed. Mr. Braman also once owned a National Football League team in Philadelphia but sees the idiocy of taxpayers funding the sports hobbies of the wealthy.
Even so, Miami-Dade's so-called leaders are lining up again for a pro sports sucker punch.