The Miami Dolphins have become embroiled in a nasty impasse with the Florida Legislature over the funding of improvements to Sun Life Stadium. That impasse has all but certainly cost South Florida a chance to host Super Bowl L or Super Bowl LI.
Could it cost them the Dolphins altogether?
According to ESPN, that's the warning that was sounded, albeit in a roundabout fashion, by Dolphins CEO Mike Dee in a television interview with Miami's WFOR. That interview came after the Florida House of Representatives ended its session without approving the funding plan, which then would have come up for a public vote.
We cannot do this [the stadium renovations] without a private-public partnership. At this time we have no intention of investing more. I wouldn't want to prognosticate what the future holds, but it's clearly bleak.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wasted no time in blasting the Legislature, and more specifically speaker of the house Will Weatherford, in a scathing statement released by the team, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk:
Speaker Weatherford did far more than just deny the people of Miami Dade the right to vote on an issue critical to the future of our local economy. The Speaker singlehandedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami Dade and for all of Florida. He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami Dade, and that is just wrong.
Well, Ross may feel better after getting that off his chest, but as Marc Caputo of The Miami Herald very astutely pointed out, in effect all Ross did was effectively guarantee that there's no chance in you-know-what the bill sees the light of day again anytime soon.
When the legislature reconvenes, guess who the speaker of the house will be? The same guy who will be speaker of the house a year from now.
Ross' public undressing of Weatherford, assertions of a "secret deal" (that Weatherford denies) and veiled threats that "this decision will follow speaker Weatherford for many years to come,” aren't going to sit well with many lawmakers.
In fact, according to Caputo, it was Ross' failure to court these lawmakers that was the real reason the funding proposal never came to a vote.
According to Caputo, Republican representative Richard Corcoran, the heir apparent to Weatherford's seat and a "master of behind-the-scenes political assassination," and fellow Republican Carlos Trujillo may have been the real players that shot the bill down.
"Ross wrote them off at his peril," one veteran lobbyist, familiar with the details of the deal, said on condition of anonymity. "If you don’t have Richard Corcoran on your side, you at least need him to not work against you," the lobbyist said. "Carlos is Richard’s guy. And Carlos was against this. Ross didn’t reach out. He didn’t do the care and feeding you need to do in a situation like this."
Political intrigue aside, the proverbial body wasn't even cold on the Dolphins' stadium renovations before the media began to speculate, making the Dolphins the latest on a long list of teams that have been mentioned as potential tenants for the mythical new stadium in Los Angeles.
Dee shot that speculation down according to ESPN, stating that "I don't think it's an option for Steve Ross," but then offered an ominous qualifier by continuing "but for a subsequent owner? The Dolphins are one of the only franchises in the National Football League that do not have a long-term lease with their community."
Now before anyone starts pre-ordering that L.A. Dolphins jersey or burning their Miami one, there are a couple of important considerations to take into account.
First and foremost, that stadium in Los Angeles is still very much a mythical one. The proposal by AEG to construct "Farmer's Field," a $1.2 billion downtown stadium, is far from a done deal. As Sid Garcia of KABC-TV reports, the stadium won't be built until Los Angeles gets an NFL team.
Also, Ross has made a number of public statements saying that it's his intention to keep the Dolphins in South Florida. As recently as Tuesday, after the funding fiasco, Dee told 640 AM in Miami (via The Herald's Douglas Hanks) that the chances of Ross moving the Dolphins were "zero percent."
And of course, NFL owners have always kept their word when it comes to the possibility of relocating their teams.
It's folly to dismiss the idea that after this stinging rebuke from lawmakers and looking at some of the NFL's worst attendance numbers (28th in total attendance, 32nd in attendance percentage according to ESPN), Ross might reconsider his position on the matter.
Ask them how that turned out.
Also, even if Ross follows through on his pledge, that doesn't change the fact that he's 73 years old. At some point in the not-too-distant future, there's going to be a new sheriff in town in Miami, whether it's Ross' heirs or a new owner.
If Ross decides to sell the Dolphins, there's no guarantee that loyalty to South Florida will be one of the requirements for purchase of the team. In fact, the only certain requirement is gobs and gobs of money.
And if you think that the NFL would "save" football in Miami, forget it. There might be a bit of wheeling and dealing in a half-hearted attempt to keep the team in Florida. There would certainly be a ton of lip service paid to the Dolphins' "tradition" and how "unfortunate" it would be if the team moved west.
Then the owners would do whatever makes them the most money. That's just the reality of the situation.
Granted, this all calls for more than a little speculation, and nothing is going to happen overnight.
However, as long as this stadium issue continues to loom over the Dolphins, that speculation is only going to grow. In that respect, fans in Cleveland and Baltimore can sympathize.
Yes, both cities eventually got NFL teams back; one by pillaging the other.
Still, ours was not a fun club to join, and fans of the Dolphins should hope they don't gain membership.