No. 19 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Miami
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a Red Sox fan, there's no worse place to live than New York City.
But what if you were a free agent, so to speak? What if you loved sports but didn't have a specific affiliation to any team? You're moving to a new city. What city would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? What city would give you the best overall experience?
That is what we're here to find out. We took 25 of the best writers from Bleacher Report and beyond to objectively look at their cities and come up with a ranking. To get a better understanding of the categories and grading criteria, click here.
Miami comes in at No. 19. Let's find out why.
Number of Teams/Events: 18/20
It’s technically true that South Florida fields a representative in every major North American professional sports league, even if "professional" has been a liberal characterization of the Panthers and Marlins during long periods of their existence.
The four franchises cover a relatively wide area, with the Heat and Marlins each playing 15 miles from the Dolphins (and University of Miami Hurricanes) and 35 miles from the Panthers.
Plus, there are world-class events in Dade County in golf (World Golf Championships at Doral), auto racing (Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead), tennis (Sony Open at Key Biscayne) and horse racing (Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park).
All that’s missing, since the Fusion left, is Major League Soccer, and David Beckham’s found it more challenging to bend local politicians than a ball.
Success of Teams in the Last 5 Years: 12/20
Noted philosopher Bret Michaels told us that every rose has its thorn but, in South Florida’s sports garden, the one rose (the Heat) has come with three of the latter.
As Pat Riley has created a respected, sustainable operation that has captivated the country, the Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers have been extending their runs of incompetence and irrelevance.
During the past five years, only the Panthers have made the playoffs—after an 11-year absence—and they exited in the first round.
The stingy Marlins and once-proud Dolphins have been good for little but fire sales and firings, respectively, with the occasional bullying scandal tossed in for extra embarrassment.
Even after LeBron James’ unexpected departure, the Heat remain the lone regal franchise, the only one worthy of the local populace’s ongoing trust.
Since 1987, South Florida has opened five major sporting venues, eventually demolishing one, the instantly obsolete Miami Arena, best known for its pink flamingo decor and gravel lots.
The newest, the spaceship-roofed Marlins Park, stands on the hallowed site of the Orange Bowl. That was the only edifice in the area’s history that generated much nostalgia—even if, unlike Marlins Park, it was missing a nightclub with girls in body paint.
Sun Life Stadium, originally known as Joe Robbie Stadium, wore out before its time, with the NFL requiring significant upgrades prior to awarding it any future Super Bowls. But at least the place no longer gets converted to a baseball facility, with so many of the empty seats facing the wrong way.
Neither AmericanAirlines Arena (Heat) nor the BB&T Center is especially daunting for opponents, with fans distracted by the ever-expanding attractions outside of the main bowl.
I'll say this, though: Each is relatively convenient and comfortable, and each is tailored to its primary patrons, with the Triple-A emitting a South Beach aura and the BB&T giving a sterile suburban vibe.
Fan Passion: 5/10
Camera pans haven’t been kind to the South Florida fanbase, with empty sections abounding in all of the major arenas and stadiums. Even AmericanAirlines Arena—in the golden age of LeBron—was typically not completely filled until six minutes in, and sometimes fans left a bit too early.
In that sense, the bad rap is earned. But local television ratings are generally strong, and there is a rabid, educated contingent following, and critiquing, every play of every Heat and Dolphins contest on social media.
They’re just not the same people who can afford to spend $10,000 on floor seats, only to spend the night taking selfies and long trips to the cocktail lounges.
General Fan Experience: 12/15
What makes South Florida a great destination—tropical weather, countless diversions—sometimes works against it as a sports city. It’s easier to build your life around your teams when they’re all you’ve got.
So, certainly, the sports environment would be more exciting if more of the community were consistently engaged, win or lose. But there’s not much better than a meaningful Dolphins game in 80-degree weather in November.
While that stadium’s location (nearest attraction: Walmart) makes tailgating the only option, the Heat’s proximity to Bayside and South Beach is a perk. Same for the Cuban sandwiches you’ll find inside and just outside of Marlins Park, where box seats can be acquired for the cost of the pickles.
And, as far as settings go, Key Biscayne (tennis) and Doral (golf) are a bit more picturesque than anything Green Bay offers.
It’s not known as the toughest market, but there’s certainly no shortage of options.
There are three local newspapers, all of which, even with cutbacks elsewhere, are still traveling with all of the major teams (with the exception of the Palm Beach Post’s recent exclusion of the Panthers).
There are sports radio stations up and down the dial, with hosts tending to slide from one to the next, and some (Dan Le Batard, Jorge Sedano) having made national marks.
And there are solid broadcasters (Eric Reid on Heat, Tommy Hutton on Marlins, Steve Goldstein on Panthers) who are identified with their teams, even if there’s no Vin Scully-like icon.
Finally, I have worked in the market for two decades, at three newspapers and three radio stations, which either earns or costs a couple of points, depending on your perspective.
Star Power: 5/10
If only this piece had been published on July 11, at around noon.
With LeBron James leading the Big Three, the Heat were the Heatles, and they burned so bright that it was easy to ignore everyone else. Now James is gone, and while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh remain, the national spotlight is sure to shine elsewhere.
Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez are each electric in their own way, but Stanton may not be a Marlin for long, and Fernandez is recovering from elbow surgery.
The Dolphins haven’t had a transcendent player since Dan Marino retired in 1999, and no one on the current roster even compares in celebrity to Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas.
The Panthers? Most casual South Florida sports fans couldn’t name a player, and if they could, it’s only because they vaguely remember Roberto Luongo’s first go-round.
Miami was a one-sport town until 1988, when the Heat opened play.
The Marlins and Panthers crashed the scene in 1993. So it’s still a young market, even if it’s one with seven professional championships (three for Heat, two for Dolphins, two for Marlins), plus five for the Miami Hurricanes football program and four for their baseball program.
Don Shula, Pat Riley, Dan Marino and Dwyane Wade have created lasting legacies in the market. Some (Miguel Cabrera, Michael Irvin, Ray Lewis) started making their names. Some of the other all-time greats (Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James) have hoisted trophies while passing through.
Plus, Nick Saban and Jimmy Johnson both coached the Dolphins, though each may wish to keep that a secret.
Final Tally: 67
Miami generally gets a bad rap as a sports city, but it's mostly unearned. There are plenty of great options, and the fan experience is one of the best around.
But aside from the Heat, there hasn't been much to celebrate lately. And if this had been written a few months ago, Miami could still claim the biggest star in the sports world. But, sadly, LeBron has taken his talents away from South Beach.
Couple that with a middling history and so-so stadiums, and you have yourself a relatively middle-of-the-road sports city. Not bad by any means, but somewhere in the middle of things.