The Miami Dolphins face an up hill battle, and it has nothing to do with their play on the field. Sun Life Stadium, the home for the team since 1987, is falling behind the rash of new stadiums opening around the league, and soon could be out of the running for Super Bowls, NCAA Championship games, and any other big name events.
Sun Life Stadium, the home for the Miami Dolphins for the last 25 years, is in need of upgrades. Most fans agree, the stadium has problems that need to be addresses. However, the battle to get public funding may be the hardest one the team faces, on or off the field.
"We've got a 25-year-old facility, and it clearly needs some tender loving care," Dolphins CEO Mike Dee told the media Wednesday. "This facility, in its current form, is not going to serve the anchor tenants for the long-term. We're going to be in a competitive environment with a lot of facilities that have been built in the last 10 years. Clearly, it's something that's going to have to be addressed at some point."
The stadium is one of two finalists for the NFL's 50th Super Bowl, to be held in February 2016. The team wants to land the league's championship game in a celebration of the Dolphins' 50th season in the league. However, they are facing competition from a stadium that does not even exist yet.
The San Francisco 49ers' new home, currently under construction in Santa Clara, California, is the other finalist.
"You picture what our opponents may do, being in the technology hub of the United States," Dee said of the competition for Super Bowl L. "We can't treat it like any other Super Bowl, nor is it a right that we have to expect that we're going to get it. We've got to have a game plan to commemorate this Super Bowl in a way that other bids haven't included.
"We need the 'Wow!' factor."
The Dolphins' home stadium, both Sun Life Stadium (under its various names, to include Joe Robbie Stadium) and the Orange Bowl, have hosted Super Bowls, with South Florida hosting the game a record 10 times. New Orleans, which will host this year's game and move into a tie with the Miami area, is currently second, with Los Angeles third with seven games. No other site has hosted more than four games.
San Francisco hosted Super Bowl XIX in 1985.
The Dolphins are expected to request at least a share of the renovations to Sun Life Stadium be paid for by public funding. How much money, or how hard the Dolphins will push for assistance, is still up in the air.
"We've got to have a plan and we've got to have dialogue with the community to see if there's an appetite for that," Dee said, referencing the area's desire to spend money on a stadium. "We're going to put this [Super Bowl] bid in with the best stadium we can. If that means the stadium in its current form, so be it, but we've got more work to do on that front."
The Dolphins last hosted a Super Bowl in 2010, after a proposed stadium in New York City fell through. After the 2007 game, in which the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears in the first weather affected Super Bowl in league history, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed the league desire to see major improvements to Sun Life Stadium before the site would be considered a Super Bowl host site again.
Five years later, those improvements are still on the drawing board. The most pressing need, according to the league and to fans, is a cover over the stadium's seating area, allowing the field to still receive the South Florida heat and rain, while protecting the fans. Other improvements under consideration are installing high definition lighting to make television broadcasts better and moving the seating closer to the field.
The stadium was shared with the Miami Marlins until this season, preventing the seating from being as close to the field as it could be in a football only site. The Marlins moved into their own stadium this year, clearing the way for the seating improvements.
But also causing problems for the team. The Marlins received over $500 million in public funding to build Marlins Stadium, with promises that the team could become competitive in a new site. Instead, the Marlins finished last in their division this year, and immediately sold off most of the high salaried pieces of their roster once the season concluded.
With the fire sale leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of Marlins fans, and Miami area residents, the public may not be in the mood to approve funding for another Miami sports team's stadium.
"The reality is that most stadiums are either retractable or covered," Dee continued. "That's just something that I think will put us in a much better position to not only compete for major events, but would put us in a much better position for fans who use the stadium on a regular basis, and have an environment that is protected for sun, wind and rain."
Since Joe Robbie Stadium opened in 1987, the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants/Jets have all had new stadiums built. Along with the 49ers, the Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons (which will be their second stadium since the Dolphins' home opened), and Buffalo Bills are all in the process of getting new stadiums.
Additionally, there are two stadium proposals to build NFL sites in the Los Angeles area, despite the city not having any teams.
The question is, will the Dolphins be able to find the money to make those improvements, or will the city start to see big name events, like the Super Bowl, move on to other sites?