Sun Life Stadium: home to the Miami Dolphins. Fans can bask in the sun's glory while watching their favourite team play a game of football. Tailgate partying, barbeques, and ice-cold drinks are all fixtures of the game-day experience for Miami's residents. Surely, then, the stadium should be a sell-out game in, game out. Surely the favourable year-round weather of the Miami area should lure fans in their thousands to Sun Life Stadium on a Sunday afternoon? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a resounding no.
Since the 2001-2002 regular season, attendances have been on the decline for the Dolphins. During that time, Dolphins fans have experienced some of the worst team performances in franchise history. In 2004, Dave Wannstedt was given his marching orders after a disastrous 1-8 start to the season. Next came Nick Saban. While Saban led the team to a 9-7 record in his first season, his second proved less fruitful by guiding the team to a losing record. We all know what happened next. Saban jumped ship to Alabama for a guaranteed $32 million deal, and San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was hired to lead the Dolphins to glory. Instead Cameron managed to guide his team to one win during his lone year as head coach, our worst season in franchise history.
With the fan base at an all-time low, Bill Parcells was hired to run the show, and chose Tony Sparano as his new head coach. In their first season, they experienced the greatest turnaround in NFL history, going from a 1-15 regular season record to an 11-5 record in 2007. But yet again disaster struck, and Tony Sparano was fired after countless losing seasons.
Since then, we are once again on a path towards hope and glory. We have a new coach and quarterback charged with leading the team towards the playoffs. Gone are the days of the outdated ground and pound offense of the Sparano days. In is the West Coast Offense, something that should provide better entertainment for fans. Needless to say, attendances still remain low.
However, this isn't something that is unique to the Dolphins. Other franchises in the Miami area have also experienced attendance problems.
The Florida Panthers are experiencing one of their worst seasons in the NHL, sitting at the bottom of the Southeast Conference with a measly 30 points. It's not surprising, then, that this year's average attendance of only 16,956 so far is ranked 23rd in the NHL. This is despite the fact that the NHL has shortened its regular season, leading to the theory that demand for tickets should increase with less games.
Then there's the Miami Marlins. In 2012 the team moved into their brand spanking new 36, 742 all-seater stadium. However, in that year, the Marlins only averaged 27,401 attendances, leading to the team making a $47 million operating loss and forcing them to slash their payroll in half for the 2013 season. As a result, the team currently find themselves dead last in the East Conference of the National League.
In stark contrast are the Miami Heat. Since their blockbuster signings of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade in 2010, attendances have rocketed. In 2010, the franchise had an average attendance of 17,730, 15th in the NBA. After the signings of the big three, the team averaged 19,728 in 2011 and 19,935 in 2012. That's 5th and 4th highest in those respective years. It's not surprising then that the upturn in fortunes coincided with their upturn in attendances. In 2011, the Heat reached the NBA finals for only the second time in franchise history, while in 2012 the team won the NBA final by defeating Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. During the current season, Miami went on a 27 game winning streak, which ranks second in NBA history to only the 1971-72 LA Lakers team that went on an incredible 33 game winning streak.
Sadly, the Miami Dolphins haven't yet experienced those same dizzy heights. Of all the teams in the NFL, none have seen their attendances drop so spectacularly than the Miami Dolphins. During the 2001-2002 regular season, an average of 73,470 fans turned up on Sunday afternoons, which ranked 7th in the NFL. By 2011-2012, the team averaged only 60,866 fans, 5th lowest in the NFL. This year, despite a new coach and quarterback, attendances fell again to 57,379, 4th lowest in the NFL.
So what are behind these attendance falls?
Is it the cost? A family of four pay an average of $444 dollars to watch an NFL game. To watch a Dolphins game, it costs $400.54 on average for the same family of four. That's still a steep price to pay for any family.
Or do fans now prefer watching the game from the comforts of their own home? It's a difficult situation for the Dolphins, and has provided a great challenge to many franchises in all sports across America. In an attempt to claw back ground lost to home entertainment, the team is in the process of upgrading their Wi-Fi system so that it will be available to all fans, and are trying to upgrade the stadium by constructing a new roof and bringing the seats closer to the players on the pitch.
Perhaps it can simply be put down to losing? We all know the aggressive moves that the Dolphins have made this offseason. Is Stephen Ross trying to replicate what the Miami Heat did in 2010 in an attempt to fill the seats of the stadium? It's a tall order, and the attendances probably won't change too drastically any time soon. But there should be progress. Hopefully fans will flock back to Sun Life once the team starts winning again. Hopefully the new players, logo, and stadium changes usher in a new era for Miami. At the end of the day, that's all we want. We want to win.
What do you think? Why do you think attendance levels have been so poor? Let's hear your thoughts.