Stadium deficiencies sink South Florida's Super Bowl plans

The message was clear and poignant about the future of Super Bowls in South Florida:

The big game isn’t coming back until significant improvements are made to Sun Life Stadium.

NFL owners didn’t merely snub South Florida twice in a matter of minutes Tuesday in awarding Super Bowl L to San Francisco and Super Bowl LI to Houston. They signaled that the stadium is no longer a viable site for the league’s premier game.

Both games were awarded on the first vote, which required a super majority of at least 24 of the 32 owners.

“I’ve been saying for a while that we need to do something to our stadium,” Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross said. “I think everybody in that room would rather be in Miami in February than they would anywhere else in the country. I think nobody knows how to host a Super Bowl better than Miami.”

Rodney Barreto, long-time chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl committee, put it in stronger terms, laying the responsibility on members of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation who helped scuttle the recent stadium funding bill in the Florida House of Representatives.

“I think there are a couple state reps in Miami-Dade that are going to look in the mirror tonight and regret what they’ve done to Miami,” Barreto said. “The Super Bowl probably ain’t coming back for another 10 years. We may have a baseball All-Star game or World Series before we get another Super Bowl, which is a shame.”

Although the funding bill passed in the Senate, it died in the House when Speaker Will Weatherford (Rep. Pasco County) refused to bring it to the floor before the legislative session ended May 3. Barreto said Weatherford was influenced by Miami-Dade Republicans Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca.

“It’s a shame that we have that division in our own delegation, but the issue there is everybody was running for the hills because of the Marlins issue,” Barreto said, alluding to the controversial public financing deal for Marlins Park.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cautioned as early as 2010, when South Florida last hosted a Super Bowl, about the need for stadium improvements to remain competitive against cities with newer facilities.

“I had a couple of owners that did express to me privately that the condition of the stadium was an important factor in their vote,” Goodell said Tuesday. “Others are investing significantly to make sure their stadium is state of the art and is a great platform to stage a Super Bowl. That’s what we want.”

The Dolphins sought a 1 percent increase in the tourist tax in Miami-Dade to help pay for a $350 million modernization of the stadium. Barreto pointed out that the hotel tax is earmarked for sports facilities and has been used to help pay for AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami Arena, Key Biscayne Tennis Center, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Marlins Park.

“You take all those facilities away and we might as well just be Tallahassee,” he said.

What most angered those pushing the stadium bill was that a few lawmakers in Tallahassee prevented a May 14 special election from taking place in Miami-Dade that was to ultimately decide the issue.

More than 60,000 votes were cast by mail and at early-voting sites, and those showed the funding plan trailing 57-43. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said that wasn’t necessarily indicative of the eventual outcome.

“I know it’s hard for folks to understand, but the experts will tell you that those who voted early and absentee weren’t likely to be yes votes, and we did appreciably better than we envisioned,” Dee said.

It became moot when the measure failed to pass the legislature, effectively sinking South Florida’s chances of getting either of the Super Bowls awarded Tuesday.

That left San Francisco as the clear choice to host Super Bowl L in 2016 with $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium due to open next year in Santa Clara, Calif. Houston’s Reliant Stadium, site for 2017, is another newer facility with a retractable roof that is getting two new high-definition LED video scoreboards that will be the largest in professional sports.

South Florida, which has hosted a record-tying 10 Super Bowls, apparently will join San Diego as an appealing warm-weather destination with a stadium considered unsuitable for the game. The region is assured of its longest Super Bowl void since the 10-year gap from 1979-89.

It took Sun Life – then known as Joe Robbie Stadium – replacing the aged Orange Bowl to regain favored status in the rotation.

The South Florida presentation stressed its tradition of hosting the game and outlined an ambitious plan for an expansive waterfront Super Bowl village in downtown Miami that included a Navy aircraft carrier, floating nightclubs and a zipline ride over Bayfront Harbor. It was backed by a $36.5 million incentive package.

“It wasn’t about our bid. It wasn’t about the creativity of Super Bowl Park. It has all to do with the stadium,” Barreto said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”