The Sun-Sentinel writes that in the tug of war for fans in a highly competitive market such as South Florida, sometimes push comes to shove.
That became evident during a panel discussion involving executives of several Florida professional teams Thursday at a sports business symposium.
Asked about the relationship between the teams in South Florida, Marlins President David Samson said, “The three Miami teams work really well together.”
When further discussion suggested discord between those teams and the Broward-based Florida Panthers, Samson alluded to an incident in March when fans upset about some of the Dolphins’ offseason moves protested outside the team’s training facility in Davie.
According to media reports, two sales representatives for the Panthers stopped by and handed out business cards to protesters and gave free tickets to one who was wearing a Panthers T-shirt.
“Let’s put it out there: What really hurt this year — and we talked about it — is what happened with what the Panthers did at the Dolphins’ practice facility a few months ago. That’s not what you do when you’re in a market when you’re working together with teams. It’s just not appropriate,” Samson said.
Samson was joined in the discussion by Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, Heat President of Business Operations Eric Woolworth and Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins. Michael Yormark, Panthers president and COO, was scheduled to participate but had to leave town due to a business matter, team spokesman Matt Sacco said.
In a statement issued later Thursday, Yormark downplayed any suggestion of bad blood between the Panthers and the other teams, pointing out that he has hosted executives, coaches and players from all three at numerous Panthers events, including the recent playoffs.
Regarding the incident at the Dolphins’ training facility, Yormark’s statement said in part: “While we support that type of initiative in our staff members, we certainly do not condone it in that particular forum or setting. We spoke to those sales executives, underlying the respect we have for the other teams in the market, and the issue has since been rectified.”
Sacco said the Panthers’ understanding of the incident is that the sales reps handed out business cards but not free tickets.
It was noted by the panelists that Miami-Dade and Broward are distinctly separate markets, and the root of the divide between the franchises can be traced to the decision by former Panthers owner H. Wayne Huizenga to take the team to Broward rather than pursue a shared facility with the Heat in Miami.
Samson said that move had a profound effect on the competitive environment within the marketplace that is still resonating. The result is more venues vying for concerts and other events in addition to sports.
“It’s an extra layer of competition that really is not necessary. From my standpoint of somebody who is in Miami sports, that was a bad day when the Panthers went north,” Samson said. “It has an impact politically. It impacted us for 10 years trying to get a ballpark. It’s still going on right now.”
While the Marlins’ new park has drawn rave reviews, attendance so far is solid but not overwhelming. The average of 28,220 ranks 15th among the 30 major league teams.
The three Miami team executives seemed in agreement that the market is big enough for all of them to succeed.
“What I love about the Dolphins and the Heat is that we are really aligned in trying to do with the challenges that we face in Miami and doing the best [business] practices because there’s enough people that can fill up 41-, 81- and eight-[game schedules],” Samson said. “There’s enough sponsors’ dollars, enough of everything to satisfy.”