Fans of the Miami Marlins continued to express their outrage over a payroll-trimming trade of five key players on Wednesday, triggering speculation that fallout from the deal could hurt stadium makeover hopes of another South Florida franchise — the Miami Dolphins.
Rodney Barreto, chairman of South Florida's Super Bowl Host Committee, said public reaction to the baseball team's roster moves may mean taxpayers, who funded 80 percent of Marlins Park, are faced with "a real gut check. Do we want to be hosting future Super Bowls? That becomes the real question."
The Dolphins have not spelled out any plans to upgrade Sun Life Stadium, even though South Florida has been named one of two contenders to host the 50th anniversary Super Bowl in February 2016 or the game the following year.
Contacted Wednesday evening en route to the Dolphins' Thursday game in Buffalo, CEO Mike Dee declined to comment on the Marlins specifically. He reiterated remarks made last month that the Dolphins would "put our best bid forward possible. I think that's all we can do."
South Florida's Sun Life Stadium, which turned 25 this month, is competing for the 2016 Super Bowl against Santa Clara, whose stadium is scheduled to open in 2014. The runner-up will compete for the 2017 game with Houston, whose Reliant Stadium, with its retractable roof, is 10 years old.
Last year a state Senate panel approved a measure that would allow Miami-Dade to increase a hotel bed tax to fund renovations at the stadium. But the measure was never approved by the legislature.
Commentator Keith Olbermann, on his Baseball Nerd blog, said the Marlins' breakup will also have a damaging spill-over effect on of the efforts of the Tampa Bay Rays to drum up public support for a new stadium, and will force the team to leave Florida.
"If [Rays' owner Stu Sternberg] had any hopes left after the disastrously low crowds for the free ballpark the good burghers of Florida gave [Marlins owner] Jeffrey Loria, they have to be gone now and he has to be looking elsewhere," wrote Olbermann.
If approved, the Marlins trade with Toronto would save the club more than $163 million in salary obligations after a season that began with high hopes in a new 37,000-seat Little Havana stadium with a retractable roof and $642 million price tag. The ball park was largely funded with taxpayer dollars, and was needed, said team president David Samson, ``to save baseball in South Florida.''
But as the team's 2012 season began to unravel, the Marlins began to deal its star – and high-priced – players in trades for prospects. The Marlins finished last in the National League East with a 69-93 record.
Samson went on talk radio Wednesday to say he understood the fans' feeling of betrayal. But he defended the trade decision.
"I think people should be betrayed that we were losing so much and they wouldn't want us to stand pat and keep losing," he said on the Dan LeBatard Show on WAXY, 790-The Ticket. "We have a younger team now that is hungrier and should win more."
But that did not quell the anger. "The sad thing is we want Marlins to succeed," said Miami mayor Tomas Regalado during an interview on WQAM radio. "We invested in Marlins and the Marlins are not investing in Miami."
Miami commissioner Willy Gort said over talk radio he heard from lots of angry callers, many who wanted him to do something about the state of the team. "Fans are disappointed, of course," said Gort. "People love the stadium, and the economic benefit to the area, but I think the Marlins should come out and explain to people what the plan is."
Miami commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he was not surprised by team owner Jeffrey Loria's move to maximize profits by getting rid of players with big salaries. "If you don't make money from a winning team, you make it my lowering salaries," said Sarnoff. "Fans are irate, furious."
Billionaire auto magnate Norman Braman, who led the opposition to public funding of the stadium, issued a terse statement in reaction to the uproar: "Ask the elected politicians who voted to give Loria and Samson taxpayer dollars."
"A lot of pople feel let down by all these trades," said Barreto. "They said, 'Build us a stadium, and we'll build a great team.' But it doesn't happen overnight."
Mark Rosentraub, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, suggests that the failure of Marlins' management goes beyond the losing team to the stadium itself.
While attractive on the outside, "it is not enough of an attraction to sustain the team when the team is playing poorly."
Sometime this weekend, longtime Miami Marlins fan Alex Trujillo and his friends plan to build a bonfire, fueled by anger and a pile of team jerseys in black, yellow, orange and blue.
Said Trujillo, 29, a law student from Hialeah: "I'm just glad I didn't get a tattoo."
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report