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Is Miami Still the Gateway to the Caribbean for North American Sports?

About twenty six years ago, the National Basketball Association decided to place a franchise in Miami. The move at the time made sense to NBA owners. Miami seemed to be a growing community and there were many transplanted New Yorkers who could be interested in attending basketball games. The team was conceived by two New Yorkers, basketball great Billy Cunningham and his agent Lewis Schaffel. The money for the team would be provided by cruise ship owner Ted Arison. The National Basketball Association was in an expansion mode in 1987, the owners wanted to add Charlotte and Minneapolis to become a 25 team league but also saw a major opportunity in both Orlando and Miami. They owners took both cities. For Miami, it was a big deal. They city had an arena that was of "major league standards" and this franchise, unlike the American Basketball Association's Miami Floridians and then Floridians of the late 1960s and early 1970s had a chance to succeed. Miami was never a corporate city. The then named Miami Beach, which is better known today as South Beach, was a tourist attraction with majestic hotels lining the waterfront. The area welcomed snowbirds trying to flee colder climates in the winter and seniors who were looking for a place in their retirement years. The snowbirds, the Cuban community and the younger native Floridians have not embraced any of the Miami-area based teams, Major League Baseball's Marlins, the National Football League Dolphins, the NBA's Heat, the National Hockey League Panthers or the University of Miami college teams. That's not necessarily a good combination for a successful sports franchise. The area did have major football with the National Football League's Dolphins and the University of Miami but neither was solidly supported by local residents in the days prior to the invasion of the corporate customer. But the Miami area did get a permanent major league baseball team, not one of those spring training-month only teams like Baltimore or the New York Yankees or Class A minor league team - a basketball team and a hockey franchise. When the Miami Heat franchise wins, it's a destination for people to be seen. When the team is bad, only the diehards show up. The same holds true for the other teams. Tennis and golf do well. David Beckham would like to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to town. Soccer might have a chance to do well in that Miami is an international city. The operative word there is might and the hope is that the Latin Americans and the South Americans who have purchased property in the area will show up. The National Football League has given up on the Miami market as a host for the Super Bowl. The Dolphins' stadium apparently is too old and does not have enough gadgets for the league in terms of a roofed-in area, concession space and conveniences in the stadium that well heeled customers expect. Local and state politicians seem to be in no hurry to give Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross a quarter of a billion dollars to fix up his barn. The NBA never stated Miami was the gateway to the Caribbean but Major League Baseball saw the market differently and hoped to promote the new Florida Marlins franchise as the team that would be "The Gateway to the Caribbean." For baseball, forward thinking is an anomaly but it made sense in 1991 when Wayne Huizenga purchased a baseball expansion team for $100 million. Baseball was using more Latin American born players, Latin and South American money was coming into the area and Miami became a Spanish speaking television center with program distribution throughout Spanish speaking countries to the south and supplying American Hispanics with programming. Miami is light years away from when Jackie Gleason set up shop for his weekly CBS television shows in 1966. Gleason was the only show that originated from Miami. There was no music recording industry in the area at that time. The key to the baseball thinking was to tap into the Miami Cuban community and capitalizing on the long history of Cuban baseball. The theory was a Miami team would appeal to Puerto Rico as well and the other countries in South America including Venezuelan, a rich baseball community. Marlins baseball games could be sold international and Marlins baseball would be available. But there was a fly in the ointment. Marlins baseball could not be shown internationally under Major League Baseball rules. The Gateway to the Caribbean Florida, now Miami, Marlins theory seemed to be more mythical than reality based. Major League Baseball was impressed by a pre-season game in 1991 at Joe Robbie Stadium between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees that drew more than 60,000 people but Major League Baseball owners fell more in love with Wayne Huizenga and his money and his Blockbuster stores than the South Florida market. Huizenga bought a National Hockey League franchise in 1992. The NHL never really thought much of the Miami territory initially but Huizenga had the money, Blockbuster and the Miami Arena could house a hockey team. There was never any push by the NHL to use Miami as "The Gateway to the Caribbean" although the Florida Panthers did play the New York Rangers in a pre-season hockey game in Puerto Rico. South Florida is a saturated sports market but there is no turning back to the old days when it was a place for those suffering the winter blues from the cold and snow to relieve them of winter depression. Major League Baseball spring training did bring some people permanently to Florida has people followed their team to spring training bases. It's more of an international destination because of climate than a "Gateway to the Caribbean". Evan Weiner can be reached at His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available ( and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (, From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA ( ) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports ( ) are available.