Two weeks from Sunday, COVID-19 willing, the Miami Dolphins’ 55th home schedule will come to a close.
Between now and then, the team will play three more times at Hard Rock Stadium in front of stands that are just one-fifth full — as they have been all year due to the global health crisis.
(The Dolphins are able to have that many because they were among the global sports leaders in innovating the template for how to bring fans safely to events during a pandemic.)
But when they open the home portion of their 2021 season in nine months, expect a much different scene.
Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Yahoo Sports “it’s possible” that enough of the country will be vaccinated by next fall to allow for full stadiums during the 2021 NFL season. And the Dolphins are already on their way to filling each of their 65,326 seats next year.
Season-ticket holders, who were given the opportunity to opt out of the 2020 season without losing money or seniority, are eager to get back to a full Hard Rock Stadium for Dolphins football in 2021.
“We’re experiencing the highest season-ticket renewal rate in 15 years and we’ve already sold the highest number of new memberships and new suites we have ever sold at this stage of the business calendar,” said Jeremy Walls, the club’s senior vice president and chief revenue officer. “We’ve worked hard to make it easier for fans to navigate and select season tickets on mobile and have seen a 150 percent increase in online season-ticket sales year-over-year as a result.”
The boost in interest reflects, of course, the team’s on- and off-field success. The Dolphins enter Week 13 of Brian Flores’ second season as the AFC’s sixth seed, and have the league’s the fourth-best scoring margin with five games to play. What’s more, Flores and general manager Chris Grier have built an exciting, entertaining team with players who genuinely seem to enjoy playing for each other.
All of this, plus the Dolphins owning the most capital in the 2021 draft, have fans believing this team will continue to improve — and soon.
But it’s also a testament to the work that people like Walls, senior vice president of stadium operations Todd Boyan, and senior vice president of communications and community Jason Jenkins have done on the business side of the organization.
This has been a long-term project.
The Dolphins have been engaging and building the fan base and selling out games before the on-field product had rebounded. They have also demonstrated a consistent commitment to positively impacting the community through programs like the Dolphins Challenge Cancer, Football Unites, and the more recent Food Relief Program.
The spike in ticket sales and advancements in medicine couldn’t come at a better time for a franchise that will lose tens of millions of dollars this year due to the pandemic. Despite the steep deficit, owner Stephen Ross and CEO Tom Garfinkel refused to use layoffs or furloughs to close the budget hole.
Instead, with an already strong balance sheet in place, the Dolphins were able to cut costs and swallow losses with an eye on 2021 and beyond, when they anticipate a robust rebound.
With one of the strongest business operations organizations in sports, a now state of the art stadium, a rising team on the field, and a fan base filled with excitement and hope, that plan is proceeding apace.