This opinion editorial originally ran in Sunshine State News on June 16, 2016.
There's a lesson to be drawn from the announcement that South Florida will be hosting the 2020 Super Bowl. The exuberant reaction of South Florida's movers and shakers was quite a contrast to the mood just three short years ago. That's when the Florida Legislature adjourned without approving the use of $389 million in public funds to pay for improvements in the Miami Dolphins' stadium.
Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross was quick to blame then-House Speaker Will Weatherford. In the heat of the moment, a disappointed Ross issued a statement saying the then-speaker “single-handedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami-Dade and for all of Florida.”
At the time, all of the typical arguments were trotted out for why taxpayer dollars should be handed to billionaires for another sport stadium project. It was called “economic development” and it was promised that these “investments” would yield positive returns. It was threatened that Miami, and the entire state of Florida, would suffer the effects of competitive disadvantage.
Our legislature, led by a principled free-market champion, stood their ground. Taxpayer funds from hard-working Floridians would not be used to subsidize billionaire-owned sports franchises.
Give Mr. Ross credit, however. After failing to obtain taxpayer money to improve the stadium, home to both the NFL's Dolphins and used by the University of Miami Hurricanes (both private organizations), Ross made the decision to fund the improvements himself.
The changes are extensive, beautiful — and expensive. The total tab is now expected to exceed half a billion dollars. The result will be a state-of-the-art facility, sure to be an attractive destination for Super Bowls and other major revenue-generating events. Improvements such as a seating canopy, new high-tech scoreboards, and other modern amenities will be certain to bolster ticket sales and allow Mr. Ross the freedom to charge premiums. As a champion of free markets and enterprise, I am thoroughly supportive of his decision to do so – with his own money – and charge whatever rates the market will bear to realize profits.
The Legislature, and then-Speaker Weatherford, should take comfort that South Florida was awarded a Super Bowl after all, but also that they did the right thing in accordance with the principles of limited government. Those principles were never better articulated than by then Governor Bob Martinez. During a State-of-the-State address to the Legislature, he said government's core responsibilities could be summed up as public safety, public health, public education, and public works.
Using taxpayers' dollars to build or improve elaborate sports facilities in the hopes for a return in the form of a Super Bowl is not on that list. When taxpayers’ money is at risk, it is easier to gamble with money that’s not yours. Speaker Weatherford ultimately made the right call. And like the concept of “reaping what we sow” there’s even better news: The February 2, 2020 game to be held in Miami — Super Bowl LIV — will be accompanied by a week-long festival marking the 100th anniversary of the National Football League's founding.
This will be an exciting time for Florida; one of economic boom and fanfare surrounding all the Sunshine State has to offer. Taxpayers can also rejoice that the influx of revenue generated for Florida, and for Mr. Ross, during the festivities weren’t accomplished on the backs of Florida’s taxpayers. This sounds like yet another example of the power of free enterprise and limited government – and a win for all.
Dr. J. Robert McClure is the president and CEO of The James Madison Institute.