Thursday, August 13, 2009
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: A season of potential

New Dolphins CEO Mike Dee seeks attendance boost

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[August 13, 2009]  DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- Mike Dee knows his Miami Dolphins' history, going back to their first game as an AFL expansion team 43 years ago, when Joe Auer returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

As the Dolphins' new chief executive officer, Dee frequently encounters fans who attended that game, even though attendance was only 25,188.

"It seems there were 140,000 people there for that," Dee says with a laugh. "It's like Ted Williams' last home run in Fenway Park -- find me a person who wasn't there."

The analogy comes naturally for Dee because he spent the past five years as chief operating officer of the Boston Red Sox. He appreciates the depth of passion for baseball in Boston, but says he underestimated the extent of the Dolphins' roots in South Florida.

It turns out they go all the way back to Joe Auer in 1966.


"I'm overwhelmed with the potential and the connection many people feel to this franchise," says Dee, who began his new job in May. "But a lot of people say they're now more passive fans. They don't come to games as much as they used to. I say, 'It's great you love the Dolphins. When's the last game you went to?' They say, 'Well, I went to a game, let's see, when Dan Marino was playing.'"

That would be in the 1990s. Or the 1980s.

"There's this untapped passion for our franchise," Dee says. "We need to do a better job."

That's where he comes in. Dee was hired by owner Stephen Ross to upgrade the business side of the organization.

Ross and Dee want to improve the fan experience at games and make the Dolphins more active in the community. As a more specific goal, Dee wants to increase season-ticket sales by 40 percent.

A Baltimore native, Dee lived in Miami for three years in the 1980s when he worked for a family business. The first Dolphins game he attended at the Orange Bowl was one of the most famous in franchise history, a Monday night victory that spoiled the 1985 Chicago Bears' bid for a perfect season.

Dee developed a fondness for the Dolphins that continued even as he spent eight years working for the San Diego Padres and six in Boston.

"People say, 'How could you leave the Red Sox?'" Dee says. "This is the only job I would have left for."

While Dee was with the Red Sox, they set records for attendance and revenue growth. He oversaw Fenway Sports Group, a Red Sox sister company that expanded the team's marketing reach into college sports, auto racing, golf, concerts and even beach volleyball.

When his hiring in Miami was announced, Red Sox officials raved about him.

"He is one of the most creative, versatile and energetic executives in all of sports," Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said. "The Miami Dolphins could not have selected a better person for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of them."

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The hiring of Dee may have the greatest impact of any move made by Ross since he completed his purchase of the Dolphins in January. But not surprisingly, partnerships Ross forged with music stars Jimmy Buffett, Marc Anthony and Gloria and Emilio Estefan have received much more attention.

They're part of an effort to spice up pregame entertainment. Dee says the celebrities also reflect the diversity of South Florida and show the franchise is connected with the community.

"It's a statement about what we want to stand for," Dee says.

Dee and Ross envision changes far beyond creating roles for famous musicians. This season they'll provide hand-held wireless TV units to premium seat holders. They've updated the Dolphins' moldy fight song with a rendition by rapper T-Pain. And they want to court fans from as far north as Orlando.

Dee concedes he's playing catchup with the football operation led by Sparano and Bill Parcells. They took a team that went 1-15 in 2007 and transformed it into a division champion in 2008.

"The football guys were a year ahead of us," Dee says. "It gives us great momentum on the business side."


In the wake of the 2007 debacle, the Dolphins sold only 46,131 season tickets last year, their lowest total since 1992. Sales have rebounded a bit now that the team is a winner again, and despite the recession Dee expects to reach at least 51,000 this year. His long-term goal is 65,000, a figure last achieved in 1974, when the Dolphins were coming off back-to-back Super Bowl championships.

"There are other things to do in every market in the league," Dee says. "We have to give people a reason to want to come to games."

[Associated Press; STEVEN WINE]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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