Ticket Sales, Stadium Upgrades Top Priorities of New Dolphins CEO

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Copyright 2013 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
September 10, 2013 Tuesday
667 words
Priority remains filling up;
the seats;
New CEO Tom Garfinkel tasked with improving lagging ticket sales.
By Brian Biggane Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross made clear Monday the most important assignment for newly hired chief executive officer Tom Garfinkel: filling Sun Life Stadium.

Garfinkel, 44, most recently served in the same capacity with the San Diego Padres. He was introduced Monday as the replacement for Mike Dee, who left this summer to succeed Garfinkel in San Diego.

The Dolphins ranked 29th in the 32-team NFL in average attendance last year at 57,379. They were a distant last in percentage of seats sold at 76.3 percent.

Ross, however, bought thousands of unsold tickets for each home game last season to make sure every game was televised in South Florida.

Blackout rules require that 85 percent of the 60,000 non-premium seats -- or about 51,000 -- be sold. Capacity is 75,540.

Ross said he will give Garfinkel time to improve tickets sales and that "there will be no blackouts this year."

The Dolphins' home opener will be at 4:05 p.m. Sept. 22 against Atlanta.

The Dolphins said that Garfinkel -- who had never worked in the NFL --will be in charge of business operations for the team and stadium, but that general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin will supervise all football operations.

Ireland will continue to report directly to Ross.

Ross said he met Garfinkel four years ago when he conducted his first series of interviews that led to the hiring of Dee. Garfinkel ultimately dropped out of that process to join the Padres.

During his time with the Padres, the organization was recognized in a SportsBusiness Journal survey for having the No. 1 ticket sales and service team in baseball in 2011 and 2012. He also executed a new local TV contract worth more than $1.2 billion.

Garfinkel also spent five years as executive vice president of the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and was chief operating officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

One connection between Ross and Garfinkel is that Garfinkel has a master's in business administration from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Ross is a Michigan graduate and a major contributor to the business school.

Garfinkel said he played high school football while growing up in Walnut Creek, Calif., before attending the University of Colorado.

"When I was playing high school football, I thought I might be a high school coach one day," Garfinkel said. "Then when I got out of college I thought, boy, if I could get a job with an NFL team, that would be special. It took me 22 years, but I'm here."

Asked about the challenge of improving Dolphins' attendance, Garfinkel first said, "It would be premature to get into that," before quickly adding, "That is an important goal going forward."

One of Dee's major projects was working with Ross on a proposed referendum that would have let Miami-Dade voters decide on whether to raise the hotel bed tax to help finance stadium improvements.

The referendum required legislative approval that didn't materialize, but Ross said improvements -- which would have cost around $400 million -- remain a priority.

"Having a first-class facility in a city that is the most aspirational city in the world, and has an opportunity to step up, it really demands it," he said.

"From an economic development standpoint, there can't be anything more important."

Ross had pledged to pay for about half the improvements with the public picking up the rest.

"The fact is, I offered the best deal that's ever been offered by an owner of a professional sports team, and it didn't succeed for different reasons ... But when people really look at it, and decide what will be in the best interest of the community, it's something that will happen," he said.

The Garfinkel file

Personal Age 44, married, three kids. Grew up in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Attended University of Colorado; also earned MBA from Stephen Ross School of Business at University of Michigan.

Career resume

Executive vice-president of Ganassi Racing Teams; executive VP and chief operating officer of Arizona Diamondbacks; president and COO of San Diego Padres.

September 10, 2013

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