A View From the …Land Shark

by Ryan

Land Shark Stadium.

That was the focal point of my weekend in Miami. Opened in 1987, it’s still a pretty nice place to watch a football game. The seating bowl is set up pretty nicely, and despite being a bit removed from the field the sightlines aren’t awful for a stadium that’s over 20 years old. (Baseball is another story, but they only have a few years left there anyway.)

Most sports fans know that Land Shark Stadium was not its original name, but in fact the stadium has seen six different names in its history. Some semantics are involved, but the stadium that opened as Joe Robbie Stadium has also been known as Pro Player Park (1996) and Pro Player Stadium (1996-2005). When those naming rights expired it became Dolphins Stadium for one year (2005), then they dropped the “s” (One Dolphin, One Goal?) and made it Dolphin Stadium (2006-2009).

And then Jimmy Buffet came along and wanted a piece of the action. The current naming rights will last for about eight months, expiring just before next year’s Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, both played at the stadium.

According to reports, the naming rights to the stadium will be paid for with a combination of things, from cold hard cash to performances by Buffet at the stadium itself. The name comes from Buffet’s “Land Shark Lager,” part of his Margaritaville line of ridiculousness.

I think it’s clear to most that this is nothing but a marketing blitz, but being at the game showed just how hard they were pushing it. Land Shark was everywhere, from free tailgate swag to the branding on the ticket envelopes. They even went as far as changing the song they play after the Dolphins score. Gone is this, or even the T-Pain edition, and in its place is… this disaster.

If you’re blissfully aware, it’s based off of this Buffett song about a whore. Good times all around. Now according to that story, the fight song isn’t getting replaced. Take a look:

Ross said the Dolphins will keep their fight song, which dates from the team’s days in the American Football League. But he clearly preferred the new tune.

“Believe me,” Ross said, “you’ll hear that more than once or twice when you’re at a Dolphin game.”

Well… kinda. You hear it once, between the third and fourth quarters. After that it’s all Buffet, all the time. In fact, the amount of effort they put into this thing is actually sort of impressive. Land Shark strategically placed groups of fans decked out in “Land Shark” shirts and other paraphernalia to sing along and waive their “fins” in the air when the song is played. That way willing participants are conveniently shown on the two HD video boards in the stadium.

Pretty smart if you ask me. What’s also a very intelligent move is bringing in local celebrities like rapper PitBull to try getting the crowd going. They also have courted celebrity investors such as Marc Anthony (he and Jennifer Lopez were at the Bills game looking mildly interested), Gloria Estefan, and the Williams Sisters. All of the above also get up on the video board, asking fans to make “fins” out of their hands and do goofy things.

It’s a public relations blitz through and through, and it’s something you’ll never see at Hurricanes games because they simply don’t need it. The Dolphins are doing what they can to sell tickets and sell some mediocre beer, and things seem to be going well so far. Ross and company keep talking about a “culture” they need to sell in order to be successful, and Land Shark is a unique experiment in selling that culture.

There are some that worry these deals may become the norm in the sports world, but in the current economy they make sense. Land Shark Lager gets a temporary spot on the marquee for a discount rate, and as a result their brand awareness will rise on cue. The Dolphins push that product as hard as they can, and they get some cash and a few free shows to boot.

It might all be a publicity stunt, but it looked pretty polished last weekend.