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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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South Florida Is Having Its Moment in the Sports Sun

  • The Heat and Panthers are the 10th pair of NBA and NHL franchises from the same market to play in their Finals at the same time.
  • “One plus one is four here," Panthers president and CEO Matthew Caldwell says.
A side-by-side image of the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler and the Florida Panther's Matthew Tkachuk.
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

After the Miami Heat stole Game 2 of the NBA Finals with a comeback win in Denver on Sunday, the Florida Panthers attempted to capture that same underdog energy from its fellow 8-seed and take a game on the road in Las Vegas — sadly, to no avail. The Stanley Cup Final now shifts to the Sunshine State with the Golden Knights up 2-0.

But no matter the outcome of these series, there may be no sports market figuratively (or literally) hotter than South Florida at the moment.

The Heat and Panthers are just the 10th pair of NBA and NHL franchises from the same TV market to play in their respective Finals at the same time — and are attempting to become the first to both win championships.

As with the last time this phenomenon occurred — in 2016 with the Golden State Warriors and San Jose Sharks — the Heat and Panthers aren’t located in the same city or even county. The former plays at Kaseya Center in downtown Miami, with the latter 35 miles away at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise.

That hasn’t stopped the two franchises from sharing the benefits of each playoff run.

“South Florida has been positively electric all playoffs, and it’s been great to see the community get behind our teams as we embark on our championship journeys together,” Heat SVP of Brand and Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Alvarez told FOS via email. “The excitement and energy are compounded, and our teams are unquestionably benefiting from it.”

“I always try to put the team, the franchise, the community first, and I think it’s great sharing the moment,” says Panthers President and CEO Matthew Caldwell. “One plus one is four here.”

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There’s a palpable energy coursing through the region. For each team’s first two away games, fans packed bars for official watch parties. Kaseya Center and FLA Live Arena hosted their own watch parties — with the latter’s Game 1 festivities attracting over 10,000 fans.

Caldwell commends the NBA and NHL for scheduling games on alternating nights going back to the Conference Finals, preventing the teams from “cannibalizing” each other’s viewers.

With the NBA Finals returning to Miami on Wednesday and the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, fans are supporting their teams with their wallets.

“On game days, the city is buzzing,” Alvarez says. “People want to come together, and our economy is thriving off of that excitement.”

Heat jerseys and Panthers sweaters adorn the streets of Miami-Dade and Broward, creating a sense of camaraderie among both counties.

The Heat are especially nimble in their ability to produce new merchandise on the fly: After Caleb Martin’s double-double in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Alvarez says the team began printing new shirts featuring the breakout star, setting a franchise record for retail sales this season.

But one of the greatest benefits of the combined playoff runs has been the crossover surge in fandom.

“There’s a lot of NBA fans that are casual hockey fans, but we’re now making them more passionate. There’s a lot of diehard hockey fans that may be casual basketball fans that now have stronger interest for the Heat,” says Caldwell. “So I think the crossover is phenomenal.”

A view inside FLA Live Arena for a Florida Panthers Stanley Cup Final watch party.
The Panthers had to open their upper bowl for a Stanley Cup Final watch party. Credit: Florida Panthers

Visit South Florida

With its year-round warm climate, famous beaches, and swaying palm trees, South Florida is one of the premier tourist destinations in the United States. The image comes through on sports broadcasts — and it’s working overtime with the area’s NBA and NHL teams playing for titles.

“In the tourism space, you see this as a two-and-a-half-hour commercial on national television,” says Mathew Ratner, Director of Sports & Entertainment for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “So, it’s a fantastic thing whenever the Heat and any of our professional or collegiate teams are playing in championships.”

GMCVB reports that visitors to the Greater Miami area spent a record $20.8 billion in fiscal 2021-22. It led to $373 million in tourism-related taxes, including $22.5 million collected by Miami-Dade for a professional sports tax.

The dual finals — particularly for the NHL, which is hosting its southernmost Stanley Cup Final ever with Florida and Vegas — also demonstrate South Florida’s ability to continue hosting big sporting events.

Since 2021, the area has hosted a College Football Playoff National Championship, the NHL All-Star Game, and two Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix races. It’s set to host the CFP title game again in 2025 and be a FIFA World Cup venue in 2026.

“I do think it puts a bigger spotlight on how we host big major events,” Ratner says. “It puts more eyes on Miami, and it only creates more opportunities for more events and more great things for the community.”

That notoriety will only increase if the Heat and Panthers are able to do the unprecedented and both win titles in the same season — and the area is going to get even hotter with soccer legend Lionel Messi reportedly joining Inter Miami.

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