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  Phins.com Interview with Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Phins.com is pleased to present an exclusive interview with new Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee. Mike joined the Dolphins this past offseason from the Boston Red Sox, but has been a Dolfan since the 1985 season. Mike shared his insight on the team, some information about himself, and his thoughts on the future of the team.



Aside from the Dolphins, working for the Red Sox is as good as it gets. Tell us how you became interested in the Dolphins.

It’s one of the few jobs that caught my attention as a place that I loved with an opportunity and circumstances that were very compelling. I turned down a number of opportunities when I was with the Red Sox. I was offered the opportunity to become president of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I turned that down. I had other opportunities that knocked that just wasn’t the right time or opportunity. This one was special because of my roots in Florida. Even with the Red Sox, I had a home on the west coast in the Ft Myers area. My parents live here. It’s always been a second home to me. And this franchise, dating back to my conversion in 1985 (when the Colts left Baltimore, Dee switched allegiances to the Dolphins), has always been special to me as a fan. From a business standpoint, I just thought with the football operations staff and the strength of that side of our business, as well as new ownership…it was still a tough decision because I was deeply rooted in Boston. But this was one (opportunity) I couldn’t pass up.



Did Red Sox owner John Henry try to talk you out of leaving?

MD: We have a great relationship, friends to this day. He knew that I needed to grow beyond my role. He, in effect, told me that last year, “It doesn’t preclude you from coming back and being a part of the situation here (Red Sox) but I know you want to be a CEO. You’re ready. If you find the right opportunity we’ll support you and bless it.” You couldn’t ask for anything more than that from somebody you worked with for that long a period of time. It’s a great relationship with him, a terrific guy.



What’s majority owner Steve Ross like?

MD: When I met Steve, I was immediately convinced that he was the kind of owner that would make the fans very happy. He’s a tremendous, energetic, creative thinker (who) doesn’t want to run the franchise like it’s a bank. He wants to run the franchise like it’s a team. He wants to have fun with it. He wants the fans to have fun, and he wants to win. When you come in as I have in every new sports experience (where there’s an ownership change), the winds of change are very appealing and compelling. You’re able to build on the great tradition and history that’s here.



You have a lot of experience managing high expectations associated with having a strong international brand. Aside from winning games, how should the Dolphins manage and meet those lofty expectations?

By doing the right things on a daily basis. I know that’s not a glamorous answer, but it’s at the core of successful franchises. If there’s something that Adam (Grossman, Dolphins Public Affairs VP) and I bring from Boston, and I sense that it’s here as well, it’s that you’ve got to think like a fan. When you miss the mark, as we may have with the fight song (T-Pain’s version of the Dolphin fight song), you listen to the fans and you move on. Blocking and tackling in the front office is important, making sure we’re doing the little things right, we’ll be a franchise that our fans can be proud of, not just in wins and losses but what we do in the community is (also) a huge part of that. We’ve made these three fundamental commitments; dramatically ratchet up our Miami Dolphins Foundation, use our alumni more, and partner with our players (existing and former) who have foundations to do more in the community. Generally speaking, fans that have a good feeling about their team and what they do in replenishing and renovating youth fields, or being involved with medical institutions, or schools and scholarships (are the) things that carry you through seasons where you may not have an 11-5 record or be AFC East Champions. That’s really what we want to build: stability. We don’t want to have a great team one year with 60,000 season ticket holders and then have a not-so-great year the next year on the field and drop to 50,000. We want to build a sustainable, stable fan base that transcends those peaks and valleys that winning and losing bring on the field. The best way to do that, we feel, is to be active participants in the community. We not just here to sell tickets, we’re part of the fabric of the community as well.



You have 81 home games in baseball to enhance the fan experience. In football, you get 8. What are some of the challenges you are facing in that respect?

I get asked that question all the time, but I always plead “the fifth” because I haven’t lived through a football season yet. I feel the pressure to get it right, immediately. There’s not a lot of time to make corrections. The stakes are higher, there’s a higher sense of urgency on and off the field. I think the NFL regular season compares to baseball like the MLB playoffs. We’re taking it very seriously and treat all eight regular season home games as our time in the spotlight. We have to make sure that we’re focused; that we pay attention to the details, and most importantly that we make the fan experience unparalleled and keeps fans coming back. We’re trying to dramatically increase our season ticket base over time. To do that, we feel as though we need to offer an experience that makes people come back. That’s not just about football. Obviously winning helps; it’s at the center of the table. But we have to make the entire experience right, from when the fan buys the tickets, to the time they come to the stadium, to the time they leave, the “Dolphin Experience”, a discernable difference in the way people feel this year when they walk through those turnstiles at Land Shark Stadium.



Share with us some of the thinking behind involving the Estefans and Marc Anthony in the re-vamp of the in-game entertainment at Land Shark Stadium?

Emilio (Estefan) has been working with Adam in helping us to produce a more engaging, high energy game presentation. It’s not going to turn into a nightclub, but it is going to take on a different feel. There’s a lot of TV timeouts and breaks in the action where you’re at a game in person, and we just felt as though there’s a great opportunity to program those non-football moments in a way that enhances the entertainment experience for our fans. You couldn’t go out and purchase that kind of expertise with Marc Anthony, Emilio, and Gloria (Estefan) that we’re getting. The fact that their partners (part owners) in the team and are contributing that as part of their ownership stake is something that we’re really excited about. These contributions are far more important to us than how many Grammys they’ve won.



With the Land Shark naming deal only for one year, have you made any progress towards a long term naming deal for the stadium before the Super Bowl?

We are working towards a long term naming rights agreement, but unclear at this point whether the Land Shark name would extend beyond that. There’s no indication (yet). Our focus will be on a long term agreement. This is not something where you want to be changing the name of your facility a lot. We are focused on the stadium for future Super Bowls and National Championships.



It was a challenge for you and the Red Sox to take Fenway Park, with its limited space, and enlarge and enrich the fan experience (e.g. Monster Seats). Land Shark Stadium, with the surrounding real estate, poses quite a different challenge for you. That being said, how does your experience with Fenway help you to take a similar next step with Land Shark?

Fenway was about doing a couple of things. One was like renovating an old house; you would walk into a room and say ‘I think we can turn that closet into a club lounge’. That type of ingenuity was helpful. We also prided ourselves on those improvements that we undertook that, when we finished, the greatest compliment to us were from fans who said ‘Wow, that looks like it’s always been there’. Those same principles apply here, although (Land Shark is) a radically different facility in terms of size, age, location, and atmosphere. We are looking at spaces trying to make sure we are maximizing the use of those spaces for fan amenities. Despite the fact that this is a 22 year old facility, football facilities have changed a great deal in the last two decades. Some of the creature comforts you see at the newer facilities, we’re struggling to catch up. A good example of that is concession areas where we did quite a bit of work this offseason to renovate (them) to expedite the time they spend there, to speed up the transaction. We want to make sure that whatever we do grand in scale moving forward, that it’s something that fits, reflects the architecture and the ambiance of south Florida and is something that the fans can be proud of. As we look forward, I think that we’re going to need to undertake some renovations to areas, not just club level, but like the 400-level, the 100-level that will bring it up-to-speed with those that you see designed and constructed today.



Given the heavy crowds during training camp, is there any thought to expanding the fan accommodations at the Davie training facility?

It’s on the list but we haven’t gotten there yet. We did have great crowds at this camp. Having said that, there was probably only two or three sessions where we could have accommodated more people than showed up. Obviously, Football Operations has a huge hand in that decision, but we’ll continue to monitor it and see if there are better ways to do it moving forward. From my point of view, camp worked very well this year. Everybody I talked to had a good time. You want it to be a big party in a small place. The energy that was felt here when the stands were full was good, and we like having that. It was a Fenway-esque ambiance on those days when we had overflowing crowds.



Fenway Sports Group was created to grow new income outside of the encumbrances of Baseball. Do you have any plans to create an equivalent of FSG here with the Dolphins?

Not in the near term. The Dolphins and Land Shark Stadium is a big business. On the Stadium side we have multiple tenants (e.g. Florida Marlins, University of Miami) and that in of itself is a diversification outside of our core business of the NFL. In Boston, we were operating at 105% of capacity on attendance, near capacity on advertising and sponsorship revenue, and concession revenue. We’ve got our challenges here with the Dolphins to reach that level. If one day we have a season ticket base of 67,000 for five consecutive years and we’ve finished the work we’re going to do on the stadium, maybe then we would look to tackle other non-core issues.



You’ve worked with some strong personalities in the past, guys like John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein. Here, it’s Bill Parcells. What’s the secret to working effectively with them?

Allow them the space to do their job, to do what they do well. There’s a lot of similarities in Coach Parcells and Theo in terms of their commitment and dedication to what they do. 24 Hour Per Day type of attention. There are times when you can engage, but there are many more times when you step back and allow them to make the decisions and surround themselves with the people that they need to drive team success and the product on the field. We’re certainly going to do that here. Steve and I have tremendous respect for Coach Parcells, Jeff (Ireland), and for Tony (Sparano) and what they’ve accomplished in a short period of time, but also for their work ethic and what they stand for as men, they type of players that they’ve brought here. Not just good players but the kinds of players and community leaders that are great off the field as well. You’re not going to see Steve or me meddle in that. We want our guys to have everything they can have at their disposal to be competitive, to draft the best players, to go after the free agents when it’s appropriate to do it, to be this team into a position to compete year in and year out. We are going to have a laissez faire approach and allow our guys to make those decisions as they have over the past couple of years.



What is your vision as CEO? Where do you see this team 5 years from now?

Ideally, I’d love to be looking at another Lombardi Trophy which the fans so richly deserve after a 36 year gap since our last one. We want to make sure our guys have all the tools that we can provide for them to do their jobs well. Beyond that, we would love to be known as a franchise that is best-in-class in the NFL and in professional sports, known for innovation, known for aggressive marketing, and known for what we stand for in the community.

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