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Dolphins' new stadium approach; Marlins president addresses state of franchise

We'll post the Sunday buzz column on Sunday morning, but here's an update on two Saturday developments:

### Please see our story on the Dolphins' new plan (with the county) to hold a referendum for Miami-Dade residents to vote on the upgrades to Sun Life Stadium, including the building of a canopy to cover the stands, but not the field. It will be announced Monday.

If the voters approve it -- and the Dolphins have an uphill climb here -- that would give the county's local Legislative delegation the impetus to push the issue in Tallahassee. At the moment, the county's local delegation lacks that motivation. Even if voters support the plan, approval from the state House and Senate are required for this plan to go forward. They would need to approve changing a law that would allow the county to increase the hotel tax rate to fund the renovations.

So there's a long way to go for the Dolphins to get the money they're seeking. Expect Steve Ross to increase his contribution beyond $200 million. And actually, the NFL likely will cover as much as half of the Dolphins' contribution.

Also expect the Dolphins to launch an advertising campaign to try to convince you why Dade county residents should support an increased tourist tax to pay for this.

The Dolphins and county hope to schedule the referendum in late March or April. They want the financing plan approved before the NFL awards Super Bowls 50 and 51 on May 22.


After imposing a gag order on president David Samson, owner Jeffrey Loria has changed his mind and decided to allow Samson to speak publicly again.

And Samson addressed several issues Saturday at the event formerly known as Marlins Fanfest:

### Samson said owner Jeffrey Loria is “not selling” the team. That assuredly will disappoint a fan who attended Saturday wearing a shirt saying the Marlins “need a new owner.” And another who came wearing Blue Jays attire to honor the traded Marlins (Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes).

### He said tickets sold last year were “drastically” below projections and “that’s why the payroll is where the payroll is” – at around $40 million, lowest in baseball.

### Will the Marlins go back to having crowds similar to the dismal weeknight turnouts at Sun Life Stadium? “I don’t know. I certainly hope not."

### On what future payrolls might look like, he said: “It always depends on revenue. We want to be a responsible team. We got away from that, and we’re back to it. We’re trying to fill this ballpark. We’re in the top seven in marketing budget still. Our signing bonus budget is three times the highest in franchise history. It’s also a function of losing, because we have such a high pick.”

### He said season ticket sales are down but wouldn’t say to what extent. “We’re in a different neighborhood this year, which we projected prior to November. And we’re exactly where our guys said we were going to be."

The Marlins said their season-ticket renewal rate before and after the Toronto trades are essentially the same.

“That’s something we have to address,” Samson said. “We have to address how to get people here. We have a ton of ticket deals. Our games are like a hotel. If you go to the desk and pay [the posted] rate, you’re not paying attention. We have discounts opening night and every game. It’s affordable. There are no parking problems. It’s easy in, easy out.”

Are the Marlins having trouble selling out their first home game?  “Absolutely.”

### On fan frustration: “People were disappointed last year and they showed it. The second half of the season, this park was not full to put it generously. People are disappointed because of payroll. If we traded every player and then signed other players making the same money, that would be totally different.

“But that’s not the situation we find ourselves in, and I’m not sure that’s the right way to do it. Larry Beinfest and Michael Hill are really excited about the players we have, and the players coming through the system.

“Free agent signings have not been our forte. They really haven’t. Go back to the beginning of time. Without getting in trouble with the union, there is an argument to be made that if you went through all free agent signings, it’s hard to make a good one. "

(But Pudge Rodriguez was great, and Reyes and Buehrle played well, though they would have been a big drain in a few years when their back-loaded contracts call for salaries of $22 million and $21 million annually.)

### Pressed about fans being angry, he said: “I get it, I do. It’s very unfortunate it came to that. It was the wrong mix at the wrong time. Everything from the beginning of April on portended what was coming. I acknowledge the frustration everyone has. When Josh Johnson threw strike one April 4, that was the highlight. It went downhill from there.

“It’s time to start over. We expect to see progress of young players and win more games than last year. The general aura around our club is very good. Our aura last year was challenged to say the least.”

### He said despite the negative comments people post on blogs or newspaper stories, “I had nothing but pleasant interactions with fans” Saturday.

### Though he maintain he isn't angry, Samson said Saturday that he doesn’t agree with the Dolphins discussing the Marlins' ballpark funding plan, with a negative tone, in their bid for public financing to upgrade Sun Life Stadium because “I think we’re all in it together. We’re not competing against the Dolphins.”

The Dolphins have tried to distance themselves from the Marlins’ ballpark deal, and owner Stephen Ross has said the Dolphins are offering a better stadium deal than the Marlins did.

Asked if the Dolphins’ criticism of the Marlins deal bothered him, Samson said, “Yes. There are so many things that are being said that are incorrect factually that it’s staggering to me. I don’t believe it’s [Dolphins CEO] Mike Dee, because... I don’t believe he would do that. Do I believe there are other people lobbying for that renovation who would perpetuate complete mistruths who were unable to get our deal done or be hired by us to get a deal done? I do believe that.”

Samson said unlike the Dolphins’ proposal, “the Marlins did not have one cent of tax increase, and there wasn’t any money from the general revenue. The sales tax rebate in Tallahassee they’re seeking is straight general revenue. That is money that can be used for social services. Just say it. I hope they get it. I think Sun Life should be renovated."

### He said: "We’ve been approached to do lots of soccer, exhibition baseball games, football games. We’d love to have football and soccer games. The ballpark is being used every day. It’s been much greater [than expected].”  

### Samson said “the field last year was horrific” and so the Marlins are trying a new kind of sod, one the Atlanta Braves use.