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Steve Ross makes surprising announcements in news conference for new CEO

We will have lots of on-field Dolphins news later. Here's an update on some off-field issues addressed a short time ago by the team's owner:

In a news conference to announce the hiring of Tom Garfinkel as the team’s new president and CEO, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross disclosed two encouraging pieces of news Monday:

### Ross assured that no Dolphins home game would be blacked out this season, even though that again might require Ross and sponsors to buy thousands of tickets.

### Ross said he’s prepared to improve his offer to help fund renovations for Sun Life Stadium.

Before Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford declined to put the matter up for a House vote in May, Ross pledged team and NFL dollars for about 55 percent of a proposed $350 million renovation, with Miami-Dade and Florida contributing yearly tax dollars to fund debt on the rest.

Miami-Dade commissioners backed raising hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent, and the Florida Senate approved a new subsidy that would contribute $3 million a year to the Dolphins. Once the debt was retired in 30 years, Ross would pay back about $170 million to the county and state, representing their initial share of the construction costs.

"I offered the best deal that’s ever been offered by an owner of a professional sports team,” said Ross, who’s playing in a stadium that was funded privately by deceased former owner Joe Robbie.

“It didn’t succeed for different reasons. Some of those reasons were not in the best interest of this community and were too personal…I was to pay back almost the entire loan [from Miami-Dade County].

“I am prepared to still do that and work with the community. I am prepared to make my offer better.”

Ross suggested that any new offer would not be made in the immediate future. The Florida Legislature must approve an increase in the hotel bed tax before Miami-Dade residents can vote on the issue in a referendum.

And it’s highly questionable if Ross will get support in the Legislative session next spring. Ross launched a super PAC committee that has sent fliers attacking representatives who opposed the stadium plan. But all of those politicians will still be in office next spring.

Ross said the stadium funding issue “is nothing we’re going to foster right now” on Garfinkel. “I’m working on that,” Ross said.

Ross was asked about people who wonder why he donated $200 million to the University of Michigan last week instead of spending that money on a stadium or another investment in South Florida.

“I find that hard to believe that people are saying that when you give a gift to an educational institution you went to,” he said. “To compare that with putting up money for a stadium that benefits all of South Florida… To say I’m taking something away from this community, I find that hard to believe. My commitment to this community is as great as it was. It’s greater.”

He said the Orange Bowl Committee has approached the Dolphins to work with them on bids on future games in the new playoff system. Sun Life Stadium will host a national semifinal game after the 2015 season.

Meanwhile, in guaranteeing that every home game would be televised locally this season, Ross will extend the Dolphins’ regular-season no-blackout streak that dates to 1998. (One playoff game was blacked out since then.)

The Dolphins sold 40,192 season tickets in 2012, and are again in the low 40,000-range this year, with the Sept. 22 home opener against Atlanta still nearly two weeks away. That’s well below the Dolphins’ season-ticket count of 61,121 in 2006.

Asked if there’s a particular area that he would like Garfinkel to improve the organization, Ross made an apparent reference to the attendance. “You can judge by yourself when you go to games,” he said.

Garfinkel, who previously was president of the San Diego Padres and chief operating officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, spoke of the need to lure fans away from the comfort of their living room.

“It’s creating an environment where they don’t want to miss something,” he said. “Everyone in sports has to work harder to make sure the experience trumps staying home.”

The Dolphins considered 75 candidates, interviewed 13 and met with Garfinkel five times before hiring him to replace Mike Dee, who left last month to take the job that Garfinkel most recently had – president and CEO of the Padres.

Ross interviewed Garfinkel before he hired Dee four years ago, but Garfinkel took his name out of consideration at that time.

“We are looking for someone who can think strategically, [someone] exceptionally bright,” Ross said. “We found that man.”

Garfinkel, 44, called it “an honor” to become president of an “iconic franchise.” He told Dolphins staffers on Monday that when he played high school football, “I thought I would be a high school football coach someday, and if I can get a job with an NFL team that would be really special. It took me 22 years.”

Garfinkel will be responsible for all budget responsibilities but will not be involved in player procurement. Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin will continue to oversee all football operations.

“First and foremost, the Dolphins organization needs to be about winning football,” Garfinkel said. “We need to ensure they have the resources to do their job.”


Herald staff writer Doug Hanks contributed to this report.