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Miami Sports Story Lines to Follow in the 2020s

Inter Miami will want a big name to put butts in the seats of Miami Freedom Park whenever it opens. Could that marquee star be Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?EXPAND
Inter Miami will want a big name to put butts in the seats of Miami Freedom Park whenever it opens. Could that marquee star be Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
Photo courtesy of Inter Miami CF
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Now that all of the reflecting on the 2010s is done, it's as good a time as any to look ahead to the next ten years — specifically, the upcoming decade in Miami sports. Sure, it's impossible to predict whether the Heat's Bam Adebayo will become a perennial All-Star, to determine if Dolphins coach Brian Flores is the real deal, or to know when the Hurricanes will return to prominence, but a number of Miami sports story lines are worth keeping an eye on in the 2020s.

David Beckham
David Beckham
Photo courtesy of Creativas Group

Will Messi or Ronaldo Sign With Inter Miami?

We get it: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo probably aren't leaving two of the top clubs in the world while still in their prime (or close to it) to play for Inter Miami in the next few years. But four or five years from now? Messi will be 35, and Ronaldo will have just turned 38 at the beginning of the 2023 Major League Soccer season. Both could be coming off their last World Cup campaigns and looking for a change of scenery.

For what it's worth, we know these two all-time greats are interested in what South Florida offers: The Real Deal reported that Messi dropped $5 million on a condo in Sunny Isles Beach. Likewise, Ronaldo has regularly vacationed in the Magic City over the years, and according to the Bleacher Report, he has called it his favorite city in the world. Add the fact that fellow soccer icon David Beckham owns a stake in Inter Miami and still carries serious cachet in soccer circles, and suddenly the Magic City sounds like a realistic landing spot for either megastar. Gets of Messi or Ronaldo's caliber could go a long way in creating a buzz around Miami Freedom Park, whenever and wherever it opens.

Dwyane WadeEXPAND
Dwyane Wade
Photo by Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons

Will Dwyane Wade Buy a Stake in an NBA Team?

Dwyane Wade retired in 2019 as arguably the biggest star in South Florida sports history, and it sounds like he’s open to remaining involved with the organization that helped make him a legend. Wade told the Miami Herald that he’s interested in buying into an NBA team and that the Heat would theoretically get first dibs. Part of the appeal for him is making personnel decisions: “For me, I would love to be a continued part of helping this organization grow.”

If Heat owner Micky Arison isn’t willing to sell, Wade — who has discussed the subject with longtime veteran Udonis Haslem — is willing to look elsewhere around the league to scratch his itch. “Our conversations have been more about owning a team," Wade said, "not owning this team."

Dan Le Batard (middle) should have plenty of suitors when his contract with ESPN expires in 2022.
Dan Le Batard (middle) should have plenty of suitors when his contract with ESPN expires in 2022.
Photo by Jason Koerner

How Much Longer Will the Le Batard-ESPN Marriage Last?

The Dan Le Batard brand is hotter than ever. The Miami-based personality is one of the most popular sports radio hosts in the nation and heads one of ESPN’s most downloaded podcasts. Additionally, his ESPN TV program, Highly Questionable, which films at the Clevelander South Beach, is still going strong since its 2011 premiere.

Yet we can’t help but wonder if the Le Batard-ESPN marriage might end up in divorce. Sure, ESPN re-signed him to a four-year deal in 2018, but that was before he famously spoke out against Trump’s racist rhetoric and called ESPN's no-politics policy "cowardly." His remarks resulted in his being called to a meeting with ESPN's president.

It would be a waste to have one of the brightest minds in sports media muzzled, especially when we need him most. Unfortunately, ESPN has shown time and again it isn’t afraid to let its biggest names walk. Would you be surprised if both sides tire of each other (there's a history of higherups disapproving of Le Batard's actions) and he moves somewhere with more freedom, such as SiriusXM or his pal John Skipper’s DAZN streaming service? ¿Sí o no?

Hard Rock Stadium
Hard Rock Stadium
Photo courtesy of Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium

Is Miami a Lock to Host the 2026 World Cup?

We know the 2026 men’s World Cup is coming to the United States, Mexico, and Canada. What we don’t know, however, is where exactly the matches will take place. The U.S. is scheduled to host 60 of the tournament’s 80 games and has submitted a list of 17 stadiums vying for the ten U.S. spots. One of the finalists is Hard Rock Stadium, which already boasts an impressive hosting resumé that includes Super Bowls, NCAA football national championships, and countless international soccer exhibitions.

The Sports Business Journal believes Miami is one of six cities that are a lock to host, but there's always a chance Camping World Stadium in Orlando — another finalist and one of nine U.S. stadiums used during the 1994 men's World Cup — could steal the Hard Rock's presumed spot. Another possibility: Both stadiums make the cut, just like when two California stadiums hosted matches in '94. Either way, we're not ready to break out the vuvuzelas until Miami is officially confirmed.

American Airlines Arena's East Plaza.EXPAND
American Airlines Arena's East Plaza.
Photo by Peter Leifer/Miami Heat

How Will Local Sports Teams Address the Climate Crisis?

According to numbers the Stringer Institute shared with Inside Climate News, Florida has surpassed all other states in heat-related high school football deaths since 2010. And it's only getting hotter, especially in the Magic City. Climate Central reported Miami's average number of "extreme heat" days per year (meaning days when the heat index is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) has increased by 23 since 1979. You're probably also aware that Miami is dangerously vulnerable to flooding in conjunction with sea-level rise; to paint a picture, the area surrounding Marlins Park and the American Airlines Arena could be submerged by the end of the century if the sea rises three to six feet as scientists predict.

As the world watches Australia burn, it should be apparent to anyone with the least bit of critical thinking skills that manmade climate change is to blame for these challenges. The question now is: How exactly are we going to deal with it? Florida lawmakers are attempting to pass a bill that would require high school athletic programs to keep tubs of ice-water baths nearby during practices and games; the American Airlines Arena turned its East Plaza into a solar pavilion that produces renewable energy; and Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel tweeted in September that Hard Rock Stadium would phase out 99.4 percent of single-use plastics by 2020. As weather conditions worsen and our sense of urgency grows, be prepared for more drastic changes in the next decade.

Will Miami Give a Shit About the Marlins Again?

It makes sense that no sponsor has bought the naming rights to Marlins Park since it opened in 2012. The Little Havana ballpark has been a sore spot for locals because the former owner swindled the city and taxpayers, and it doesn't help that the Marlins haven't had a winning season since 2009. The team has finished in the bottom four in league attendance over the past seven years, and things have grown so grim that Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has had to plead with locals to come to games. Maybe "the Captain" won't need to plead in the future if the Marlins' minor-league system is as good as people claim. But to say winning would be a cure-all ignores the fact that the Marlins finished third to last in attendance the year they won the 2003 World Series and second to last during their most recent winning season.

With that said, there are several factors at play: The organization has been rethinking the game-day experience, which explains why it lowered concession prices, added socializing spaces, and tinkered with the outfield walls, presumably to make the games more home run–friendly. Also on the agenda: Building and repairing relationships with the community. The Marlins have their work cut out for them, but the good news is there really isn't anywhere else to go but up at this point.

Go, Dolphins!
Go, Dolphins!
Photo by George Martinez

How Will Dolphins Cheerleaders and Heat Dancers Adapt to the Times?

The Los Angeles Rams were the first NFL team to hire male cheerleaders in 2018 (other NFL teams had male stuntmen before that, but not male dancers), and the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots followed suit. You'd think it would be a matter of time before most of the league's teams, including the Dolphins, did the same. Of course, trolls will argue that such a move would ruin the sanctity of cheerleading, but in reality, it could save it.

Some have argued that these scantily clad young women are being objectified and that the supposedly outdated tradition should be eliminated. The exposés on NFL cheerleaders and NBA dancers being woefully underpaid and sexually harassed don't help either. Making these squads coed might be their only hope for survival. That seems to be the approach the NBA has been taking: Time reported in July that eight of the 30 teams replaced their all-female dance teams with coed teams in the previous 14 months. The Heat dancers? They're still all female, for now.

The Florida Panthers' Jonathan Huberdeau
The Florida Panthers' Jonathan Huberdeau
Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Florida Panthers

Are We Sure the Panthers Will Stay in South Florida?

Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola moved to South Florida in 2018 and has been adamant that he has no desire to relocate his struggling NHL team, so much so the organization made a point to emphasize Florida on the team's 25th-anniversary logo. "Vinnie said from day one, we’re staying in Florida," Panthers president Matthew Caldwell told the Sun Sentinel. "We just thought there was no better way to prove that to the public than to put it on our uniform."

So then why haven't the relocation rumblings subsided? The team is losing millions of dollars a year, and though the Panthers have a deal with Broward County to stay in Sunrise through 2028, the contract includes an out clause that allows the team to leave prior to the 2023-24 season if it loses at least $100 million in its first seven seasons. It’s admirable that Viola seems so committed to keeping the team in South Florida, but as Panthers minority owner Doug Cifu once told Fox Sports: "The current business model is not sustainable."

Wrestlemania at Hard Rock Stadium in 2012.EXPAND
Wrestlemania at Hard Rock Stadium in 2012.
Photo courtesy of Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium

When Will Wrestlemania Return to Miami?

Hard Rock Stadium is interested in a rematch with Wrestlemania after hosting the Super Bowl of pro wrestling in 2012. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau says city and stadium officials placed bids to host another Wrestlemania during the most recent bid cycle — which runs through 2022 — and will continue trying when the next bid cycle begins as long as the dates don't overlap with the Miami Open (the annual tennis tournament moved to Hard Rock Stadium in 2019).

Tampa will host this year's Wrestlemania, and the Los Angeles Times reported L.A. is the frontrunner to host in 2021. Maybe the Magic City will get Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson’s dramatic retirement match in his adopted hometown sometime thereafter. We’re not buying that the “people’s champ” already “quietly retired," as he said on Live With Kelly and Ryan; that’s not the sort of thing someone of the Rock's stature does quietly.

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