Love Sports in South Florida, but Make It Your Full-Time Career
Matthew Mandel and Martin Schwartz are currently very popular. Actually, two. The Miami Heat and Florida Panthers both survived the playoff grind and advanced to the finals, where they are currently competing for N.B.A. and N.H.L. titles concurrently. This month, the lifelong friends struck it lucky in sports.
For years, Schwartz and Mandel, who have been friends since college and have lived in South Florida their entire lives, have shared season tickets to both teams. The Heat had a losing season in 2007–08, winning just 15 games, and their home games were often disrupted by boisterous supporters of the opposing teams.
They relished the Panthers’ infrequent postseason runs and commemorated the Heat’s championship runs in 2012 and 2013, which were led by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. However, they never imagined that both teams would begin the postseason as the eighth seed, pull off upset after upset, and compete for championships.
Schwartz, who worked as a batboy for the Florida Marlins in the 1990s and wore a Panthers jersey to the Heat game on Wednesday when they lost to the Denver Nuggets, said, “I was very pessimistic when the playoffs began.” But we now understand that the playoffs are everything. You must take pleasure in it. You have one chance at it.
Two teams from the same market have participated in both the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals in the same year for the tenth time. The last time it occurred was during the 2016 championship game between the San Jose Sharks and Golden State Warriors, both of whom were losers. Three times dating back to 1957, the Bruins and Celtics have accomplished this feat, and twice, the Knicks and Rangers. However, no region has ever had a winning basketball and hockey team in the same year.
With the Heat and Panthers playing four straight nights at home this week, the pursuit of championships has become a nightly event in South Florida. Although some, like Schwartz and Mandel, have bet everything on both sports, each team has its core fan base, and their arenas are roughly 40 miles apart. When the teams play the Heat on Friday, they are both behind 1-2 in their series.
“We wanted to give it a shot because it almost never happens,” said Raul Arias, a Miami native who went to the Heat and Panthers games on consecutive nights with his father, brother, and friend.
Though it was inevitable, this is the first time two teams in a Southern market have pursued titles concurrently. The major sports leagues in the nation have been encroaching on Florida for a long time, and with good reason—American demographics have been shifting toward the South and West for decades, and these businesses are looking for new supporters, sponsors, and television viewers.
Since the days of President Calvin Coolidge, the Rangers and Bruins have played on the ice. But in sports, history is brittle and malleable. The year 1988 saw the arrival of The Heat in Miami, during the peak of Bobby McFerrin’s hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” In 1993, the Panthers joined the NFL. Six new clubs have joined the league since then: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Seattle Kraken, and Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Perhaps to the dismay of more traditional fans in Canada and the northern states, the N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman’s “Southern Strategy” is best embodied in the Panthers-La Vegas Golden Knights Final. Despite the financial difficulties faced by teams in Arizona and other new markets, Bettman has defended this move. However, teams in northern markets, such as the Islanders and Devils, have experienced financial difficulties. And while Southern teams have lost franchises, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars are both doing well. Atlanta is one such example of a team that has done so.
Before the first Finals game, Bettman’s deputy, Bill Daly, told reporters that Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith had also expressed interest in bringing a hockey team to Salt Lake City.
If another team moved into a “nontraditional” hockey market, supporters of more established teams might scoff. They already hold low regard for South Florida supporters, who are said to arrive at games stylishly late and depart early in order to avoid traffic. They are often stereotyped as transplants who continue to support their former hometown teams. Alternatively, the ultimate burn: they simply appear when things are going well and vanish when their teams are struggling.
All of that is somewhat accurate. However, that is the nature of fans everywhere, even in Los Angeles and New York. And while millions of new people have moved to Florida over the past ten years, the state has been expanding at an exponential rate, and some of the transplants are making the most of their abundance in sports. The playoff games are sold out, with some tickets fetching four figures on the secondary market. Fanatics reports that since May 1, sales of Heat and Panthers apparel have increased by 460 percent when compared to the same time last year. A lot of hockey and basketball talk shows have been playing sports, and some soccer has been mixed in after Lionel Messi stated on Thursday that hewas going to Inter Miami.
“The more they win, the busier we get,” remarked Norma Shelow, who has co-owned Mike’s at the Venetia, a short stroll from the Kaseya Center, for more than 30 years. During the playoffs, when fans begin packing the restaurant a few hours before game time, she said business is up 40 to 50 percent.
Shelow mentioned that she had many regular customers, including NBA referees who visit her after games. Though the bar is first-come, first-served, she also makes a big deal out of welcoming lots of newcomers, who usually call ahead to make reservations.
50-year-old Abel Sanchez, an amateur sports historian, said, “I’ve lived here all these years and never seen this.” It will be a moment if either of them wins a title. Who owns the movie rights if both win? There’s space if you want to join the group as well.
It is common for transplant recipients to switch allegiances or to adopt a new home team. Growing up in New York, my dad was a Giants baseball fan.However, in the 1960s, when our family moved to Long Island, he became a Mets fan. (He took me to see the San Francisco Giants when they came to town; he still had a soft spot for Willie Mays). He adopted the Marlins when he relocated to West Palm Beach in the 1990s, and they honored his devotion by winning two World Series.
Over the course of the last ten years or so, Florida has added four million new residents, many of whom are migrating to Miami from Latin and South America. Even though they have never played hockey or basketball, a few of these newcomers have made the Heat and Panthers their home teams. Furthermore, why not? It’s possible that sports team support is the most social pastime in American culture.
The British man Adam Trowles, who lives in Miami and London and watches Miami Heat games in the early hours of the morning, declared, “I’m all in on Jimmy Butler.” “If I could marry him, I would.”
Trowles searched for tickets to the Denver Nuggets’ third game on Wednesday. He watched the game at Duffy’s Tavern in Coral Gables with his girlfriend Gessica Jean because the price was too high.
Despite all the fanfare, football is still Florida’s most popular sport. When they win, the Miami Hurricanes and the Dolphins continue to be the talk of the town. When the Lightning won the Stanley Cup and the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2021, Tampa went crazy.
However, hockey and basketball have their place. Relatives of transplants from the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Canada have remained loyal. Even for the Panthers, whose home ice at the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida, is positioned between an Everglades Wildlife Management Area and a shopping center, new fans are nonetheless created over time. It’s been a parade of riches for the locals.