LeBron James and the team he chose to play for, the Miami Heat, will rumble into New York Friday to play the Knicks in what's shaping up to be a memorable evening. Miami's tremulous start is now over. The Heat have won 10 straight games.
But even if Miami doesn't contend for the NBA championship this season, it's time to concede one basic point. Miami's sports fans are spoiled rotten.
Even before Mr. James chose to bestow himself on the citizens of this palm-shaded city, who had barely stirred from their frozen daiquiris to make a fuss about him, the relatively short history of sports in South Florida had been an embarrassment of championships—nearly all of them serendipitous.
In 1972, just six years after their founding, the Miami Dolphins became the only NFL team to win every game it played in a season. In 1983, less than a decade after there was talk of dropping the football program, the University of Miami won the first of five national titles. The Florida Marlins, a baseball expansion team that started play in 1993, rewarded fans with a World Series title four years later—and another one just six years after that. In 2006, before the franchise could turn 18, the Heat won its first NBA title. Even the Florida Panthers, who somehow play hockey in this tropical latitude, reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1996, only three years after they were founded.
Other sports cities of similar circumstances haven't found nearly the success Miami has. Since the Braves arrived in Atlanta in 1966, that city's four professional teams have combined for one championship. The same goes for Phoenix. And Since 1964, the last time a team from Cleveland won a title, South Florida's four pro teams have combined for five championships and nine championship appearances.
Asked for his take on the city's sports fans, Miami mayor Tomás Regalado put it this way: "They may be a little spoiled."
By most accounts, Miami fans haven't had time to develop any of the crushing angst you find in other sports towns. "The fans are spoiled, but that implies a level of passion that isn't there," said novelist Carl Hiaasen, who lives in Vero Beach. "People on South Beach would rather watch Paris Hilton throw up in a nightclub than be anywhere near a basketball arena."
The Marlins have had the worst attendance in the National League for five straight seasons and ranked No. 21 among baseball teams in local TV ratings last season, according to Nielsen Co. In 2002, the Marlins scored a relatively low 2.1 television rating in their local market. The next year, when the team won the World Series, the best it could manage was a 3.7. The University of Miami had just 26,369 in the stands for its regular season football finale last month, and the Dolphins, the region's most popular team, are No. 28 in the NFL in local TV ratings and No. 25 in attendance by stadium capacity.
Last season the Heat ranked No. 12 among local NBA markets with a 2.8 household rating. And here's something you don't see every day: During the season when the Heat won the NBA title, local ratings actually fell to 2.6 from a 2.7 the year before. This season, the story is different: The first regular-season game that Mr. James and teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade played for the Heat brought a 15.5 local rating.
"We're kind of bandwagon people," said New York Giants defensive back Kenny Phillips, a Miami native. He said fans in New York are more vocal with the players when they lose. But in Miami, he said, "if you're losing, they won't come to the games, they just ignore you
Mr. Regalado, the mayor, said South Florida doesn't have a problem with attendance "when the city is energized about the product."
While the Heat are drawing 100% capacity, the team's notoriously late-arriving crowds have made for a less-than-rabid atmosphere. Alex Lopez, a Heat season ticket holder, said the crowd still arrives at the same time it did in previous seasons, toward the end of the first quarter—and staying for the whole game isn't a guarantee.
During a game the other night, when the Heat's three stars were all playing, "I was amazed at how empty the seats were," Mr. Hiaasen said. "I thought maybe they all went to the bathroom at the same time."
If South Florida's sports roots are shallow, it's not a surprise. According to a Pew Research Center report, 70% of Florida's adult population came from another state—the fourth highest total in the nation. A Census Bureau report from 2002 put Miami's foreign-born population at 60.6%, the highest of any big city in the country.
While it's too early to say for sure, some Floridians say the Heat may cause a change in the city's sports culture. The expectations are so high, they say, there's a real chance there could be some anguish if the team doesn't meet them. Former Dolphins tight end Jim Mandich said that when the Heat suffered a rough patch early in the season, he saw something unusual. The fans in Miami, he said, were "running to the ledge."
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I hold by that the sole existance of florida pro sports teams is that retirees and transplants can be able to watch their teams come to town.