The athletics department is looking to revamp its style one sport at a time, and after a disappointing football season, a new era in basketball is already taking shape — and it has nothing to do with the team.
After an offseason that included a change of staff, the basketball program unveiled a South Beach style during the team home opener: cabanas and suites, a beach-themed court and sponsorships from Lime Restaurant and Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
The dream of changing athletics’ style has been in the works since 2012, while Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia and the basketball team were in Hot Springs, Arkansas for the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
“I was thinking of ‘What can we do to create a couple different things?’” Garcia said. “South Florida, we gotta admit, is an event town. We were in Hot Springs, Arkansas and I started asking the people, ‘When we say South Florida, what do you guys think about?’”
The response? South Beach.
The cabanas and suites at the Lime Court at the US Century Bank Arena have and will continue to bring in profit for athletics. Going at $15,000 each, both Fontainebleau suites, above the student section, are sold out for the rest of the season, a first for the University.
“We’re getting $35,000 a year just to put their name there,” Garcia said about the Fontainebleau partnership. “Lime is giving us $25,000 a year to put their name on there. We’re making money on this.”
The white cabanas located opposite of the suites are sold at $1,000 a game and can be bought by anyone willing to get the Nikki Beach-feel during a college basketball game.
For organizations and programs in the Magic City, it can be tough to attract fans to Miami with different activities constantly taking place.
With just three home games played so far, attendance has already reached an all-time high, according to Garcia.
“We’ve had students come out to our games in record numbers this year,” Garcia said. “We’ve sold more season tickets than we did in the past and we’ve had record number of students so we’re getting big crowds.”
The Panthers will host three nationally televised games: Florida Atlantic University and last season’s sweet-16 opponent Florida Gulf Coast University. The last game, against last season’s national champion the University of Louisville, will be the first in University history with a national champion.
For Miami natives, the festivities can be taken for granted.
“Whether it had to do with LeBron James saying ‘I’m taking my talents to South Beach,’ or whether people just think of South Florida and think of the beach, people look at us and say ‘South Florida, the beach,” Garcia said.
The University of Oregon first brought out the culture of a new themed image to basketball courts in 2010. The University followed right after and 21 other colleges, including the University of Central Florida, have changed the look and feel of their courts.
The addition to the cabanas has sparked some controversy. The seating used to be reserved for the band who has now been infused with the student section.
Questions arose as to where students will be placed during games.
“We added student sections to the lower bowl; those are good seats,” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, the students are what gives us the energy. We want them to be rowdy and loud.”
Athletics has also included giving away free food and non-alcoholic drinks for fans that attend the home games.
In a separate interview with Student Media, MMC Student Government Association President Liane Sippin was unaware of the shift of the student section and did not know of changes being made, but worried about how Athletics was run.
“There is so much going on in Athletics, and I don’t think they have enough people to deal with the marketing of everything,” Sippin said. “The Beach Bash, I think they started advertising it three days before. It could’ve been so great but the fact they got their flyer out late. I don’t know.”
Garcia was unaware of the situation and unable to comment.
Attendance at sporting events remains a problem. Many fans arrive early but leave after tailgates—an issue that Garcia says he is well aware of.
“Students are having a great time at the tailgate, so we want to come up with some ideas of how we get that festive, loud atmosphere to come into the stadium,” Garcia said. “We just gotta take the same creativity and we gotta do some of these same things over at the football stadium.”
According to the NCAA, a requirement for Football Bowl Subdivision teams is an average of 15,000 paid or actual attendance during a two-year period. The University failed to reach that number last season during the football season, but according to Garcia, the concerns should end.
“We went three and nine and we didn’t meet the attendance requirement, but they let you meet it every other year,” Garcia said. “People gave up on the team and stopped coming to the games and we’ve actually had better attendance this year. According to Conference USA and the new coach and everything else, we’ve had better attendance.”
Despite backlash, most notably from a firepetegarcia.com website, Garcia thinks that the best for athletics is yet to come.
“We’re going to keep pushing the envelope, and it’s my job to push the envelope,” Garcia said. “Someday we won’t be the underdog but you gotta keep pushing the envelope. Whether some people say ‘Well maybe you shouldn’t have jumped conferences yet,’ we’re gonna keep pushing the envelope because at the end of the day, the people at FIU want to be the best. They don’t have a lot of patience.”