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The Florida Panthers: Miami’s Forgotten Pro Sports Franchise

January 14, 2011 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local NewsMiami: Sports News  | 5 Comments


Did you know we have our very own professional ice hockey team right here in South Florida? It’s true! They’re called the Florida Panthers. Play at that giant arena across the street from Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise,  in between Justin Bieber concerts and Monster Truck rallies. Both of which are better attended. They even played for the Stanley Cup back in 1996. But you’d never guess it going to one of their games.


The Panthers aren’t even the neglected stepchild of South Florida sports.  They’re more like the illegitimate kid in Ohio that you only think about when you have to write a child support check. Go into a sports bar anywhere in South Florida and ask someone to name a Panthers player. You’d have better luck asking them to name Hialeah City Commissioners. 

And while Miami is not exactly known as a good sports town, most teams here are at least viewable on television. Go ahead and scroll through your TV guide looking for one of their games and see how long it takes you. On second thought, never mind, I’d like you to have some semblance of a weekend.



It’s sad considering that 15 years ago, the Panthers were the hottest ticket in town. They sold out the cozy downtown Miami Arena and competed for the playoffs every year. Despite the frozen playing surface, the arena was always hot and loud, intense in a way Joe Louis Arena in Detroit or the old Igloo in Pittsburgh might be. People threw toy rats on the ice whenever the team scored, and for a couple of years the rat became the Miami sports mascot.

But then the team got greedy. They wanted a palatial, state-of-the-art arena, and the City of Sunrise gave it to them.

Not sure where Sunrise is? Here’s a look:

Not exactly a convenient trip for those who used to pack the arena, is it?

So like so many Miamians, they left the big city for far-west Broward and haven’t been heard from since. Sure, they made the playoffs a couple of times, but not since 2000. Clinton was president back then, if you’d like some historical perspective. And since the team hasn’t competed for anything for over a decade, most folks don’t really see the trip to the edge of the Everglades as worth the effort.



I had the opportunity to go to a Panthers game last night. I had taken advantage of one of the Panthers’ many ticket promotions, which often include things like free tickets with a Combo Meal upgrade, or all you can drink beer if you buy a ticket that costs more than $20. They’ve even resorting to advertising Panthers games as a vacation destination for fans of other hockey teams in northern cities. And parking is always free. I was able to park ten feet from the entrance, and as I walked up someone stopped me asking if I had tickets.

“Yeah, thanks, I got some,” I told him.

“How are your seats? I got some six rows behind the glass. You can have it if you want it.” This was only slightly better than the last game I’d attended when, while waiting in line to cash in my vouchers I got with a large fries, a guy sold me 2 at center ice for $5 apiece.

“No man, we’re good,” I told him.

“You sure? I been trying to give these away all week.” I think he was one step from paying us to take them. Poor Panthers. People can’t even give tickets away in the parking lot.


Once inside I was freezing. I would attribute this to the temperature they need to keep the building in order to maintain the ice, but then I remembered how sweltering the old Miami Arena used to get.

“Yeah,” the usher told me, “back when we had people in here, it really wasn’t so cold. But with no people in here, it never warms up. And the damn A/C blasts on me all night.”

The arena wasn’t even half full. And while the announced attendance was 12.228, you could have counted the number of people there if the game got boring. The cavernous Bank Atlantic Center seats nearly 20,000 for hockey, so even if they could draw like they did back in Miami, you’d still freeze your ass off. Haven’t the Marlins taught us about building to your expected crowds?



I’m not saying the Panthers don’t deserve fans. The players work hard and the game experience is actually very entertaining. Furthermore, much like everyone else down here, I don’t know enough about the team to tell you if it’s a well-run organization or not. What I am saying is that it’s sad that we have a major league sports team here that is beyond irrelevant.  It’s invisible. The Panthers are the perfect storm of lousy sports town, dying pro sport, and inconvenient arena, and as such are completely off the radar for most sports fans.

Hopefully one day soon, the Panthers can grab the interest of our local sports market. The arena makes the AAA look like a high school gym, and the game experience is much more fan-friendly than the overhyped Heat.  Go check a game out the next time you’re at Sawgrass Mills and finish up shopping around 7. The parking is free, and, if you talk to the guys out front, so are the tickets.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News, Miami: Sports News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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5 Comments on

"The Florida Panthers: Miami’s Forgotten Pro Sports Franchise"

Eric says:

I’m also guilty of never having been to a Panthers game, but with no local interest, I’m surprised they haven’t just packed it in and moved to a more hospitable market.

Posted on 01/15/2011 at 8:23 AM

UTS says:

Wow ! And I thought I had all the 411 on pro sports. I don’t follow the NHL, but I at least should have known SoFL had a hockey team.

Posted on 01/15/2011 at 4:38 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Seriously, UTS? You didn’t know that? Cuz that line was just kinda a joke….

Posted on 01/16/2011 at 8:12 PM

UTS says:

I knew Tampa had a team, and my ortho guy has Kissimmee’s hockey team plastered all over his office, but didn’t know about the Panthers. Last time I really followed hockey was when Gretzky lead the Kings to the finals in 94.

Posted on 01/17/2011 at 9:00 PM

Jake says:

I remember watching all the plastic rats getting thrown onto the ice as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing. Then the NHL cracked down and banned them, Gary Bettman (NHL commisioner) sucks!!

Posted on 01/22/2011 at 3:31 PM

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