6) To get Huizenga's autograph. He sits in the stands like a regular guy and will gladly shake your hand and sign your Panther T-shirt or hat. Huizenga is more famous and more popular in South Florida than any Panther player and will most likely remain so for the near future.
Which is not to say the Panthers won't be good one day. Huizenga has hired Bill Torrey, architect of the New York Islander championship teams of the early 1980s, as club president. Bob Clarke, a respected hockey man, is the general manager. They are smart and patient, which they will need to be, and Huizenga is smart enough not to meddle.
Huizenga's task, meanwhile, is to sell hockey to a community that hasn't hosted a pro hockey team, minor or major league, since 1939. Huizenga is convinced he can turn Miami's large Hispanic population into hockey fans. "We have to educate them, but they like exciting, fast-paced sports," he says. "They like hitting. I think they'll take to hockey big time."
The Panthers invited 2,000 members of Miami's Latin American Chamber of Commerce to a preseason game and will broadcast all home games on Spanish-language radio. "It's too big a market to ignore," says Torrey, who is hoping to have Panther players put on a series of roller hockey exhibitions in city parking lots. Additionally, Blockbuster Video outlets are renting out videotapes that explain hockey's rules and strategies for 50 cents, the proceeds of which will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, earmarked to help save the Florida panther.
Season ticket sales to date are stalled at about 8,500, but Huizenga professes to be unconcerned. "If we're going to create hockey fans in southern Florida, we've got to have game-day seats available," he says, estimating he'll lose some $2 million a year until he moves into his own building, which he hopes to have completed in 1997.
The puck has already started rolling on that project. Blockbuster has bought 1,300 acres in Broward and Dade counties, midway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, on which Huizenga plans to build a sports and entertainment village that is mind-boggling in scale. "We keep expanding and expanding," Huizenga says. "It's at least a 20-year project."
The twin centerpieces of this sports-fantasy land—sometimes referred to as Wayne's World—will be a state-of-the-art hockey arena for the Panthers and a new baseball stadium for the Marlins, replete with retractable roof.
But that's just the start. Huizenga's grand scheme also calls for a championship golf course that will host a PGA Tour event, a Little League park, a practice hockey rink, public driving ranges and batting cages, a miniature-golf course, restaurants, a sports museum, sports memorabilia stores, bowling alleys, roller coasters, movie theaters and interactive-video-game rooms. Since Blockbuster also owns a controlling interest in Spelling Entertainment Inc., which produces such television shows as Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, Huizenga plans to have a working television studio in his village, plus a movie set and a radio station.
Huizenga does not think small, which puts him in stark contrast to NHL owners of the past. But if the league has a Panther by the tail in Florida, it has got a bird in California who's guaranteed to send traditionalists ducking for cover. (Get used to those duck puns. The Disney folks have a million of them.)
You just knew there was something different about Eisner when he got McNall and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to quack madly on duck calls at the March 1 press conference announcing that the Mighty Ducks would commence play in 1993-94. Eisner's quirky, marketing-oriented touches are evident throughout the organization. It was he who insisted on the Mighty Ducks' name. "I was totally derided for that," he says. "Someone from the league called and tried to talk me out of it, and I said, 'Look, you can tell me anything you want about hockey, but this is an area we know something about.' "