Yesterday's Pro Bowl was the first to take place outdoors since Hawaii's in 1980. It was a complete event planning disaster.
My wife and I were invited to enjoy the game in a corporate suite on the 50-yard line. Our hosts sent us tickets and a preferred parking pass early in the week. We were twice as excited as normal because we have a 6-month-old baby and don't get out much these days.
We drove over an hour to Dolphin Stadium in North Miami. When we arrived, we followed the "Blue Permit" signs to the appropriate gate. However, the gate was closed and several cop cars were blocking the entry. After waiting in line, we rolled up to the police officers.
"We have a Blue Permit."
"I am sorry, but the lot is full."
"Full? That can't be possible. We pre-paid for a Blue Permit."
"I know. You'll have to take that up with the stadium."
"I don't understand. We have a permit, so the stadium should have our spot."
"It's screwed up, I know. But the lot is full. You can head up the street and there is some parking."
"OK. Thanks for your help."
We proceeded back to the main road. It was a total mess. The entire stadium was gated off with cones and police cars. Everyone with parking passes had no idea what to do.
The Pro Bowl had been planned for a year. Does Dolphin Stadium not know about the concept of an overflow lot? There were plenty of nearby Big Box retailers from which to rent lot space. Instead, tons of tow trucks scurried through those lots rushing to tow every car in sight.
My wife and I parked at Office Depot and walked for 15 minutes before returning to the parking lot gates. By this point, the first quarter of the game was over. I talked with another officer to get the scoop and make sure our car was safe.
"No. I would move your car. It can get towed there."
"Where can we park legally?"
"You have to drive to 27th and park at Calder Race Track."
"Why can't we get into the Stadium lot?"
"The traffic around the Stadium was backed up, so they just opened the gates and let everyone in whether they had a permit or not. Then the lot filled up."
"So they didn't prepay?"
"No. If I were you, I'd be very pissed right now."
I was pissed. The Stadium knew they did the wrong thing. As a result, their staff retreated behind the gates and let the police deal with the customers. This was horrible customer service.
When we finally arrived at Calder Race Track (after an ambiguous sign detoured us through a very dodgy area), the game was half over. We had a choice: walk 30 minutes to the Stadium (in the drizzling rain), or fold our cards.
We planned to stay for only the first half of the game because we had to be home early for our baby. So, we spent our entire two hours at Dolphin Stadium dealing with an event planning nightmare rather than the event. We never breached the parking lot gates.
I was embarrassed for the City of Miami and the NFL. People come from all over the world to see the Pro Bowl. Those people must have been more lost and confused than us (I was born and raised in the area and have been to the Stadium several times).
To add insult to injury, the Stadium had ambiguous directions to alleged parking areas, tow trucks were towing everyone who thought the nearby Big Box strip malls were the only place to park, and Miami Code Enforcers were writing tickets to nearby homeowners who were renting spaces.
This entire debacle could have been avoided with a pre-planned overflow lot accompanied by directions-for-dummies, and a moratorium on towing and code enforcement (since the Stadium couldn't accommodate paid customers). Instead, the Stadium locked the gates and everyone took advantage of the easy payday. It was totally pathetic.
If you have tickets to next week's Super Bowl, beware. Both Dolphin Stadium and the City of Miami are ill-equipped to host anything larger than a pee-wee league football game.