MIAMI (AP) — Eric Woolworth has worn button-down shirts to work for the last two weeks, instead of short-sleeve polos.
With good reason.
Those polos say “Miami Heat.”
“I can't wear them because I can't go out without getting accosted,” said Woolworth, the Heat president of business operations. “You can't go out to eat or to a supermarket. You know, everybody wants to talk to you about what's going on. It's crazy.”
Don't misunderstand. This is a problem the Heat are thrilled to have.
When Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade made simultaneous announcements on July 7 that they would be teammates in Miami, followed by LeBron James' decision that lured 10 million television viewers and worldwide attention one night later, Heatmania became an instant phenomenon in the sports business world.
The waiting list for Miami season tickets is growing rapidly, fans willing to pay a nonrefundable $100 fee to join. The NBA says the Heat are tops in merchandise sales, with James, Wade and Bosh having three of the five best-selling jerseys. Businesses all over South Florida are trying to cash in on the act, with everything from a LeBron Burger to a “Heat Suite” replete with a Ferrari rental now available.
To think, the season is still more than three months away.
“We are playing in a different sandbox now,” Woolworth said.
Indeed, the impact – social and financial, on-court and off-court – James, Wade and Bosh may end up having together in their newly formed supertrio is already becoming apparent. Some estimate their collective financial impact on South Florida could exceed $1 billion, not even taking into account the $329 million in playing contracts they have with Miami through 2016.
“What this is going to bring to the city of Miami, what winning brings period, what excitement brings, is togetherness,” Wade said. “Everyone wants to be together. Everyone wants to be a part of it.
People are going to come. They're going to flock to Miami.”
And when they do, they'll need something to eat, things to do and places to work and sleep.
Ideas in those fronts are coming in bunches.
Hungry? The LeBron Burger has been added to the menu at OneBurger in Coral Gables. It starts with Kobe beef (a nod to Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant, the leader of the two-time reigning NBA champions), with Swiss cheese, an onion ring (think championship ring) and jalapenos (for heat, er, the Heat).
Stressed? Get the "LeBroyal Treatment" for $149 at Seven Seas Aveda Spa & Salon at the Newport Beachside Hotel, a collection of six items, an homage to James' new jersey. It features a massage, manicure, personal training session, jet-ski rental, gift package and to top it off, a six-pack of beer.
Busy? Squeeze some work in before a Heat game at the Latitude One International Business Center, which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week near AmericanAirlines Arena with hopes of "luring corporate ticket buyers, out-of-town executives and media" looking for places to get some business tasks completed before tip-off.
Sleepy? For $2,500 a night, high-end guests can enjoy the “Heat Suite” at The Gansevoort Hotel in Miami Beach, including a rental of a Ferrari F430, private cabana access, some of James' favorite snacks and an iPod with his favorite tunes. The Hotel Victor will offer its $10,000-a-night penthouse to a randomly selected Facebook fan for $163, the Heat trio jersey numbers. Downtown Miami's Epic hotel is offering season-ticket holders discounts, while the Mandarin Oriental will have “Live Like LeBron” weekends, including basketball-shaped cookies.
And those are just a few promotions. There's countless others.
“Our phones are ringing a little bit and our team is actually really excited to sell it,” said Brett Orlando, the Gansevoort's general manager. “We actually have a little competition going on for our staff here. The first person who books it, they get a prize, too. But the reaction has been pretty incredible. I think we were one of the first out of the gate with something this fun and exciting for the city.”
The epicenter of Heatmania, of course, is the team's downtown arena.
By the time James chose Miami, the entire available allotment of Heat season tickets was gone (some corporate plans remain, as do seats held back for single-game and other plans). Phone banks at the arena were overloaded by callers, the team website saw a giant surge in traffic, people stop by daily at the ticket windows asking for information on when single-game tickets will be available, and even the Summer Groove charity series of events hosted by Wade and Alonzo Mourning saw a huge spike in sales, undoubtedly because of all the Heat buzz.
“At the beginning of July, while Wimbledon is going on and the World Cup is going on and baseball season's in full swing, the NBA is dominating headlines around the world,” Woolworth said. “And in a city like Miami, it absolutely takes over everything. The news, the business news, the local news, the front page, the back page, the lifestyles section, everything is now about the Miami Heat.”
It's similar to what hit Miami in 2004, when the Heat acquired Shaquille O'Neal. Two years later, Miami won its lone NBA championship.
The building was sold out every night back then as well, just as it will be this year. But the Heat will do things a bit differently this time around, Woolworth said. Through partial-season plans, single-game offerings and other initiatives, the Heat hope to attract a different crowd for each of their 41 regular-season home contests, instead of the same 19,600 faces every night.
“We know the interest is clearly out there,” Woolworth said.
While Miami is saying hello, Toronto and Cleveland are saying some liquid good-byes to Bosh and James as well.
In Cleveland, the Great Lakes Brewing Co. quickly went through 30 gallons of specially made
“Quitness,” a dry hopped India pale ale that leaves a bitter aftertaste, perfectly describing the mood of Cavaliers fans after James' decision. And in Toronto, Bosh's farewell is being marked by a champagne cocktail drummed up by Senior Sommelier William Predhomme of Canoe Restaurant and Bar which features sparkling wine, Ice wine, syrup, lemon, black cherries and a mint sprig.
“We're keenly aware of the fact that not everybody is enjoying this as much as we are,” Woolworth said. “But here in Miami, there's nothing but love.”
That's what Wade wants to see and hear.
He's had celebrity status in Miami just about from the moment he got to town in 2003, but what he's experienced in the last two weeks, he said, doesn't even compare to the glitz and glamour that followed the NBA title in 2006.
And he's quick to say this isn't a one-summer deal.
James, Wade and Bosh plan to be together for years.
“It's good to be part of it, to know you've done something else for the city and that it's not just about winning championships,” Wade said. “You know what, we know that people are going to come down to Miami. There's people that are going to move to Miami. People are going to be part of this community. It's going to shine a light on Miami even more.”
AP Photo/J. Pat Carter. From left, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, LeBron James (6), Dwyane Wade (3), Chris Bosh (1) and owner Micky Arison attend a news conference at the American Airlines Arena in Miami on Friday, July 9.