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In its 27-year history, Sun Life Stadium has established itself as one of the nation’s premier multipurpose facilities, having hosted five Super Bowls, two World Series, and four BCS National Championship Games. With its 160-acre lot, 750,000 stadium seats, and prime location – less than an hour south of Wellington and the Winter Equestrian Festival – Stadium Jumping, the horse show production company that runs the Invitational, saw Sun Life as an ideal venue to host the event.
“We were looking into a larger market, and Miami was the solution,” said Matt Morrissey of Stadium Jumping. “The Invitational is the only [equestrian] event held in a major stadium in North America, and we wanted to keep the uniqueness of that.”
“We’re excited because of the nature of the event how prestigious it is,” said George Torres, Vice President of Sun Life Stadium Events. “Since it’s very much a prestigious show and a family show and something very different, the entire staff in the office has been abuzz about it.”
Most know Sun Life as the regular home of the Miami Dolphins, but the Dolphins also share the field with the Miami Hurricanes football team. The Hurricanes formerly played at the Orange Bowl Stadium in Little Havana, but after that venue was torn down in 2008, the University of Miami signed a 25-year deal with Sun Life to play their home games there through 2033. Between September and January, Sun Life’s event management team must frequently re-configure the field to accommodate the appropriate home team - often in less than 24 hours. College football games are typically held on Saturdays, and NFL teams play on Sundays.
The Miami Hurricanes storm onto the field at Sun Life Stadium.
“We get challenged in the football season for sure when we have those back-to-back games,” Torres said. “It can be pretty long hours and long days, but our crew has done this a long time. Everything starts immediately after the event ends. Our immediate concern is to always have the field ready for the next event.” (That goes for after the Invitational as well, because the following week the Miami Hurricanes have a scrimmage scheduled.)
The administrators at Sun Life once had an even busier schedule. From 1993 to 2011, the Florida Marlins (now the Miami Marlins) also called Sun Life Stadium home. Before the Marlins relocated south to the new Marlins Stadium, the field at Sun Life would have to be refigured to match the dimensions of a baseball field on a regular basis. Not to mention, the baseball diamond and the pitcher’s mound would have to be built, taken down, and recreated to meet the demands of conflicting NFL, MLB, and NCAA schedules.
The venue also frequently hosts outdoor concerts, Cirque du Soleil shows, international soccer matches, and even a monster truck show.
“We look at the Stadium as like a theater or stage,” Torres said. “We can dress it up and have different content.”
The stage is set...
For the Invitational, the Sun Life Stadium grounds will be ‘dressed up’ like never before. On the field, horses will perform on a newly installed turf surface covered with brightly colored jumps. Just outside the stadium by Gate A, approximately 54 stalls will be assembled to house the 30 horses participating in the Invitational and the 30 horses that are expected to compete in the new $25,000 Hollow Creek Farm Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Classic. Equestrian Services International, an equestrian footing company located in Wellington, will mix all-weather, fabric-based footing on site and lay it right on the concrete to create the schooling ring.
“In terms of horse show setups, it’s actually one of your easier setups,” Morrissey said.
If all goes well, Torres hopes a long-term relationship can be formed.
“It’s a perfect fit for our stadium,” he said. “We would like the event to grow. We like having annual and recurring events here to offer the South Florida audience. I’m excited about hopefully having the event here again as an annual tradition.”
So just add another item to Sun Life Stadium’s laundry list of hosted events. When the first horse goes on course at this year’s American Invitational, it’ll give a whole new meaning to “multipurpose” facility.
Kirsten Coe jumps in Tampa in 2013. The American Invitational comes to Miami April 5th!