January 29, 2023

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Miami has terminated the FTX Arena naming rights deal amid bankruptcy

3 min read

Artists like Carrie Underwood and Rou Alejandro won’t have to suffer the indignity of performing at a Miami venue named after a troubled cryptocurrency exchange when they hit the road in the coming months. Because FTX Arena is no more.

On Wednesday, a federal bankruptcy judge voided the naming-rights agreement between Miami-Dade County, which owns the facility, and the now-defunct FTX, once the third-ranked crypto exchange by volume until it was discovered in November 2022 that the company was. Bankruptcy due to mismanagement of customer funds.

The ruling ended the contractual relationship with FTX, which still ran for more than 17 years.

The 21,000-capacity home of the NBA’s Miami Heat is set to host more than 50 concerts in 2022, including performances by Elton John, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, Roger Waters, Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber and Tyler, the Creator.

In March 2021, the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners approved a $135 million contract with FTX. At the time, now-disgraced CEO Sam Bankman-Fried released a statement that drew crowds, “This opportunity is more than putting our name on an iconic building. This is an opportunity to value the growing and diverse community of Miami and its surrounding cities.”

That value dropped considerably after FTX filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 11, just five days after Bankman-Fried took to Twitter in an attempt to allay concerns about his company, insisting, “FTX is fine. Resources are fine.”

In response to the announcement that the Exchange would begin Chapter 11 proceedings, Miami-Dade County and the Miami Heat issued a joint press release, announcing that they would “take immediate action to terminate our business relationship with FTX, and we will work. together to find new naming rights partners.”

Just a month earlier, in October, the FTX logo was placed on the roof of the arena, replacing the aircraft associated with the facility’s main sponsor, American Airlines. In 1999 American entered into a 20-year contract that it eventually decided not to renew. The facility subsequently retained the American Airlines Arena name for over a year, while Miami-Dade scrambled to identify a replacement sponsor, which eventually found FTX.

On Nov. 22, the county filed in bankruptcy court for permission to remove the name from the venue, so it could pursue other options. Miami-Dade also suggested that putting FTX on the facility would add to the “endurable suffering” of the exchange’s aggrieved former customers.

Miami’s situation brings to mind the naming of a new ballpark in Houston, exactly 20 years ago. In the spring of 1999, Enron chairman Kenneth Lay signed a 30-year, $100 million contract with the Astros for what would become known as Enron Field for short. By early 2002, the Astros were keen to distance themselves from the scandal-plagued corporation. However, since Enron had already paid for a year, the desperate baseball team took back the naming rights for $2.1 million.

FTX already owed another $5.5 payment on Jan. 1, so Miami-Dade doesn’t have to pay its former partner. Instead, it had to bide its time until Judge John Dorsey issued his ruling.

On Friday, local officials and Heat revealed they had landed on an interim name. In the near future, the venue will be known as the Miami-Dade Arena.

As for a potential partner, mortgage lender Network Capital is said to have made a bid in 2021.

Or perhaps in the spirit of protecting the digital currency, a Los Angeles arena sponsor will expand its presence on the East Coast by claiming a second Crypto.com Arena.

Then again, Florida’s colorful place names have their own distinct histories, so perhaps the moment is right to revive the legacy of Tampa’s lost, lamented 1-800-ASK-GARY amphitheater.

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