NBA FINALS

Local businesses prosper in wake of Miami Heat’s NBA Finals run

moleary@MiamiHerald.comJune 20, 2013 

As Miami Heat fans region-wide scramble to snag last-minute merchandise and pray for triumph in tonight’s NBA Finals, businesses from sports bars to downtown hotels are already chalking up Game 7 between Miami and San Antonio as a win. Entrepreneurs including commissioned artists and apparel designers are also cashing in.

Here’s a look at three local businesses that will declare this season a victory:

Artist Erika King’s towering collages depicting Heat stars like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are a bold indicator of where the team stands in her livelihood (as well as her heart.) King has been creating collages for the Miami Heat for 15 years, selling them for $15,000 to $30,000 each. Sales spiked this season: she has been commissioned to complete six collages.

Each contains newspaper clippings and photos of players crouching before shots, sprinting down the court and rejoicing after winning plays. Those pictures blend into a canvas smudged with bursts of rusty red, subdued gold and vibrant blue.

“Taking pictures and juxtaposing them in a way that’s meaningful tells a story,” she said.

Previous clients include the Florida Marlins and legendary Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. Heat President Pat Riley has also commissioned a King collage.

When power player LeBron James was rookie-of-the-year in 2003, King crafted his official collage. She’s also become good friends with the family of Dwyane Wade, another Heat superstar.

“They’re my boys,” she said. “You get so attached to them. Plus, basketball is such an exciting sport,” King said.

During Game 6, she nearly had to leave the bar where she watched it. “It made me sick,” she said of the suspense.

Though King plans to make a collage for the Spurs in the near future, both she and her agent Cash McMahon have already started preparing for a Heat victory.

“I don’t want to think about the Spurs winning,” McMahon said. “We’re all about the Heat.”

Doral-based apparel company Peace Love World is also prematurely prepping for triumph.

“We’ve started designing championship shirts,” said Alina Villasante, the company’s head designer and owner.

Her sports merchandise merges the soul of the person with the loyalty of the fan, she said. At the end of the day, it’s about the game — which means it’s about the Heat.

“Miami is my backyard. I’m a season-ticket holder, and usually whatever person or team you associate the clothes with experiences the same connection,” she said. “The difference here is that the Heat is my team.”

Just before the finals kicked off, Villasante’s daughter sneakily posted the “Peace Love Heat” shirt design on Instagram with out her mother’s knowledge. Though Villasante wanted to be mad, phones started ringing off the hook with customers clamoring for the shirts, which sell for $35 and up.

“I scraped up the warehouse, gathered anything white, thought up five designs and sent them off,” she said.

Orders haven’t stopped since. “We’ve sold thousands,” Villasante said.

The shirts are offered exclusively at the Miami Heat Store at the AmericanAirlines Arena. “We get calls constantly from people who want to buy the shirts from our other stores around Miami, but you can’t buy them anywhere but the arena. That has created some chaos,” Villasante said.

Team merchandise helps create what Ruby Newell-Legner refers to as the “fan experience.”

Newell-Legner, owner of Colorado-based consulting business 7 Star Service, coordinated with the Miami Heat’s guest services department to improve the arena experience.

If a staff member tenderly bends to ask your son or daughter about their favorite Heat player, then hands them a free memento, thank Newell-Legner.

If a security guard doesn’t get gruff with you about tossing your beer before entering the arena, thank her again. And if the concession stands offer gluten-free granola or fruits and veggies as an alternative to grease-laden stadium snacks, know that it’s Newell-Legner’s doing.

Her job is to make comfort a lot easier for the ordinary game-goer.

Over the past two decades, Newell-Legner has worked with 26 professional sports teams and has trained guest relations staffs in venues that have hosted the Super Bowl XLI, the 2010 Olympics and the 2008 U.S. Open. When she first coached the AmericanAirlines Arena employees in 2006, prior to the Heat’s championship, she said she realized that the arena staff lacked energy and worked with supervisors to promote a positive experience for both front line staff members and the fans.

When emotions run hot between home-team fans and away-team fans, employees are responsible for maintaining a good environment, she said. That’s where she comes in.

She works to develop customized training programs that streamline communication and keep attitudes upbeat. “The moments between staff and fans should be engaging,” she said. “We don’t want you to think that we’re just here to take your money.”

This story reflects corrections to a version previously posted.

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