Miami-Dade commissioners approve crypto exchange FTX's bid to rename Miami Heat sports arena

The board of commissioners for Florida's Miami-Dade County has approved the deal that will see crypto exchange FTX secure the naming rights to the sporting arena used by the Miami Heat professional basketball team.

The vote saw just one commissioner -- René Garcia of Miami-Dade's District 13 -- vote against the resolution after he cited concerns about the short time window in which the commissioners had to review the final details of the deal. Still, Garcia was not alone in putting forward those concerns, though ultimately the other commissioners who struck skeptical tones during the hearing voted to approve the resolution. Ten commissioners voted in favor of the deal, with two others not present for the hearing.

The development comes days after the county announced that it struck an agreement with FTX over the naming rights, which Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said "will have [a] positive impact across our community, and we are glad to find a partner in FTX ready to invest in Miami-Dade.” Cava said Friday that her office would work with commissioners to develop a plan to use the proceeds from the deals on local initiatives across the county, including programs focused on gun violence and at-risk youth. 

Jimmy Morales, Miami-Dade's COO, said from the $135 million deal, the county would reap about $90 million in net proceeds during the 19-year period or about $4.7 million annually. $14 million would be paid upfront, netting the county roughly $8 million for the first year. While the majority of the funds will be allocated by the mayor's office, 30% of the funds will be apportioned to each of the 13 county commissioners to award to similar efforts in their districts.

The issue of gun violence was raised repeatedly throughout the hearing, drawing passionate statements from commissioners, who at times appeared on the verge of tears. Those most in support of the deal cited the funds as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to direct money to these issues, citing daily gun violence across Miami-Dade in each of the districts the commissioners represent. 

"This has got to be one the greatest moments in Miami-Dade history," Commissioner Kionne McGhee of District 9 said during the hearing.

Concerns were also raised about the nascent crypto industry in which FTX operates, the future of crypto regulation and whether FTX will be a viable business over the course of 19 years and meet its payment obligations. 

Other specific issues were highlighted, including how the National Basketball Association (NBA) has yet to give its final approval for a logo change in light of the stadium renaming. However, a representative from a Miami Heat affiliate present at the hearing said that the working expectation is that the NBA will issue an approval. Should the NBA shoot down the logo approval and effectively scuttle the deal, the terms call for FTX to pay the county $2.5 million.

Dan Friedberg, FTX's general counsel, was present for the hearing and defended the agreement. He spoke about the firm's commitment to charitable causes, including in the Miami-Dade area beyond the terms of the agreement, and cited founder Sam Bankman-Fried's past focus on charity. "Sam is a remarkable man," said Friedberg.

Yet at one point Friedberg sparked the ire of Commissioner Garcia after drawing a connection between any potential deal delay and continued gun violence in the county, as noted by Miami Herald reporter Doug Hanks. 

But ultimately,  the desire to put resources behind efforts to fight gun violence overcame the skepticism expressed during the hearing by some of the commissioners. 

"This is the moment we've been waiting for," McGhee remarked.

"I'm humbled and excited to work with @MiamiDadeCounty , and hope that together we can make a huge difference in millions of people's lives," Bankman-Fried said on Twitter after the vote passed.