Rip-off parking, Barcalounger seating, good eating at Miami Open’s new football stadium home

Tennis fans, beware. You may not need to win the Miami Open singles championship check of $1.3 million to afford the expense of attending the tournament at its new Hard Rock Stadium digs. But winning the lottery would help.

Do whatever you can to avoid paying the unconscionable, rip-off parking fee of $40. Yes, these are midtown Manhattan prices in a vast lot designed to accommodate 65,000 football fans for Miami Dolphins games. There is ample parking, but only the $40 option, and the fee is not posted anywhere, so once you arrive at the entrance and are informed by the apologetic attendant that they are charging the equivalent cost of a nice dinner out for a space in the no-man’s land of Hard Rock Stadium, you are trapped.

Unless you say, “Screw this,” exit, proceed to the nearby Wal-Mart, recognize signs that warn against stadium parking by non-customers, buy a bottle of water inside Wal-Mart and walk 10 minutes back to the stadium. There are other stores and parking spaces in the area if you’re willing to do some walking. Or travel to the tournament via Uber or Lyft with friends. Ride a bike. Hitchhike. Just refuse to pay that $40 fee.

If you pay for parking in advance on the Miami Open website, it costs $30 (it says $25 but when you purchase there’s an added $5 “service fee”), but you have to know where to hunt down this online discount, which is under the About and Where to Park tabs.

When the Miami Open moved north to the stadium this year after decades at its charming island home in Key Biscayne, the goal was to upgrade the facility and the “experience.” The tournament was said to have outgrown the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, was stymied by legal battles with Bruce Matheson in its effort to revamp the place and found its reputation as the “Fifth Slam” usurped by the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, owned by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, who sank millions into the plush desert site.

Luxury was the name of the game in the transplant of the Miami Open. But somebody has to pay for Dolphins owner and real estate mogul Stephen Ross’ $70 million glamification of his stadium and parking acreage into a mostly temporary 29-court tennis venue, and that is the customer. There’s more space outside on the grounds for fans and inside for the players and their entourages, more amenities, more food, more champagne, more music, more art, more lounging areas and more parking than there was at Crandon.

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Agustina and Alfredo Robledo have fun with the tennis ball sculpture outside Hard Rock Stadium at the 2019 Miami Open in Miami Gardens, Florida, Monday, March, 18, 2019.

CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The improvements come with a price. Tickets to see Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams (Serena Williams withdrew Saturday citing a knee injury) cost up to 40 percent more than they did last year. Stadium court truly is a stadium court as it sits on a football field, and the old deep purple color has been switched to an appealing denim blue. About one third of the 13,800 stadium seats are classified as premium and cost up to $70,000 for the 14-day tournament. Supersized, leather courtside seats call to mind the classic Barcalounger, so you can take a nap if the match is dull.

Top of the line suites feature a private entrance and access to an exclusive art gallery with works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, all “available for acquisition.”

For fans on a budget, grounds passes can be purchased for $15 per day and stadium court matches can be watched on the big screen.

At any major sporting event, the captive audience is subject to the price-gouging of concession sales. If you want to eat or drink, prepare to pay $5 for a bottle of water, $10 for a beer, $7 for ice cream, $16 for a sandwich – but you’ll have lots of choices from fine eateries and food trucks.

It’s hot. This is, after all, a tennis tournament next to Florida’s Turnpike. Outside the stadium there is not much shade. And no island breeze. Bring the one bottle of water you are allowed to bring. Free drinking fountains are hidden. Hint: There are two by the Grandstand court restrooms.

Tennis fans will miss the scenic drive over the Rickenbacker Causeway and the proximity of Crandon Park beach. They won’t miss the traffic backups at Crandon.

Overall, the Miami Open’s beautiful new home is better than skeptics expected. But it’s still a converted parking lot. You’ll enjoy the tennis much more if you plan ahead and don’t pay $40 to park in it.

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Tennis fans walk outside the stadium during the fourth day of Miami Open tennis tournament on Thursday, March 21, 2019 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

“Miami is among the richest cities in the United States, and the intention is to chisel as much money out of blue-chip customers as possible,” Simon Briggs, tennis correspondent for The Telegraph, wrote of the event’s relocation.

“No journey to a tennis tournament was more beguiling than the drive across Rickenbacker Causeway to Crandon Park, a tropical paradise on the tiny island of Key Biscayne. The new journey from downtown Miami, which heads in the opposite direction, takes you out through an industrial wasteland populated by signs such as ‘Termites? Call Al-Flex Exterminators’ and ‘Life Storage, Climate Controlled.’ Some 20 minutes later, you arrive at a giant white construction which resembles an oversized sandwich, held together by four 150-foot masts. Hard Rock Stadium towers over the otherwise featureless landscape, as if an alien spacecraft had landed in Nowheresville.”