Skip to Content
Better Hate An Owner

Micky Arison Is A Case Study In How Winning Fixes Everything

Illustration by Jim Cooke

Welcome to Better Hate An Owner, a recurring feature in which we learn more about all those awful old people who get to hold the trophy first at championship ceremonies. Today's entry is about Miami Heat owner Micky Arison.

How much of his soul did he lose in making his money?

That depends on how much of a toll nepotism and cruises take on a soul. Micky Arison has a net worth of more than $6 billion, earned mostly as chairman of Carnival Cruise Line. He dropped out of the University of Miami to join the sales department of a company founded by his daddy, Ted Arison, before eventually becoming the president, taking the company public, and serving as CEO until he stepped down in 2013 (more on that below). 

Is he a fail-child?

Arison is a child, but he’s more of a benefactor of nepotism than a pure fail-child. His father founded Carnival in 1971, before the son took over as chairman and CEO in 1990. The younger Arison acquired competitor cruise lines and grew the company’s fleet to more than 100 ships, so it’s hard to say he failed from a purely financial sense. 

How much public financing has he sucked out of the community?

This was a complicated sore spot for Miami-Dade County. The original agreement that the Heat had with the country had the NBA team paying out 40 percent of profits from the arena above $14 million. That arrangement allowed the team to acquire a $38 million plot of waterfront land in downtown Miami to build the arena, with the thought that the county would make back that money with the profit-sharing deal. That didn't happen; through 2013, the team had only paid $257,134.12, thanks to paying off the construction costs and other miscellaneous expenditures.

That atrocious deal was renegotiated in 2014, with the Heat now paying the county $1 million a year to rent the land for the arena, in the form of a donation to the parks department. The county does provide a subsidy to the team, however, of $6.4 million per year; under the new deal, it will climb upwards of $8 million between 2031 and 2035. Oh, and thanks to a renegotiated naming rights deal, Miami-Dade County could be on the hook for $2 million if it can’t find a new sponsor for the arena to replace American Airlines. 

The Epstein Degree: How many degrees removed from Jeffrey Epstein is he?

It's a short hop to Epstein here: Arison is a friend of Donald Trump, and Carnival Cruises sponsored The Apprentice way back when. Trump, in turn, has long-standing ties with both Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.

What are his political affiliations?

The Political Party of Micky Arison. Unlike many owners, Arison donates to both major political parties in the United States. Like every owner, though, he does it in his own self-interest, often donating to candidates who are part of the legislative bodies in Congress that oversee cruise lines, such as Republican Congressman Bob Gibbs, who serves on the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

Miami Heat fans likely don’t have much beef with Micky Arison, given that the team has won three NBA titles and made six NBA Finals during his tenure as owner. The families of 32 Carnival Cruises passengers and crew likely do not feel the same. 

On Jan. 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia, a ship operated by Carnival-owned Costa Cruises, hit a reef off the coast of Italy. The collision opened a 160-foot gash on the side of the ship, and led to a nightmare for rescue operations as well as those trapped onboard. What was seemingly a captain error—Francesco Schettino said he turned off the GPS and tried to navigate by sight—had a darker, corporately mandated twist. Whereas ships would usually be further from the shore, and in turn the reef, Schettino claimed that Costa Cruises management ordered him to do a sail-past salute; essentially, they told him to bring the boat close to shore in order to salute those on land. Schettino later said at trial that he did the salute to wave at a former crewmate. Rescue operations began shortly after the sinking, but in the end, 32 people died: 27 passengers, five members of the crew, and one member of the salvage team.

Whatever the reason for the deadly crash of the Costa Concordia, one thing is undeniable: Arison was the figurehead leader of the entire cruise line, and therefore should have been the one to pay the consequences. He was, in fact, named as a defendant in a criminal complaint by the families of the passengers who died in the accident. That complaint laid the blame not on Schettino, but on the company, saying that salutes were encouraged because they kept passengers happy, therefore boosting profits, in theory. 

Carnival eventually settled with the victims, though that too was insulting. Passengers were entitled to $14,000 in recompense, while the loss of life liability for families of the deceased was reportedly capped at $75,000. The salvage operation, one of the biggest in history, cost magnitudes more than that. In the end, Arison lost a chunk of his fortune, which he would later gain back, because that’s how it works; by March 2018, Arison was up to an estimated net worth of $9.8 billion. That dropped precipitously thanks to the coronavirus pandemic; he is now worth only $6.1 billion.

In other words, Arison has taken a bigger financial hit from the stoppage, and slow return, of cruises due to the coronavirus pandemic than he ever did for the death of 32 people under his company’s watch. The Heat won two titles in the immediate aftermath of the sinking, and even a 2020 that reduced his fortune by a third still delivered a Heat Finals run that was one of the brighter spots of the NBA bubble.

As for Carnival, five Costa Cruises employees were charged with manslaughter, with the longest sentence eventually coming in at two years and 10 months, something the families found inadequate and which they tried to overturn. Arison stepped down as CEO a year later, just before the Heat went on their historic 27-game win streak. Success buys forgiveness, whether that’s in basketball or in life. He lost a cushy job at top of one of the world’s most famous entertainment brands, but that’s a small price to pay compared to what the victims lost.

The evasion of consequences probably did not surprise Arison himself. After all, he acquired his wealth by being part of an industry that has been fucked up for decades. In 2015, one writer in the New York Times called every cruise ship "a Vegas resort without any of the regulations" and another Times article four years later noted, "The cruise lines, all of them registered in foreign countries, do not observe the nation's labor laws, minimum wage law and many environmental and safety regulations."

Carnival, like its competitors, doesn't pay federal income tax. Prior to the global shutdowns due to the pandemic, the cruise industry played a big part in spreading the virus around. The Diamond Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, saw an outbreak of coronavirus in January and February 2020, after an 80-year-old patient brought it on board. By the time all passengers and crew disembarked following a lengthy quarantine on the ship, at least 712 positive cases had been identified out of 3,711 passengers.

While Arison created his fortune as part of an industry that is sketchy at best and criminal at worst, he has yet to face any real consequences for his role in it. Did his part in the Costa Concordia disaster affect his ownership of the Heat in any way? Beyond the titles, he still has a high standing in the league. Hell, Arison was even included as one of the owner representatives in the NBA's Social Justice Coalition Board this November—despite his record of donating to Republicans, who often use their power to block progress on social justice in the United States. As long as his team continues to win, and as long as he continues to spend to make that happen, Arison will continue to slide. Even fans of other teams probably only hate him because of the freedom he’s given Pat Riley to rebuild the team of the fly; if anyone is even aware of his role in the Costa Concordia disaster or of his voting record, it goes unsaid. Most things do when very rich men play with the world around them without consequences. 

Already a user?Log in

Welcome to Defector!

Sign up to read some more free blogs.

Or, click here to subscribe!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter