For their first 21 seasons, the Miami Dolphins played at the Orange Bowl. Team founder Joe Robbie explained what led to the decision to build a new stadium: "In 1976, the city of Miami wanted to quadruple our rent. That did it. I began thinking in earnest about building a stadium." What made the construction of the stadium truly unique was that it was the first multipurpose stadium ever built in the United States that was entirely privately financed.
Robbie also believed it was only a matter of time before a Major League Baseball (MLB) team came to South Florida. At his request, the stadium was built in a rectangular configuration, with a field that was somewhat wider than was normally the case for an NFL stadium. The wide field also made it fairly easy to convert the stadium for soccer. Because of this design decision, the first row of seats was 90 ft (27 m) from the sideline in a football configuration, considerably more distant than the first row of seats in most football stadiums (the closest seats at the new Soldier Field, for instance, are 55 ft (17 m) from the sideline at the 50-yard line). This resulted in a less intimate venue for football compared to other football facilities built around this time, as well as to the Orange Bowl.
At the time it opened in 1987, Joe Robbie Stadium was located in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, and had a Miami address. Specifically it was in the Scott Lake census-designated place. Today, it is located in the city of Miami Gardens, which was incorporated on May 13, 2003.