Early Danger Signs For The Marlins?

Originally published May 14th, 2012

Marlins Park opened up, and rightfully so, to enthusiastic fan fare and a match-up with last year’s World Series Champions, the St Louis Cardinals.  The stands were packed, and even the exhibition series days before was a hot ticket, not that having them play the New York Yankees hurt any at the gate.  It’s everything you’d expect from a new ballpark.  Fans are going to flock to the park to see the sights and taste what the new home has to offer.  What’s been surprising, however, is watching attendance drop barely a month into the season.

The Miami Marlins rank 14th in Major League Baseball for home attendance YTD.  At 30,502 fans a game, Miami falls well behind traditional power houses like the Phillies and the Yankees.  Teams like the Texas Rangers are 2nd in MLB at over 43,000 fans a game.  It’s been exciting to watch a team like the Rangers be completely revitalized by a winning culture and an exciting team.  What’s odd is to see teams like Milwaukee at 9th — You would expect that losing your #1 player to free agency would have a bigger impact on attendance, but the Brewers are still drawing strong.  With the way the Denver Nuggets performed in the regular and post season, you would think that a team like the Rockies might see a dip, but they’re ahead of the Marlins too.  If the Marlin’s home attendance and lack of sellouts wasn’t surprising enough here are two other things to consider:

  • 9 of the 13 teams ahead of the Marlins in average attendance have worse records season-to-date.
  • The Marlins road attendance is less than 500 fans a game difference than their home attendance.

What is happening in Miami?

I wrote about the attendance struggles in Tampa Bay in a previous post,  but Miami is technically a “winning franchise”.  The Marlins have won two World Series.  They spent a load of money in the offseason.  They overhauled their image on the field and in the community too, but it’s not catching on.  At 30,502 fans a game, Miami is trending to have their third best attendance in the history of the franchise.  With a record payroll of $118 million, a winning manager, a new look and attitude, and oh yeah, a new ballpark, the third highest attendance in the history of hte franchise is clearly a disappointment.

So what’s the breakdown?

I think the Marlin’s #1 breakdown falls on the team’s owner and front office.  The team won the World Series in 1997, then blew it up.  They won again in 2003, then went thru a payroll “Market Correction”.  The front office failed to field a competitive team and pulled up lame like a horse during a race.  Jeffrey Loria was content to bury the team in mediocrity while Marlins’ Stadium was built.  It’s realizing that the Florida Marlins had the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball 3 of the last 5 years (and here you probably thought it was Oakland).  It’s realizing that Florida ranked 30th in MLB attendance 3 of the last 6 years, and has failed to rank higher than 26th in MLB attendance since 2001.  Fool me once… fool me twice…  How can the Marlins expect fan loyalty when they haven’t been loyal to the fans.  It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take wins, for the team to earn back that trust they’ve lost since 2004.

I think the bigger question isn’t what the breakdown is in Miami’s attendance, it’s how was Miami approved for a new ballpark in the first place?  It’s frustrating as a baseball fan to watch owners be allowed to tank seasons at a time while other teams compete.  We’ve watched it in Oakland, we’ve watched it in Miami.  Miami got their park for failing.  How is that OK?  Oakland has been pushing for their park too.  I have two words for Oakland — And it’s two words that the city of Miami should have demanded to hear from the Marlins before building their park:  Earn it.

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