What makes Miami so special is it’s vibrant, diverse community inspired by an island culture available almost no where else in the United States. In their most successful form, the Miami Marlins should synthesize that culture into the way they package the team.
In the last few months, the sale of the Marlins has become imminent. Fixing the franchise, however, is much more difficult task.
Throughout their short lifespan as a member of Major League Baseball, arguably no team has lived more intensely than the Marlins. When they lose, they sell off all of their assets to start completely anew; when they win, they win championships (the Marlins have only been to the playoffs twice; they won the World Series both times).
So, what can $1.2 billion dollars buy?
The Marlins franchise comes with certain benefits that would be appealing to a new sports team owner. First, the Marlins’ stadium naming rights have yet to be sold; this means that the new owner would get to auction off the name of Marlins Park in exchange for a hefty annual sum (usually between $10-$20 million).
Additionally, the Marlins are lined up for another pay day as their T.V. deal with FoxSports Florida is set to expire; broadcasting rights are often the biggest source of revenue for a sports franchise. The renegotiation of this deal could net the new owners millions of dollars. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers recently sold their television rights to Time Warner for $8.3 billion over the span of 25 years. Finally, Miami’s status as the gateway to Latin America should (in theory) make the team popular amongst an international, non-traditional network of fans.
All things considered, the initial list of front-runners to purchase the team were concerning. The Bush and Romney families were among the first to show interest in acquiring the franchise. The families interest in purchasing the Marlins was probably for several reasons; but, most interestingly, both are seeking to purchase the team at least in part as a way to reconstruct their family’s image in light of the election of Donald Trump. These two parties would attempt to use the team as a conduit to reintroduce themselves to the greater South Florida area. Attempting to repackage the team as a way to turn a quick profit and gain some political capital for future endeavors is an unfair way to run a franchise. Marlins fans deserve better.
Luckily, the unmasking of a mystery third bidding group revealed that philanthropist and Miami native Jorge Mas was pursuing the team. Jorge Mas co-founded Mastech and the Neff Corporation— both of which are now publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Mas, a University of Miami School of Business trustee and chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, seems like a much more natural fit as the Marlins’ next owner.
Regardless of who takes over the team, the Marlins are anything but an easy rehabilitation project.
Reeling It In: The Reality
The Marlins and I are Irish Twins: born in the same city less than one year apart.
I was twelve years old when I traded my Florida Marlins hat for a Boston Red Sox one. I had never been to Boston and had no family from Boston — the furthest north I had ever been was West Virginia. I knew the Red Sox had a long, storied history and that they had fun players to watch.
I wasn’t always a fair weather fan. I felt that the Marlins must have not cared much about their fans after trading away much of the core of the 2003 World Series championship team. In what the team called a ‘market correction’ but the fans called a ‘firesale,’ more than a dozen Marlins were either traded for prospects or released back into the sea. This included some of the most popular players in the team’s history, Jeff ‘Mr. Marlin’ Conine, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez.
I also wasn’t the only fan who felt abandoned.
After the ‘market correction,’ the Marlins began to experience a precipitous drop in fan support. While National League attendance was trending positively, the Marlins’ game attendance average dropped 37% (from 22,792 per game to 14,384) in the season following the ‘market correction.’ Marlins attendance did not top 20,000 fans per game average again until seven years later, when they would open their own ballpark. The growth of the Marlins’ yearly revenue began to slow significantly; after an increase of $16,000,000 in revenue between 2004 and 2005, the Marlins would only experience yearly increases of only $1,000,000-$6,000,000 through 2011.
Despite this trend, the Marlins demanded their own (publicly financed) stadium on the gravesite of our beloved Orange Bowl. For years, Jeffrey Loria claimed he would move the team (at various points, he threatened to move to San Antonio, Texas and then to Las Vegas, Nevada) if they did not get their own stadium. A large contingent of fans were upset that Miami-Dade county contributed $500,000,000 to the construction of this stadium; and, because the county did not have the money immediately available, it had to borrow the assets with ridiculously high interest rates attached. The cost to the county will be over $1.1 billion.
While the goal was to engage with the same communities that the Orange Bowl once did, Marlins ticket prices jumped about 36% upon moving to the new stadium. In 2016, the Marlins had the tenth highest median ticket price per home game ($58); Marlins average ticket prices are tied with the New York Yankees and are more than the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. In a county were the median income is only $41,913 and 21% of citizens live below the federal poverty level, the Marlins have priced out a large quantity of prospective fans.
Whomever buys the Marlins has a lot of work to do.
Where We Stand
Miami’s passionate citizens will swoon over a winning team. Ultimately, that is where any new owner needs to begin. This is problematic because the Marlins appear as though they are on the brink of another fire-sale.
For years, the Marlins have been one of the best homegrown talent producers in professional baseball. That model needs to continue for the Marlins. The few times that Loria’s Marlins have acted like the New York Yankees — in the respect that they went out and spent hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency — they have regretted it and were forced to sell those players off like distressed assets.
The Marlins need to actually follow through on their attempts to engage with the community around the stadium and in Little Havana. The price of season ticket packages needs to drop significantly; while single game tickets are nice, sports teams need to make it affordable enough for families to frequent Marlins games in the same way families frequent the movie theatre. Season ticket holders guarantee a certain amount of seats will be sold every single night, a welcome occurrence for any live performance event, especially one that otherwise will not sell out.
Finally, and because politicians appear apt to take over the team, the Marlins need to be focused on making sure that the ownership doesn’t attempt to commandeer the baseball operations of the team. When sports owners micromanage their teams, it never seems to end up working out well; fans want to feel that the team isn’t just some rich guy’s hobby or a politicians attempt to stay relevant.
I wholeheartedly reject the notion that Miami is not a sports town. Historically, the Miami Hurricanes football team proved that South Florida could function as the epicenter for a sport; recently, the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’ era confirmed this as well. Regardless of what era it is, Miami is a beautiful, sun-kissed city flavored by a rich mix of Latin and Caribbean culture; if the next owner can find a way to intertwine a successful sports franchise with what Miami has to offer, the Marlins could become as recognizable as the U.