Can Marketing Help the Florida Marlins?

Dolphins Stadium - Marlins game attendance

Who called in the bomb scare at Dolphin Stadium yesterday? No one, and that’s what sad. It was reported that only about 400 people attended the FL Marlins v. Washington Nationals game on 9/12/07. This shot of the stadium seems to show even less.

Granted they are in no danger of making the playoffs, but what has happened to this club? They have a couple World Series appearances and have had some good players on the field. So where do they go from here? And more importantly, can marketing help?

If you were in charge of marketing for this team, what would you do next season to get seats in the seats?

6 responses to “Can Marketing Help the Florida Marlins?

  1. Very well said (written), Henry. One of my biggest gripes with all the people who insist baseball won’t work here is that they look at the small crowds instead of picking apart the reasons for the small crowds. We need a baseball stadium, and we need to be assured that the Marlins are staying in South Florida. I’m one of the fans who has committed to the team regardless of the crap, but there aren’t very many like me.

    But to answer JJ’s question, NO, that is not what it will be like the rest of the season. That crowd of 375 or so was freakish. I think it was a bad decision to hold it on a weekday afternoon, regardless of the holiday (incidentally, the Mets, Dodgers, Giants and WhiteSox all had their home games after 7:00PM). Had the game been at night, it probably would have drawn the same as Monday and Tuesday nights (a few thousand at very least). Come on– school just started, and people are at work. Who can go to a Wednesday afternoon game in the middle of September? I mean, it’s not like fans are going to use a vacation day or call in sick to go watch the Marlins and Nats (worst teams in the NL East) in that horrific weather.

    I have been to games with 30K and 40K+ people in the stands, but usually when I am there, the crowds are between 10 & 15,000 (I’m normally there on weeknights). And when certain teams are in town, crowds are up in the 20K’s. I know the tiny Wednesday crowd makes for good news and good comedy, but that is not the game that should be used as a scale for Marlins attendance.


  2. OK. I’m back. Here’s the thing with the Marlins. You can’t look at an empty stadium in mid september and draw any reasonable conclusions from that one piece of data. As with any marketing client, you’d have to look at the history and the heritage and the external factors. I’m going to give you a brief summary of that and you can evaluate whether this is a product problem, a communications problem, or if baseball is just a bust in South Florida.

    Baseball and South Florida have been like two star-crossed lovers.

    The Marlins began play in 1993 and you can imagine that it was with much fanfare. The team was terrible but the product was new. It was new love.

    In 1994 the Marlins were once again terrible but more importantly, the season was stopped because of a player strike. Let’s not forget that the world series was not played that year and that the situation was not resolved until right before the 1995 season. Baseball attendance ACROSS THE COUNTRY went down. The game was in bad shape.

    For the 1996 season the owner of the Marlins acquired several new players and the team on the field was legitimate for the first time.

    In 1997, baseball introduced interleague play. This was one of the many things baseball implemented to try to regain popularity. But in Miami, on the eve of the Marlins first-ever interleague series, the team’s owner announced that the team was for sale because baseball was not a profitable business unless the the Marlins could get a publicly funded stadium of there own. On the that day a cloud was placed over the franchise that remains to this day. The uncertainty about whether we would even have a team any more. On the field, things went the Marlins way and the players that the team had acquired over the previous 2 seasons were a formidable group. The won the wild card, the league championship and then the World series. When asked if he still wanted to sell the club, H. Wayne Huizenga said essentially “no comment.”

    Before the start of 1998 season the entire Marlins squad was sold off one player at a time. There would be no victory lap, no chance to defend the championship. The Marlins went from first to worst during the year that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire were breathing life back into the sport. The ill will that the Marlins had created in that fire sale of players would last for years. The team’s “brand health” was in decline while that of the league was improving.

    Huizenga finally sold the Marlins to John Henry. Henry said that if he couldn’t get public funds to build a stadium that he would finance it himself. He lied. By the time he sold the club before the 2002 season, he had created his fair amount of ill will. He had reached the same conclusion that without a news baseball only stadium that baseball could not survive in south florida. And since it seemed that no stadium was coming, most fans simply did not believe that the team would be around any longer. It’s hard to get committed to a team when you think that any day now they will back up the mayflower trucks and get out of town like a thief in the night (see Baltimore Colts).

    The background of the Marlins third owner didn’t help. He had been the owner of the Montreal expos and was known as a cheapskate. He was being accused by his partners of defrauding them out of their share of the Expos. He needed financial help from MLB to trade in the Expos for the Marlins and MLB took the unprecedented step of acquiring a club.

    It looked like more of the same for the Marlins. Except that they caught lighting in a bottle and once again won the wild card, the pennant and the world series in 2003.

    This time around the team was kept largely together for the following year with a couple of notable exceptions like Pudge Rodriguez who took a big deal with the Tigers. The Marlins tried to cash in on the good will they had just regained by lobbying for a publicly financed stadium. Again the politicians failed to come through. Before the 2006 season the team was once again disassembled and the pieces were sold for scrap. Also there was a well publicized tour of different suitor cities by the owner and his step-son, the club’s president (Las Vegas, San Antonio, Portland, etc.). Again Marlin fans had to ask themselves if the end of baseball in south florida was near.

    So it’s been a complicated and checkered past for baseball in south florida. This brand has a lot baggage and there is a perception of unreliability. As any marketer knows changing perceptions requires time and money. And at the end of the day the product has to be good.

    In conclusion it’s easy to cast stones and say that 400 people at a ball game is unacceptable but walk a mile in those cheap ass shoes blistering shoes before you judge how poorly Marlins fans walk the walk.

    PS: The reality is that the Marlins do need a new baseball only stadium with a retractable roof that is located closer to the population center. The current stadium is cavernous, uncomfortable with poor site lines down the 1st and third base lines. The further you go down those lines the worse it is because the stadium is rectangular. Imagine having to turn your entire body 45 degrees to see home plate in fixed stadium chair for 3 hours.

    Also summers in south florida mean rain. It is not uncommon for it to rain every day for weeks at a time. It showers and then stops. Most of the time this does not affect the game but it always looks like it could rain. Many fans are discouraged if it looks a little gray where they are even if it’s sunny near the stadium. You never know. A dome adds an element of certainty. Baseball will be played without delay and you won’t get wet.

    The location of the stadium is also problematic because it is equidistant to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. This a blessing for football which is playe 8 times a year on Sundays. For baseball it’s curse. You are not close to either population center and if you live south of the stadium you get caught in the rush hour pattern of commuters leaving Dade county to return to their broward county homes. Remember that 2/3 of all baseball games are played on week nights. And imagine getting home at 11:00 PM on a school night after a 45 minute commute. Just to do it again the next day.

    These are very real concerns that need to be addressed. Fans need to first be reassured that baseball is not leaving. That means we need to see a ground breaking on a new ballpark. I believe that once that ballpark is built that the cloud that has been over the franchise since 1997 will finally disperse. Then we can evaluate whether or not baseball can survive in our area.


  3. FIrst of all you are talking about a day game during the school year on a Jewish High Holy Day. In addition to the fact that it is the Marlins and the Nationals. Two teams which your rightly point out are not playing for anything at this point. Also throw in 95 degree weather with 95% humidity and a 40% chance of rain and there are very few reasons to be at the ballpark.

    I have my ideas and will share them…

    After work.

    I work in marketing too.


  4. I wrote a piece a couple of years back called “Fleeing Fish” about the Florida Marlins for MLN Sports Zone GameFish is missing the game. Here is the deal: The Marlins need to be within driving distance of people with the means to buy season tickets and drive to between 15 and 85 games a season.

    Unlike Boston or New York, which have great mass transit and are relatively compact, the Marlins are playing in a vast suburban sprawl that has some really poor freeway systems. You can get stuck in Southbound Miami traffic for hours just with ther regular rush hour. Dolphin Stadium was really built for an 18 game schedule, not a baseball season. The Marlins best hope would be somewhere out on the Sawgrass, which puts them in range of multi-million dollar homes in Lauderdale, Palm Beach County, and in contact with the regular baseball goers from Hialeah and that side of the Greater Miami area.

    Instead, the Fish are going after what is politically easier money: They already have deals for financing in place with Miami Dade, and don’t have to coax the Broward politicos into subsidizing a stadium (Difficult as they’ve already committed to an Orioles Spring Training rebuild in Lauderdale).

    The downside is that the stadium locations by the Orange Bowl or Downtown work great for other sports, but don’t fit the high-game draw that the Marlins will have to be to succeed. There is no commitment to build the mass-transit infrastructure to get fans from Palm Beach to Homestead and Hialeah into the games on a regular basis.

    Then there’s the other side of the coin. It is a HUGE black eye to MLB to fail in a market that has so much money swirling around, and has willing paying fans in areas just outside of the reach of the club. Contract and they lose HUGE face with every other major league sport.

    If you read my article, moving is difficult too. Vegas, with Mayor Oscar Robertson’s delusions of grandeur aside, is not going to happen. Nor is San Antonio, which can’t support the Class-AA Missions. The real deal towns are the ones drawing in the biggest crowds in the Triple-A minors. They are: Sacramento and Memphis. The only other real option is Indianpolis, which lacks baseball as its only major league sport not found in the sports capital of the Midwest. They wouldn’t be interested for years, because they’re capitalizing stadium improvements for the Colts right now.

    The biggest problem for the FISH in this damned whatever you do scenario is that they have management that has the unique ability to shoot itself in the foot with the fans whenever possible.

    They threaten to leave town, then run a billboard campaign “Create A Memory.” They invite season ticket holders to an autograph session one spring, then forget to tell the team and Jack lets all of the players go home before 2500 people are scheduled to show up.

    To take on GameFish, they have a great team, and they’ve had great teams, including more World Series champions than any other expansion franchise in history. That doesn’t mean Jack.

    They need a site that connects them to money in Coral Springs and Boca and Weston and Palm Beach and Lauderdale.

    For my two cents? They should emmient domain the bazillionth private airport next to the Orioles Spring facility, build a major league stadium there, add a Tri-Rail stop improvement and some light rail to the park, and let the Orioles use it for their spring, and the Marlins for the rest of the season. One ballpark, and everyone is near tourists, hotels, locals, and millions of dollars of disposable income. Everyone is happy.

    Of course, that is waaaay too progressive. You can count on one thing: Whatever the Marlins do, there will be a loaded gun aimed squarely at their feet, and if history is an indicator, it will be their hands on the trigger.


  5. It is true that a lot of different factors were playing in here. Is this what it’s gonna be like for the rest of the season? If you were the marketing director there, what would you propose? And what was the 7th inning stretch like?


  6. The issue here really isn’t marketing. People are not going to support the Marlins fully until 1)they have a baseball stadium 2) fans can be sure that the Fish are staying in South Florida, and 3)they put a competitive team on the field, and can sign our star players long-term. It’s just how these fans are. Until the problems with the product are fixed, no amount of marketing will take care of the attendance issue.

    In reference to Wednesday, everyone was at work and school. That is not the norm for attendance. When a team is struggling to draw, that scheduling was just asking for empty seats. Holiday or not.