Planning to go to the Marlins' home opener on April 8, as Miami kicks off yet another rebuilding year? The odds are: you're probably not. But the Marlins are doing whatever they can to get you in the ballpark: Half-off tickets through Groupon! Two-for-one deals! A free all-you-can-eat buffet! How about a competitive team? Sorry, the fine print says that's not available in 2013.
Despite positive reviews for Marlins Park, attendance proved an issue within weeks of its debut. As the season went on and the Fish fell out of contention, eventually blowing up the roster, fewer and fewer fans showed up. Paid attendance fell short of team projections by 500,000, or more than 6,000 fewer tickets sold per game than the front office predicted. "Turnstile" attendance, or the number of fans who actually came to the park, was 1.4 million—or about 17,000 a game, less than half the stadium's modest capacity and one of the worst figures in the league.
So the team has resorted to sales tactics usually only broken out for mid-season. Through Groupon, opening day box seats directly behind home plate are available for $45, with outfield seats just $20—each about half off face value. If you buy a ticket to opening day, you receive a free ticket for another April or May game. And that home opener, which usually doesn't need any more sweetening to get fans in the door, still qualifies as an "All You Can Eat Monday." Even if you have no interest in seeing the 2013 Marlins campaign get underway, at least come for the free and unlimited hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, nachos, and sodas. Please?
We know this now, one stadium boom (bubble?) later: the lesson of Camden Yards and Jacobs Field was not "if you build it, they would come." Baltimore and Cleveland packed their new ballparks because they fielded winning teams. So after Miami's offseason fire sale, it's no wonder the line for single-game Marlins tickets the day they went on sale was four people long.
And yet team president David Samson denies that it's about the on-field product. He says attendance starting flagging even before the Marlins began to lose. So what's left? An indictment of South Florida?
“I’m not going to say Miami is not a sports town,’’ he said. “Or that there is something wrong with the fans. I would never say that.”
Samson last year called Miamians stupid for funding the construction of Marlins Park. He's not wrong. A stadium that will cost the county billions through 2048 is already struggling, like every other Florida ballpark, to stay above water. The economic benefit to the community, like every stadium ever, is negligible. The Marlins aren't going to be good for years. But, hey: free hot dogs.