Monday, December 10, 2007

It's a good thing Lebatard can write

Dan LeBatard has a truly weird view of economics. In this morning's Miami Herald, he wrote a column defending the Marlins ownership, saying in so many words that they shouldn't spend any money unless people start coming to the games.

Now, use the same logic for any other form of popular entertainment: if you're as movie producer, you shouldn't start work on that movie until after you've sold enough tickets to assure that you will make money. If you're a popular musician, don't agree to do a concert until enough tickets have been sold to assure that you will.

Of course, there is another fundamental flaw in his logic: most of the revenue that any professional football, baseball or basketball team generates comes from sources other than live attendance at the event. It comes from TV, radio, and now (in the case of baseball) advanced media like XM radio or subscriptions to The Marlins are in fact profitable--probably the most profitable franchise in baseball, although that is open to reasonable doubt, because the owners lie about their finances. No one--NO ONE!--claims that the Marlins are losing money or have lost money in the last few years. Nor does anyone claim that they have been investing wisely to build the market for their product.

The Marlins face several very specific marketing problems. 
First, in common everyday language, we use the expression once bitten twice shy. With the trade of Cabrera and Willis, baseball fans in south florida are now (arithmetically speaking) three times bitten, and therefore considerably more than twice shy.

Second, the Marlins bad mouth their home, whine about how they need a new home, and want someone else to pay for it. That is not a pitch likely to entice anyone out to the ball park. Nobody likes a whiner. (Memo to Samson: Dave it's winners, not whiners that everyone loves.)

Third, the Marlins have shown that they are unwilling to build a team that will compete year after year. They put together a winner occasionally, but they break up that team just as people are beginning to get to know it, and the rest of the time they are close to the bottom of the barrel. That's a very good strategy to enhance profitablility (in effect, they make a few marginal additions to the roster when they are competitive, rather than signing players they know are good to long-term, high cost contracts),  but not to enhance the fan base. People figure that they'll get interested again when in a few years when the Marlins are competitive ... 

These are actually not very unusual problems for a business to have.  Unfortunately, we have every reason to think that the current Marlins ownership is not up to the challenge of solving them. But that is hardly their customers's fault.

No comments: