Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Marlins attendance -- a rant against pols, fans and an owner

    Sports Illustrated is blaming the Marlins for being responsible for 44 percent of the drop in Major League ticket sales this year. The Herald's Doug Hanks, an expert numbers cruncher, says it's more like 21 percent.
    In fact, there's been a huge drop this year -- and last year's ticket sales were disappointing. Loria says the poor attendance last year was a reason that he had to dump his recently acquired stars, which has led to even worse attendance this  year.
    So blame the fans? Yes and no. Attendance last year was 2.2 million -- a huge increase for Marlins but disappointing for a brand new ballpark. Many teams sell out their first year in a new park, buoyed by a wave of excitement.
      Truth is, Florida is a tough state for sports teams. The Tampa Bay Rays draw mediocre crowds and they have smart management and a competitive team in a tough division. Miamians like to show up for superstars and winners -- the Heat playoff tickets are going for huge amounts, we're told. But during the regular season, it was easy to buy seats for the world champ Heat and the game's MVP.
    Contrary to many voters in Miami, I believe governments have a role to play in building sports arenas -- a creation of civic pride in a big-league city.
    That being said, just about everything else in the Marlins Park deal was utterly stupid -- like so many things in this city. Fumbling, compromising politicians were dealing with a carpetbagger owner who didn't understand the city or its logistics.
    Major League Baseball wanted a ballpark downtown. They had picked out a spot near Metrorail and the Government Center. Pols nixed that deal. The Marlins looked at Bicentennial Park -- walled off by fences so that the homeless (and the public) couldn't use it. A ballpark on that site let to a big uproar in the media because the green space was much needed  -- an uproar not heard later when it was decided to take away the green space for two museums.
    So the pols and Marlins compromised on the Orange Bowl site. That was a huge mistake. It wasn't near public transportation. It was an awkward drive from the Interstate. There were big parking problems. But the land was available. So it was one of those compromises -- like Metrorail, which has a route designed by pols in the 1980s to appeal to voters, not on what was best for people's commutes and transit needs.
    I hear Broward residents talk about going to the Orange Bowl site as if they were entering an Iraq war zone. Some people in Dade consider it "inner city." Well, that's a stupid impresssion, best left for another time. Let me just say that I park on the street (for free) about four, five blocks from the park and haven't had any security issues.
    Contrast Marlins Park with Target Field in Minneapolis -- put together with various government funds. With careful urban planning, it  was shoe-horned into the heart of the city. There's a very close connection to the Interstate for those who drive, and at night and on weekends, there is a large supply of nearby parking used by office buildings during weekdays. What's more, there's a light rail that goes right past the ballpark.
    And in the Upper Midwest, people love their baseball -- even a poor performing Twins. They essentially sold out the 39,000-seat park the first year and a half (I tried to get tickets on a Thursday night late in first season and couldn't.) They flood downtown restaurants and help accentuate an already vibrant downtown (something Miami still struggles with).
    Camden Yards is another great park in a great location. I went to a late Saturday afternoon game there, and afterward thousands flooded out into the shops and restaurants of the downtown harbor area.
    The Marlins location shows no coordinated urban planning, no strong will to make the city a better place -- and baseball fans (and team owners) are stuck with it for decades to come. My only hope is that over time, like Wrigleyville, the area will grow up around the ball park.
    Last year, Marlins attendance had dipped to 23,539 (in a 36,742-seat park) by the fourth game, according to And  attendance got worse as the team stumbled. Loria, who had spent a ton of money last year putting together a mediocre team, was enraged -- and sold off the stars. And attendance this year is abysmal.
    After Tuesday's losss to the Phillies, the 2013 Marlins are now 16-43. The 1962 Mets, who set the record for losses in a season, had that same record.

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