The Miami Marlins had to know, going into the 2013 season, that they were going to struggle with attendance. Season ticket purchases plummeted from 12,000 to 5,000. Fans complained about their front-row seating enough to not pay for their season ticket contracts. The Marlins had to figure these were just a few signs that the Fish would struggle in their second year at Marlins Park, thanks in large part to the dismantling of the 2012 club that occurred in November with the fire sale trade.
Sure enough, the Fish have struggled in attendance, as the Marlins are fourth-to-last in the league in average attendance in the second season of a new stadium. Given that new stadiums usually experience a bump in attendance for the first year or two, the Marlins' presence down at the bottom of the attendance list is a poor indicator of future success with the Miami fan base. It is also quite an embarrassing display to see wide swaths of open blue seats in the beautiful Marlins Park, resembling the ocean of orange one often saw at Sun Life Stadium during a Marlins game.
To rectify some of that and to make the stadium appear more cozy, the Marlins are going to a tradition they used to use in the old football stadium: tarping the upper bowl seats. The Fish plan to tarp over the upper bowl seats on some weekday games, perhaps with the thought that the move will make the seating seem more limited and increase demand by limiting supply.
The upper bowl will be closed for six dates during the team’s nine-game homestand that begins next Tuesday. Fans can sit only in the lower bowl for games May 14-16 against Cincinnati and May 20-22 against Philadelphia. The upper bowl will remain open for May17-19 games against Arizona.
Closing the upper bowl for some games "will give an overall better fan experience," [Marlins representative P.J. Loyello] said, adding from a standpoint of concessions, restrooms and other services, "it will be better for fans" than if they were scattered in a larger area.
This may very well be correct. The Marlins not only can shift appearances to make it look like the stadium is filling up nicely, thus appealing to viewers who want suddenly "limited" seating to the event. It also looks more aesthetically pleasing on television to see fans more closely bunched together. Finally, there are financial benefits for the team and convenience for the fans to have them closer together, thus eliminating the need to set up concessions, booths, and other vendors in the upper bowl. Not having to pay people to do those tasks should help on the bottom line as well.
On the surface, this seems like a natural move for the Marlins, and one they employed before. But in the past, the Fish played in what was originally a football stadium, so the capacity of Sun Life Stadium was extremely large compared to the fans showing up. The Marlins built the smallest full-capacity stadium in baseball in part because they knew they would need a cozier environment to appear full. Now, in just the second year of the stadium's existence, the Marlins are doing so badly in attendance that they are going to tarp off potentially 10,000 seats in a 37,000-seat stadium, leaving the park at a "full capacity" equal to the 16th-highest average attendance in baseball.
While it is a good move for the Marlins, it is a move that should not have happened. The Fish were struggling to draw last season in part because of the team's on-field performance. While it is arguable that the Marlins were failing to draw fans even before the trades, it is not debatable that this season, the Fish have done even worse, and that is in large part due to the hectic and depressing offseason the team had. This is a brand new park, and the fact that attendance has gotten bad enough to turn to a move like this is a saddening reality for the Marlins.
The worst part about it is that this will continue if the Marlins are as bad as this in the next few years. Attendance will dwindle and possibly reach early-2000's lows if the Fish continue to play poorly, as they likely will for at least one more year. The Marlins may have to turn tarping in future seasons too, and soon enough the Fish will be in the same boat they were in before 2012, trying to make the smallest stadium in baseball even smaller to accommodate a fan base that has once again become jaded about the Marlins. =