This article headline references a hypothetical scenario posed by ESPN’s Buster Olney on Monday afternoon:
The most significant question at the end of the Marlins' rebuilding process will be whether they'll have a baseball market to which they can sell their product. Repeated sell-offs and the 1994-95 strike killed the Expos; time will tell whether that happens in Miami.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 18, 2017
Olney draws a parallel between the Miami Marlins and Montreal Expos. He wonders if South Florida’s appetite for baseball will wither much like it did in Quebec, forcing what was the most recent instance of MLB franchise relocation.
Proving himself to be a diligent and insightful journalist through the decades, Olney has earned our respect. That being said, his tweet demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the market (and the mentality of many Fish Stripes readers).
The Sunshine State loves baseball, in part, because it plays baseball. Floridians debuted in the major leagues more than a century ago, and their prevalence has only grown since then. There have been 530 such players, according to Baseball-Reference, the 9th-highest total of any U.S. state. These scrubs, starters and Hall of Famers combine for 197 career All-Star selections (5th-most).
Specifically, Andre Dawson was born and raised in South Florida. So were many of the brightest stars in the sport today—Anthony Rizzo, J.D. Martinez, Manny Machado, etc. Alex Rodriguez spent his formative years there after previous residences in New York and the Dominican Republic.
But this diverse region has fans eager to devote themselves to international talent, too.
Los cubanos. Los dominicanos. Los venezolanos. Los puertorriqueños. All of these Miamians see their cultures well represented across the big leagues, and they don’t shy away from expressing support. Their enthusiasm is on full display every four years during the World Baseball Classic, including the most recent tournament, as documented by the Miami Herald.
Meanwhile, Olney’s concerns about the viability of the Marlins franchise are very legitimate. Previous ownership operated deep in the red before selling to the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter group.
And potential revenue streams to ease their considerable debt do not look promising. The club finished dead last in the National League in average attendance during the 2017 season (20,295 per game). Same story in each of the previous four campaigns, and that’s a reasonable expectation for next summer as well. They can’t even seal a deal for the Marlins Park naming rights. Fish fans can be found as far west as British Columbia and several continents to the east in Israel, but overall, there’s a limited demand for merchandise internationally.
The cherry on top of this dirt sundae? Miami’s existing regional television deal with FOX Sports Florida—which expires in 2020 (h/t Craig Davis, Sun Sentinel)—pays out poorly.
Rewind a few years and you’ll be reminded that the then-Florida Marlins were once industry leaders when it came to crowd size. Their 65,880 average attendance during home games of the 2003 World Series hasn’t been challenged by any MLB team in a regular or postseason matchup since. Prior to that, the 1997 Fall Classic attracted 67,000-plus to Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at Pro Player Stadium.
Perhaps a few thousand of those patrons were West Palm Beach retirees who have since passed on. A more significant chunk are still avid baseball addicts, estranged from the Marlins because they can only tolerate so much embarrassment.
Losing is a reality of competition, but their pain runs much deeper. From Wayne Huizenga to John Henry to Jeffrey Loria to Sherman/Jeter, there’s been a tradition of owners showing callous disregard for the interests of their consumers.
The most revered figures in franchise history are treated as disposable. The simplest of activities deteriorate into PR nightmares. Tuesday night’s “town hall meeting” with a limited number of season ticket holders is the latest in a series of hollow gestures designed to build trust.
But ya know what? Despite all the past ugliness, a route to redemption is realistic. It’s far too soon to evaluate the new regime. Operating the Marlins with a modicum of consistency and compassion would begin changing some minds; the smallest flirtation with real championship contention could lure a new generation.
For the holiday season, we cherish products that stay in one piece for a while. Fans don’t owe their loyalty—or their financial contributions—to any team that falls short of that basic standard.