While any kind of deal would be years away, news broke Thursday that the Tampa Bay Rays have been granted permission to explore the possibility of splitting a home schedule with Montreal in the future.
Interestingly, several days prior, Montreal was voted as the preferred city for an MLB expansion by participants in the SB Nation FanPulse survey. (New surveys are sent out via email each week. Marlins fans, sign up HERE to join FanPulse.)
Details on this unorthodox two-city solution are still vague at this point. The mayor of St. Petersburg immediately voiced his displeasure and insisted that he won’t be cooperating with the exploratory process. John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times questions whether all of this commotion was simply intended to make the region “nervous and jealous” in the club’s quest for a publicly funded replacement for Tropicana Field.
Regardless, the headline alone may have alarmed some baseball fans in the south Florida area. The Rays are generally a decent team year-in, year-out and draw more fans than the Marlins. So if they are being compelled to consider even a partial relocation, then what does that mean for the Fish?
Well, this article is to put any fears to bed (for now).
Looking at the 2019 standings, the Marlins are a bad team with league-worst attendance figures (27-46, 9,378 fans per home game), and the Rays are a good team with their own attendance struggles (43-32, 14,546 fans per home game). The two franchises usually get lumped together because of the empty seats aesthetic, when in reality, their situations are very different.
MLB attendance Tuesday night in Florida: 12,193— Andy Slater (@AndySlater) May 29, 2019
That's for the Rays and Marlins combined.
For example, all seven World Series games that have been held in Miami to date have drawn over 65,000 at the gates. Whichever way you slice it, that is a lot of people at least mildly interested in watching the Marlins. The last time that Miami was seriously in the playoff hunt was 2009. On September 26 of that year, 35,666 people saw the Marlins beat the Mets 9-6 at home to move to within four games of the NL Wild Card at 83-72.
If you build a competitive team in Miami, people will pay to sit in the stands and watch (although there is no guarantee of a full return to form after multiple ownership betrayals).
On the other hand, the Rays have more to worry about. While they similarly almost sold out their home games during the 2008 World Series, only 15,154 showed up to see the Rays beat the Athletics (second Wild Card holders) on September 15 last season to improve their record to 81-66. The franchise is run competently from a baseball operations standpoint, yet financials remain a limitation.
Simply put, the Rays need a newer and better stadium than the Trop. The logistics are a nightmare for their fanbase, but a lease binds them together through the 2027 season.
The Marlins are rooted in Miami for the foreseeable future thanks to a beautiful and state-of-the-art home for the team that provides a fantastic in-seat experience for fans and families alike. As the team improves at the major league level, fewer and fewer people will find reasons to stay away. Leaving out the stadium's location—don't roast me Broward County residents; I am one of you—and the debate surrounding if/when the roof should be open, Marlins Park checks all the boxes.
While the future of the Rays is in turmoil, there is hope for the Marlins’ long-term success given the history of the market and the direction of the team. As the young talent the team is introducing night after night continues to improve, so will the attendance figures.
Miami loves baseball, but they love a winner even more. In the Marlins, they will have one soon.