The Marlins have had an attendance problem for the majority of their existence. Some peers—irresponsibly—extrapolate the numbers to criticize the loyalty and fanbase quality of South Florida as a whole. Regardless, we can agree on the obvious: the crowd size at home games is not sufficient for a franchise aiming to contend long term and entertain. And yet, while finishing dead last in Major League Baseball in 2019 attendance, we find encouraging signs.
Two points should be made to preface this discussion:
- Due to revenue sharing, attendance is no longer the primary piece of the profit pie chart it once was.
- The Marlins are one of the few professional sports organizations that report true attendance rates (without inflation or no-show tickets).
2018 Total Attendance: 811,104 (10,014 average)
2019 Total Attendance: 811,302 (10,016 average)
For a team that many predicted would regress in attendance due to a lack of established stars and super-low expectations, the 2019 Marlins ended up bringing in more fans to Marlins Park than their predecessors. At this point in a rebuild, the Marlins are only competing against themselves, so any increase is welcomed. While I can guarantee that no one in the front office is popping champagne over an extra 198 fans, there are three factors in play that add more value to this increase.
We begin by recalling that the 2018 Miami Marlins had the luxury of three prime series, hosting the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs (Opening Series). Those three series collectively pulled in 145,923 fans. Three series alone accounted for 18% of the 2018 total attendance.
The 2019 schedule-makers were not as kind—no premier series made their way to Marlins Park. Opponents lacking the tradition and aura of NYY, BOS, and CHC predictably failed to draw in the same volume of transplants or traveling fans.
Secondly, the honeymoon period from the stadium renovations quickly faded as the hometown team started the year at 10-31. Marlins Park could be as beautiful as any other modern facility in the league, but the casual fan is highly unlikely to turn out for that abominable early-season on-field product. One may wonder what the Marlins attendance would have been if they had played well—similar to their midseason run—out of the gates.
Lastly, there was not a single player on the team you could comfortably purchase a ticket for, with sole intention of watching them. In 2018, the Marlins still had J.T. Realmuto, and the promise of seeing the best catcher in baseball on any given night was present. There’s little doubt the young talent provided some highlight evenings at the park, but for the most part, it felt like feast or famine. You could spend $50 on a complete-game outing by Sandy Alcantara and an Isan Díaz three-run homer...or the home team may be down 7-0 by the bottom of the second. It was safer to bet on the U.S. economy.
The franchise cannot—and does not—blame fans for watching from their couches. And yet, even with those three factors in play (no marquee series, 10-31 start, and no superstars), the Miami Marlins attendance yielded a slight increase. This is promising.
Another facet to consider: as addressed earlier, Forbes reported that the 2018 Miami Marlins attendance remained roughly flat (true attendance, not reported attendance). Meaning that with the 2019 increase over 2018, the ‘19 Miami Marlins outdrew the ‘17 Miami Marlins. Brian Anderson, Harold Ramirez, and the young pitching staff had more people in the seats than eventual NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and the previous core. If that’s not a silver lining in future outlook, then what is?
Regardless of the positives in 2019, the Marlins attendance needs to continue climbing. There’s no secret in that sentence. A beautiful modern stadium, affordable season ticket and individual ticket prices, upgraded concessions, and community involvement all help.
But we all know the solution in Miami...win!
The previous core didn’t come close, but they also didn’t have the upcoming reinforcement of the current group or a proven plan in place. The Fish are in Miami to stay; let’s hope it involves winning sooner rather than later. And that when the win column starts filling up, so are the butts in the ocean blue seats.