I had already been contemplating this topic over the past week. When several members of the Fish Stripes staff independently mentioned it in our group chat on Wednesday, I knew it merited an article on the website.
For most of Florida/Miami Marlins history, typical weekday home games (excluding travel-related “getaway day” matinees) have begun during the seven o’clock hour. In 2008, they landed on 7:10 p.m. as the precise first-pitch time and stuck with that for more than a decade.
Entering the 2020 season, the Marlins broke with tradition. Weekday home games in April, May and September were bumped up to 6:40 p.m.
Here’s how then-CEO Derek Jeter explained this decision (h/t Jordan McPherson, Miami Herald):
I think it’s consistent with what we’ve done since last season, listening to our fan base. We wanted to make sure that we accommodate some of those fans that said they’d like to come straight from work to the ballpark and some that said they’d like to get home a little bit earlier. There’s been a few teams in Major League Baseball around the league that have done the same thing, so we’re going to test it out and see how it is, but it all comes from the feedback.
You hope it helps increase attendance. We’ve invested in affordability from our ownership. We want this to be an option for South Florida. It needs to be an affordable entertainment option and also, when you talk about attendance, we have never shied away from it...We need to increase the attendance numbers here. There’s been some games, especially last weekend [August 10, 2019], where we had close to 30,000 people in here and you just see the energy level. I’m just talking from a player’s standpoint. When you have that many people in here, it makes it a whole lot easier to play and I think our players are very vocal about that. Look: We’re still trying to develop trust. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we’ve seen a steady increase in our attendance numbers throughout the year, especially from June to July I think our attendance numbers increased like 15 percent, so we’ve still got a long way to go, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But I like to think we’re heading in the right direction.
Initially, the start time’s impact on attendance was impossible to gauge due to the COVID pandemic. No fans were allowed during the 2020 regular season and there were strict health-and-safety restrictions in place for the majority of 2021.
In 2022, 6:40 p.m. became the new norm for all of Miami’s Monday-Friday home games. Jeter parted ways with the organization before getting to see how his experiment panned out, but he would not have been pleased with the results. The Marlins ranked second-to-last among MLB teams with average home crowds of 11,204 patrons. Ignoring a lockout-related, day/night doubleheader against the Texas Rangers, the eight worst-attended Marlins home games were all 6:40 p.m. games. And anecdotally, those are late-arriving crowds—rush-hour traffic surrounding LoanDepot Park has prevented some paying customers from getting their full money’s worth.
Jeter mentioned that fans’ desire “to get home a little bit earlier” was part of the calculus. When the 6:40 p.m. idea was conceived (in 2019), Marlins games averaged three hours and six minutes in length. They were using 9:46 p.m. as their final out target. But thanks to the implementation of the pitch clock and other pace-of-play initiatives, Marlins games through the first couple weeks of this season are taking two hours and 35 minutes. The math works out almost perfectly: a Marlins game that begins at 7:10 p.m. under current rules concludes at approximately 9:45 p.m.
If the Marlins ever become a legitimate championship contender, people will make their home games a priority. Winning on the field would change everything. However, these logistical details can make a subtle difference, too.
How should the Marlins adapt their scheduling practices to suit MLB’s new reality?
What’s the ideal start time for Marlins weekday home games?
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