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It's sink or swim for spendthrift Marlins
The Miami Marlins are making a splash at baseball's winter meetings.
They better be careful that they don’t drown in the backflow.
With a new name — Miami instead of Florida — and a new stadium, which includes a roof to avoid the rain-soaked delays that have been a headache since the franchise’s inception in 1993, the Marlins are trying an old trick to stimulate what has been a mundane fan base.
They are trying to buy loyalty from their fans by making glitzy additions that began with hiring manager Ozzie Guillen, and have continued with the Marlins signing free agent closer Heath Bell and shortstop Jose Reyes. What's more, they are battling St. Louis in the effort to sign free agent Albert Pujols.
Talk about a spending spree: If the Marlins were to induce Pujols to leave the Cardinals with a 10-year offer they put on the table, they would have spent more than $320 million on long-term deals for those three free agents. That’s more money they their combined Opening Day payrolls of the past eight seasons.
It’s all about flash.
In baseball, however, that doesn’t often help with a team’s cash.
Just like in real life, impulse buying creates financial ruin.
The intention is great. The Marlins feel they will have an attraction with their new park, and their intent is to create enough of a buzz about the team they put on the field to create excitement among their fans, who have showed indifference, at best, to the franchise over the years.
They want to tap into the Latin community of South Florida with the additions of Guillen, Reyes and Pujols. They want to create a destination location at their new park, which is built on the site of the old Orange Bowl, which has been anything but a place to be seen in the past few decades.
The reality is concerning.
History says South Florida residents are indifferent to the Marlins, and even success has not created interest. In their fifth year of existence, the Marlins tried to buy the loyalty of their fans. They went on a free-agent spending spree in building a roster that Jim Leyland guided to the 1997 World Series championship.
The Marlins didn’t even sell out their postseason home games. The ledger was so covered in red that then-owner H. Wayne Huizenga had ordered a fire sale before the championship parade through south Florida was even completed.
Six years later, the Marlins again won a World Series. This time owner Jeffrey Loria, who still owns the team, tried to create an allegiance among the fans by working to keep the nucleus of that championship team in place.
It didn’t matter. The South Florida fan base never materialized.
The stadium became the scapegoat. It was located in the middle of nowhere. The regular rains of summer caused lengthy delays, if not postponements, and kept fans from making the trip to the ballpark. And the surrounding neighborhood wasn’t middle class enough to provide that day-to-day revenue generation that is vital to a baseball team’s financial success.
So the Marlins battled one political obstacle after another in the search for a new ballpark before finally being forced into that Orange Bowl location. The folks in Broward County, which houses Fort Lauderdale, turned their back on the Marlins. Talk about a park on Biscayne Bay was met with no support. And after setbacks with a handful of other proposals, the Marlins finally agreed to the Orange Bowl locale.
Like it really matters. Concerns about the stadium were an excuse, not a reason, for the empty seats the Marlins have learned to live with.
It brings back memories of the early years in Seattle. Baseball moaned about the horrors of the Kingdome, which in addition to a bleak atmosphere also had scaled-down dimensions that were done without the Mariners’ knowledge by contractors looking to save money. Even reaching a million in attendance was a challenge for those Mariners teams.
But then the Mariners farm system began to spit out the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr., and smart trading landed Randy Johnson. The Mariners started to win games.
Next thing anybody knew, the Kingdome became an intimidating force and a key home-field advantage for the Mariners.
There’s no doubt there will be an initial hit in attendance thanks to the Marlins' new stadium. It happens everywhere. But the honeymoon doesn’t last long. Ask the folks in Washington, DC, or in Queens or Cincinnati or Houston.
Ugliness on the field can hide the glamour of the new facility. And when that happens, the revenues fall sharply.
That doesn’t bode well for a franchise like the Marlins. It leaves them living on the financial edge.
And their pockets aren’t deep enough to withstand the eventual challenge.
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