What’s Wrong in Florida?

As the Marlins play their final 16 games of the 2007 regular season, they guarantee themselves no more than 79 wins — a losing season. It will be their second straight losing season just four years removed from their second World Series championship in their 15-year history.

The Marlins have never been known for their devoted fan base, but they have ranked among the leaders in attendance early in the club’s history, but have since fallen on hard times. As the Palm Beach Post notes about the Nationals-Marlins game on Wednesday:

Forget the announced attendance of 10,121 for the Marlins-Nationals game at Dolphin Stadium. When Byung-Hyun Kim threw the first pitch, 375 spectators could be seen.

As they say, pictures speak louder than words, and boy, does this picture scream for the Marlins to take their business elsewhere:

Click to enlarge

A look at the Marlins’ attendance and their rank among the other National League teams (information on the Marlins team pages on Baseball Reference):

1993: 3,064,847 (5th out of 14)
1994: 1,937,467 (6th out of 14)
1995: 1,700,466 (8th out of 14)
1996: 1,746,767 (10th out of 14)
1997: 2,364,387 (5th out of 14)
1998: 1,730,384 (13th out of 16)
1999: 1,369,421 (15th out of 16)
2000: 1,218,326 (15th out of 16)
2001: 1,261,226 (15th out of 16)
2002: 813,118 (15th out of 16)
2003: 1,303,215 (15th out of 16)
2004: 1,723,105 (14th out of 16)
2005: 1,852,608 (15th out of 16)
2006: 1,164,134 (16th out of 16)
2007: 1,230,162 (16th out of 16)

The only team that ranks lower than the Marlins among all of the teams in Major League Baseball this season is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Marlins’ stately “brother.” Unlike the Marlins, however, the Rays haven’t had even one winning season in their ten years of existence (and have clinched another losing season this year), let alone two World Series championships.

It’s not as if either team has been boring to watch. The Marlins have had Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Cliff Floyd Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Willingham, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and the list will go on. You can even count the overrated Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo as exciting players that have played for the Marlins.

And to continue the name-dropping, the Rays have had Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn , Dwight Gooden (albeit at the end of their careers), Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Aubrey Huff, Scott Kazmir, Danys Baez, Joey Gathright, James Shields, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, Akinori Iwamura, along with Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young (exciting more so for their antics than their play).

The Rays’ attendance figures and ranks:

1998: 2,506,293 (7th out of 14)
1999: 1,562,827 (10th out of 14)
2000: 1,449,673 (13th out of 14)
2001: 1,298,365 (14th out of 14)
2002: 1,065,742 (14th out of 14)
2003: 1,058,695 (14th out of 14)
2004: 1,274,911 (14th out of 14)
2005: 1,141,669 (14th out of 14)
2006: 1,368,950 (14th out of 14)
2007: 1,220,212 (14th out of 14)

Both teams have had talent, but both have failed to fill the seats.

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the Marlins and their issues with both Major League Baseball and the city of Miami in regards to financing a new stadium, and the possible relocation to another city.

The Devil Rays also have a subpar stadium. As the St. Petersburg Times reported in March of 2005:

A random Times telephone survey of 400 Tampa Bay area baseball fans found 45 percent do not plan to attend games this season. Twenty percent of those said the reason was the Trop’s location – tied for the top answer with “I’m too old.”

The Marlins have been hamstrung by a stingy ownership that has kept the team payroll in the bottom rung among Major League Baseball teams, resulting in the well-known “firesales” following their World Series championships. The Rays, too, have been among the bottom-feeders payroll-wise. A look at both teams’ payrolls over the years and their ranks (information courtesy USAToday.com):

Florida Marlins

1993: $ 18,196,545 (25th out of 28)
1994: $ 20,275,500 (25th out of 28)
1995: $ 23,670,000 (25th out of 28)
1996: $ 30,079,500 (15th out of 28)
1997: $ 47,753,000 (7th out of 28)
1998: $ 33,434,000 (20th out of 30)
1999: $ 15,150,000 (30th out of 30)
2000: $ 19,870,000 (29th out of 30)
2001: $ 35,562,500 (26th out of 30)
2002: $ 41,979,917 (25th out of 30)
2003: $ 48,750,000 (25th out of 30)
2004: $ 42,143,042 (25th out of 30)
2005: $ 60,408,834 (19th out of 30)
2006: $ 14,998,500 (30th out of 30)
2007: $ 30,507,000 (29th out of 30)

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

1998: $ 25,317,500 (25th out of 30)
1999: $ 37,812,500 (21st out of 30)
2000: $ 64,407,910 (10th out of 30)
2001: $ 56,980,000 (19th out of 30)
2002: $ 34,380,000 (30th out of 30)
2003: $ 19,630,000 (30th out of 30)
2004: $ 29,556,667 (29th out of 30)
2005: $ 29,679,067 (30th out of 30)
2006: $ 35,417,967 (29th out of 30)
2007: $ 24,123,500 (30th out of 30)

So, the necessary question is: Do the two Floridian teams need a change of scenery, a change in ownership, or both?

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  1. Signal to Noise

    September 14, 2007 10:58 AM

    Bad stadiums and lousy ownership are obvious reasons, but I would submit a couple more possibilities:

    1) Spring training. A lot of the base for these teams was probably judged based on spring training attendance, which is a totally different beast.

    2) The folks with the disposable income to be able to go to baseball games in the state are more likely to be transplants with team loyalties already in place (esp. in the Tampa/St. Pete area.)

  2. Nick

    September 14, 2007 01:26 PM

    Not to sound like a bitch, but Dolphins Stadium is a disaster for baseball viewing. First off, it’s fucking hot as shit for most of the season. Second, for a solid two months plus of the season, it rains every night. If I’m not going to be at least somewhat comfortable, there is no way I’m going to bother going to a baseball game in a football stadium with a baseball diamond stuck in it.

  3. Michael

    September 14, 2007 04:22 PM

    Transplants are definitely a big problem that most people here don’t mention. I live in Ft. Lauderdale and I would guess there are more yankees fans here than marlins fans. Weather is also a problem. Frequent rain and 95 degree temperatures cause fans to watch the game from home.

  4. billbaer

    September 14, 2007 05:29 PM

    Yeah, there are a ton of factors that I left out. I didn’t even think of the lack of loyalty to the Floridian teams.

    I went down to Florida a long, long time ago to watch the Phillies’ spring training (this was when the Marlins were maybe 2 or 3 years old) and it appeared that baseball was really popular down there. Maybe it was just spring training, and maybe it was because MLB baseball hadn’t been down there before… but 13 years later, I’m baffled that either team fails so horribly to fill up a stadium.

  5. Ivan

    September 14, 2007 05:45 PM

    I agree with all the reasons above. I’d also like to add that the stadium is the middle of fucking nowhere. Its 20 miles from where i live on an expressway. And considering that the games start at 7:05 on weekend, we’re talking about an hour and a half with traffic. So, when people get out of work at 5:30, they have a hard time getting all the way out there during the day. Also, you lose the factor that they have in certain stadiums for day games, because its hard to go out there in the middle of the day when its 95 degrees outside with 90% humidity. If the stadium was downtown, you could take the Metro(the only form of train system in Miami) or a bus if its in Hialeah. But the only way you’re getting to Joe Robbie is by car, and its far, and its not good for going to 90 games a season. It should be telling that the Marlins have one of the highest TV numbers of any team(atleast thats what i’ve heard, feel free to fact check that).

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