Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as, “If you build it, they will come.” The Miami Marlins are learning the hard way that fans care more about what they see on the field than the ballpark in which the team plays.
The Marlins spent the first year in their new stadium, Marlins Park, with 12,000 season-ticket holders. They’ll begin this season with just 5,000 after a dismal 69-93 campaign and the offseason purging of much of their roster.
Just one week ago The Miami Herald reported the Marlins were the only MLB team using Groupon to sell tickets for Opening Day, the one game a year all of MLB can usually count on heavy fan attendance. Groupon deals for the Marlins ranged from $20 to $45, depending on seat location, and included $10 in merchandise credit and a free ticket to any other home game in April or May.
Why turn to Groupon?
“Groupon reaches an audience of over 750,000 in South Florida,” said Sean Flynn, the Marlins' senior vice president of marketing and event booking. “We use every mechanism we can to deliver our message. Groupon is just another piece of the puzzle. It’s been very effective for us in the past.”
Asked whether there might be blowback from fans who paid face value for tickets to the home opener, Flynn said it’s no different than the dynamic pricing system being used around MLB, with teams fluctuating ticket prices based on market demand.
“Any ticket you buy for any team in any organization, there are ticket offers and specials going on,” Flynn said. “The days of all the ticket pricing being the same are long gone.”
Flynn says it’s not any different than what happens in the airline or hotel industry.
“The odds of you paying same thing as person next to you on a flight or next to you in a hotel room are small.”
The Groupon campaign seems to be working. Combined with other avenues of ticket sales, Flynn said more than 30,000 tickets had been purchased by Thursday for the home opener. He expects a sellout or close to it.
The Marlins are focused on more than just the home opener, however. Although the team passed the 2 million mark in home attendance for only the third time in franchise history last year, average capacity was just 73.2 percent. It was good enough for 13th in the majors, but well below the 92.7 percent capacity at the New York Mets' Citi Field in its first year, or the more than 100 percent capacity experienced by the Minnesota Twins in their first season at Target Field.
Marlins president David Samson told The Miami Herald attendance would need to increase by at least a third over last season for the team to be able to afford a midrange payroll of around $80 million in future seasons. This year the Marlins' $45 million payroll is the second lowest in MLB, behind the Astros' $32 million. It’s a 61 percent cut from last season.
Which brings us to the age-old question of which needs to come first: success on the field or attendance?
The Marlins are doing what they can to bring people in, win or lose, including giving away tickets. The team has a promotion for every night of the week all season long:
• Free* – Active military personnel, veterans, first responders, along with their spouses and children
• All You Can Eat - $22 in Vista Reserved or $32 in Legends Silver
• Half Price – Tickets available for half price in Legends Silver, Baseline Reserved and Home Run Porch
• Kids Eat Free – Kids 12 and under eat free (except matinee games)
• Crazy 8s – Purchase eight gallons or more of gas from any South Florida Chevron and get Home Run Porch tickets for $8 or Home Plate Box tickets for $18
• Free* - All fans 55 and older
• $5 Discount – Visit a local participating Subway to receive a voucher good for $5 off a ticket in Home Run Porch or Vista Box
• $60 Pizza four-pack – Four tickets, four Sir Pizzas and four Pepsi soft drinks
• In addition, all Friday games feature a pregame party on the West Plaza and postgame fireworks.
• All You Can Eat - $27 in Vista Reserved or $37 in Legends Silver
• In addition, all Saturday games feature a free concert or show after the game in the West Plaza.
• Four for $54 – Four tickets, Four Kayem Beef Franks and Four Pepsi soft drinks
• In addition, all Sunday games feature a chance for kids to take photos with a Marlins player, run the bases after the game, meet Billy the Marlin and the Sea Creatures, win prizes from Radio Disney and enjoy face painting.
*Free tickets will be given in the best available section, with the exception of Home Plate Box