December 21, 2007 Alfred Branch Jr.
If you were told that your favorite baseball team was going to win two World Series championships in a 10 year period, but after each championship they would trade all their best talent and start from scratch, would you take it? Fans of the Florida Marlins have not had a choice after winning titles in 1997 and 2003. After each championship the team effectively unloaded all their best players, replacing them with unproven prospects. The result is an unenthusiastic fan base that does not, on average, even fill half of the Marlin’s current home, Dolphin Stadium.
During the 2007 season, the team finished with an average attendance of 16,919 for their home games, last in Major League Baseball. At the same time, the league’s average attendance is more than 30,000.
For nearly the past ten years, the answer to the Marlins economic issues has rested on one contingent, a new baseball-only stadium. In that time period, there hasn’t been a time that it has been as close to a reality as right now. On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County commissioners approved a public works project that would include a new baseball stadium on the site of the Orange Bowl in Miami.
“You have to have foresight and you have to have guts to stand in front of these issues,” Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose Diaz told the Associated Press. “We don’t have a GM plant here, we don’t have a McDonnell Douglas plant — we depend on tourism and trade.”
As part of the agreement the Marlins would pay $155 million of the estimated cost of $525 million for the stadium. They would also take care of any cost overruns associated with the construction. Another part of the deal includes the team changing its name in 2011 to the Miami Marlins, as well as committing to stay in Miami for the next 30 years.
Thirty years? Just a few years ago that did not seem like a possibility. In 2005, the team received permission from MLB to look into different markets and explore the prospects of relocation. Cities that were named as possible destinations were Norfolk, VA., Portland, OR. and what was considered the most likely, San Antonio, TX. With the Marlins lease at Dolphins Stadium running out after the 2010 season, they needed a place to play by 2011.
Even with a deal to stay in South Florida essentially settled, the Marlins are still faced another problem, rebuilding their fan loyalties. At a recent promotion, the team held its annual ‘Select A Seat’ day in which fans could go and select their season tickets for the next season. According to the Palm Beach Post, in the first two hours of the four hour event, less then 50 people showed up.
Lack of enthusiasm this year could be attributed to the team trading its two most recognizable names, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, to the Detroit Tigers for six prospects. Cabrera and Willis were the highest paid players on the team. The hope is that with a new stadium and revitalized fans, the Marlins could keep their best talent and increase their payroll rather then having to cut it every off season.
“Although we cannot ignore the economic realities we face, which will change the moment we are in a new facility, our determination to win on the field remains as steadfast as ever,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told the AP.