Off-season purchases turn Miami Marlins into a new team Off-season purchases turn Miami Marlins into a new team
The Miami Marlins have a new name, new ballpark, new manager and some high-priced new players, creating excitement and boosting ticket sales for a... Off-season purchases turn Miami Marlins into a new team

The Miami Marlins have a new name, new ballpark, new manager and some high-priced new players, creating excitement and boosting ticket sales for a franchise that for years has ranked near the bottom of Major League Baseball in attendance.

The team was rebranded with the city name in the off-season after 19 years as the Florida Marlins and will officially open $2.4 billion Marlins Ballpark — complete with an aquarium behind home plate — April 4 when they host the world champion St. Louis Cardinals. Prior to opening day, there are a few “soft openings,” including a two-game exhibition series with the New York Yankees April 1 and 2.

With demand for the opener against the Cardinals so high, the team announced last week that the opportunity to purchase tickets for that game will be offered to non-season ticket holders through an on-line lottery. Fans will have to register at marlins.com/openingnight through February 20 and will be selected by February 28. The number of tickets available in the opening night lottery will depend upon the number of tickets left after season ticket packages are fulfilled.

Team president David Samson, speaking at event last week where the new sod and home plate were laid into the 37,000-seat ballpark, said at most 1,000 tickets would be available in the lottery.

That’s a far cry from last season when the Marlins averaged 19,007 fans a game at SunLife Stadium, which is also the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. The two teams have shared a stadium since the Marlins franchise began back in 1993. The Marlins were 28th out of 30 MLB teams in attendance in both 2011 and 2010. Samson has said he expects to draw 30,000 to 35,000 a game at the new air-conditioned, retractable-roof ballpark, built on the site of the old Orange Bowl in Miami.

Ticket aggregator TiqIQ.com lists an average price for the Marlins April 4 opener at $238 on the secondary market and the lowest-priced ticket at $106.

“Other than [the opener], there are a ton of games that have a current average of over $100, which is obviously unusual for the Marlins,” TiqIQ spokesman Chris Matcovich told TicketNews. “We will have a better picture of ‘real’ averages as single game tickets populate the market. Also a major factor for Marlins prices this year will be when the novelty of the new stadium will wear off.”

Despite the new park and new players, ticket broker Ayeh Ashong, chief operating officer of Tickets of America in Miami, told TicketNews that the team will still have to prove it on the field to sustain the big crowds.

“That’s a lot of games and Miami’s a fickle town,” Ashong said. “It’s not like football where it’s just eight games. Once the novelty wears off, the team is going to have to win.”

Individual tickets for games after the opener won’t go on sale until March 3. Season tickets have face values ranging from $13 to $81 per seat, with prices for the opener set higher in most seating categories.

The first game at the stadium will be between two area high schools on March 5. The Marlins’ first games at the stadium will be exhibitions against the University of Miami and Florida International on March 6 and 7. Capacity will be limited to 10,000 for the U. of Miami game and 15,000 for the FIU game. They each sold out quickly last week.

Tickets for the Yankees exhibition games go on sale February 18. Those tickets are already commanding secondary market prices that are close to the regular season opener.

To help fill the park and build up the season ticket base, Marlins owner Jeffery Loria opened his wallet in the off-season, dropping a total of $203 million on free agent acquisitions and a new manager. Loria lured fiery Ozzie Guillen from the Chicago White Sox to become Miami’s skipper with a four-year, $12 million deal. Shortstop Jose Reyes was brought in from the New York Mets for six years and $106 million. Lefthander Mark Buehrle (four years, $58 million) came over from the White Sox and closer Heath Bell (three years, $27 million) left the San Diego Padres.

Then last week, the Marlins traded with the Chicago Cubs for volatile righthander Carlos Zambrano. Given Zambrano and Guillen’s history of emotional outbursts in Chicago, that could be quite a pairing.

With all the new faces, Miami hopes to make a run at the National League East champion Philadelphia Phillies, who have won the division title five years in a row. The Marlins, already with two World Series titles in their short history (1997 and 2003) are looking to bounce back from a 72-90 finish last year.

The dimensions of the new stadium sound pitcher-friendly — 344 feet to left, 386 in left-center, 422 to straightaway center, 392 in right-center and 335 down the right-field line. There’s a garish, multi-colored flying Marlin home run fountain in center, too. And the aquariums? Two 400-gallon tanks are embedded in the fence behind home plate, but out of the pitcher’s line of sight.

The Marlins have tested the tanks by having first baseman Gaby Sanchez take his best shot throwing a ball at them.

“He threw a ball as hard as he could against the tank and it didn’t even make a mark and nothing moved inside the tank,” Samson told the Palm Beach Post.