Attendance Woes

The lack of attendance has plagued the Marlins throughout the years, at one point even leading to rumors of contraction in the early part of this decade. While rumors of dissolving the team probably had little merit, the threat that the team could eventually relocate is still very much alive.

While I have to concede that the team's lack of attendance has begun to exceed pathetic and venture into the status of laughable, I have always felt that moving the team would be an overreaction. I believe you have to examine the whole story and all of the pertinent facts before you pass judgment and begin to make such a decision.

Trying to explain the Marlins' attendance problems is an inexact science. Truthfully, I believe there are many different reasons why people aren't showing up as much as they could and should be. Some people have argued there simply aren't enough baseball fans in South Florida. I disagree with that for several reasons. First of all, South Florida is a huge metropolitan area. More importantly, the team hasn't always drawn poorly, and the television ratings for local Marlins broadcasts continue to be very strong.

Another theory is that many South Florida baseball fans aren't originally from the area and retain their allegiance to the teams they grew up with. Anyone who has been to a Marlins home game against the Mets knows this theory has a little more merit, but I have to basically disregard this theory for the same reasons I believe the previous theory isn't valid. Plus, I was surprised to see how pro-Marlins the crowd was at home games during the 2003 World Series against the Yankees. Marlins fans exist, they are just apparently AWOL.

In my opinion, the true reason the Marlins don't draw well is a strong distaste for the ownership. Marlins fans never forgave management after Wayne Huizenga ordered a firesale following the 1997 World Championship season, even though the Marlins have had two different owners since Huizenga sold the team in 1999. During the short-lived John Henry era, the team was never able to blossom on the field, and Henry kept the payroll down while he tirelessly pursued a new ballpark for the team. Henry became discouraged when he failed to gain public support for a new stadium, and his negativity definitely trickled down to the fans. It became apparent that Henry was not going to increase payroll without a new stadium in place, and he eventually gave up, selling the team to former Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Loria in 2002. Henry then immediately purchased the Boston Red Sox.

Jeffrey Loria

Loria (left), the current owner, had previously owned an Expos franchise that was in absolute shambles. He was unpopular in South Florida from the beginning. Still, Loria and general manager Larry Beinfest made plenty of smart personnel decisions over the past few years, and the team captured a second championship in 2003. Between 2002 and 2004, attendance rose dramatically, and the team management believed that if they invested in free agents and raised the payroll in 2005, they would continue to see leaps in attendance. Unfortunately, it led to only a very small boost, and Loria decided he could no longer afford the team he had in place. That led to a second firesale. And while the team was extremely successful in getting value in their trades, the firesale angered skeptical fans. Many Marlins fans believe that as soon as the team competes for a championship again, the owner will trade all the players away again in an effort to cut payroll.

The team is still in hot pursuit of a new stadium, and while the Marlins are still a long way from getting a deal done, the team is closer to reaching its goal than ever before. Current ownership believes that its problems will be solved once the team acquires a stadium because a new ballpark will likely lead to a boom in attendance, plus the team currently has a very expensive stadium lease at Huizenga's Dolphin Stadium, and the team receives no money from concessions and parking profits.

Regardless of whatever theory anyone buys into, it is my contention that Loria and Major League Baseball should ensure that the team stays in South Florida. I believe that if you examine attendance records of Major League teams through the years, it becomes apparent that attendance often runs in cycles. To support my claim, I will present attendance statistics from both the Marlins and the Seattle Mariners, one of the more successful franchises in baseball at the present time. In examining the Marlins attendance records, you can see that the team did draw well at certain times in the club's young history. You will also see how the Seattle Mariners consistently drew well below league average for several years. Time ran its course, and the problem corrected itself.

Florida Marlins Home Attendance

Year Per Game Average Total Attendance National League Average
1993 37,838 3,064,847 2,637,470
1994 33,695 1,937,467 1,843,416
1995 23,783 1,700,466 1,793,589
1996 21,565 1,746,767

2,169,949

1997 29,190 2,364,387

2,277,526

1998 21,363 1,750,395

2,401,674

1999 16,906 1,369,421

2,380,436

2000 15,134 1,173,389

2,480,194

2001 15,765 1,261,226

2,481,346

2002 10,038 813,111

2,309,294

2003 16,290 1,303,215

2,273,813

2004 22,091 1,723,105

2,512,690

2005 22,792 1,823,388

2,583,685

2006 14,384

1,165,120

2,598,741

Seattle Mariners Home Attendance

Year Per Game Average Total Attendance American League Average

1977

16,525

1,338,511

1,402,825

1978

10,968

877,440

1,466,426

1979

10,425

844,447

1,597,999

1980

10,260

836,204

1,563,575

1981

11,569

636,276

1,004,713

1982

13,215

1,070,404

1,648,604

1983

10,044

813,537

1,713,647

1984

10,745

870,372

1,711,531

1985

13,935

1,128,696

1,752,302

1986

12,704

1,029,045

1,798,052

1987

14,003

1,134,255

1,948,382

1988

12,701

1,022,398

2,035,688

1989

16,030

1,298,443

2,132,090

1990

18,639

1,509,727

2,166,590

1991

26,517

2,147,905

2,294,113

1992

20,387

1,651,367

2,268,524

1993

25,341

2,052,638

2,380,955

1994

19,718

1,104,206

1,728,728

1995

22,665

1,643,203

1,811,356

1996

33,837

2,723,850

2,122,721

1997

39,410

3,192,237

2,234,523

1998

32,938

2,651,511

2,298,169

1999

35,999

2,915,908

2,286,874

2000

35,983

3,148,317

2,262,557

2001

43,362

3,512,326

2,346,071

2002

43,710

3,540,482

2,207,891

2003

40,351

3,268,509

2,191,745

2004

36,305

2,940,731

2,340,422

2005

33,619

2,689,529

2,360,452

2006

30,626

2,480,717

2,458,741