For all the attractions and distractions at Marlins Park, few are as popular as the beer garden beyond the left-field fence. The open-to-all watering hole gives game-goers a chance to stretch their legs, bend their elbows and talk shop with an unobstructed view of the action.
But if the always-crowded Budweiser Bow Tie Bar is the spot where everybody knows the game (if not your name), the loneliest place in the sparkling new ballpark Thursday night was up in Section 310. An hour into the Marlins’ 14-7 late-week loss to the San Francisco Giants, casual fans Pastora Lopez and Andrew Schindler were the only two people sitting in the entire area.
“I’m surprised it’s so quiet, especially in the first year,” said Schindler, who paid $10 per seat just before the opening pitch. “It’s our first time in the new stadium, and the first time with our own section.”
Nearly two months after the Marlins unveiled their long-awaited new home, the thrill certainly isn’t gone, but it has faded a bit. Thursday marked the 20th home game in the $634 million facility’s young history, and turnout (announced generously as 24,099) was strong, but not spectacular. It marked the seventh consecutive time the Marlins drew under 30,000 after exceeding that figure in 10 of their first 13 games.
A quarter of the way through this crucial first season of the newly branded Miami Marlins, a few trends are evident:
1. Marlins Park is a far more attractive option to fans than Sun Life Stadium ever was;
2. Parking around the stadium is actually a fairly easy proposition; and
3. South Florida still isn’t New York, Philadelphia, or even San Diego, when it comes to baseball interest.
Including Thursday’s take, the Marlins had an average paid attendance of 28,620 people per game in 2012 — a 67-percent increase over the same 20-game span from a year ago. But of the nine teams that have opened new stadiums in the past decade, just the Cincinnati Reds (25,708 in 2003) had a smaller average at this point of their inaugural years, according to figures provided by Baseball-Reference.com.
These numbers reflect tickets sold, not people in seats.
“Of course, we wish there were 36,000 people there every night, but I’m pleased with the response so far,” said Marlins President David Samson. “We’ve gone over 30,000 10 times already. We were a franchise that would go over 30,000 four times a season. At Sun Life, you’d hear comments how you could count the number of fans.
“People are coming to the games and loving the ballpark,” he added. “Overall, we couldn’t be happier.”
Through Thursday, the Marlins ranked 14th in total paid attendance after finishing 28th or worse the previous seven seasons. The club has done so despite fighting some brisk headwinds early in the year.
Of their first 20 home opponents, just five had winning records through Thursday’s action. More than half of their early home games fell during the week, when crowd sizes are almost always smaller than on the weekends.
And the Marlins know that, thanks to the Heat’s postseason success, they’re destined to be the town’s secondary story for at least the next couple of weeks. On six occasions, a Heat playoff game has fallen on a day when the Marlins were home, including five times when both had games in Miami.