Sol and Mario Acevedo are too fond of the Miami Marlins to boycott games despite their loathing of owner Jeffrey Loria.
So they find ways to get seats inside Marlins Park for free.
For a game against the Phillies, the Kendall couple accepted four free tickets from the Wellmax van driver who cruises local neighborhoods and hawks giveaways to promote the medical clinic. The Acevedos parked at a friend’s house near the stadium and ate dinner early at home. They plan to do it again during the homestand that starts Thursday against the Cubs.
Total expenditure: zero dollars. The emotional toll of supporting a 5-16 team that can’t hit is costlier.
Another time, they caught up with the Radio El Zol van on Flagler Street.
“On air, they’ll tell you where the van is and ask you to bring a red lipstick or a $2 bill or a hammer or wear Marlins colors,” Sol said. “I got tickets by showing a picture of my kids.”
It’s the game that precedes the game, and fans are willing to play in order to see baseball but snub Loria, who cut payroll and traded stars in reaction to the disappointing inaugural year in the new stadium.. Loyal, frugal or just plain sensible, they know supply outstrips demand during this season of discontent.
The franchise is up against Field of Schemes negativity: If you build it, they won’t come.
There are deals aplenty. Free tickets for test driving a new car or buying a pizza or visiting a museum. Cheap tickets with a Subway sandwich. Discounted tickets at Groupon, StubHub, UberSeat. Two-for-the-price-of-one bargains. Food vouchers. The Marlins have partnered with the Orange Bowl Committee and Miami-Dade County Public Schools and other entities to give away tickets.
The Marlins had originally hoped for average attendance in the range of 33,000-35,000 when they moved from Sun Life Stadium to Little Havana, where capacity is 37,500, but those numbers proved far too optimistic, and this year is expected to be worse. Season ticket sales plunged from 12,000 to 5,000. The average paid attendance last year was 27,401. After nine home games in April, the average is 19,586, last in the National League but so far higher than the final six years at Sun Life.
“We are confronting a confluence of things, including a fan base that is upset,” Marlins president David Samson said. “We’re trying to bring people to the ballpark to enjoy baseball in spite of their feelings for me or Jeffrey. People arrive in a bad mood so we are working extra hard to overcome preconceived notions. Once they come in, they find it’s a great experience.”
Fans at the stadium agreed with Samson and were very pleased with their discounted or free seats.
Nathan Asaro, a sommelier from Jacksonville, and his brother Joseph, a credit card fraud investigator from San Francisco, are on a quest to attend games at all 30 major league ballparks together. They bought $26 right-field tickets on StubHub last week, then moved 10 rows behind home plate, where they took photos on their cell phones.
“We could call balls and strikes,” Joseph said.
Said Nathan: “It would cost $50 for seats not nearly as prime as these at other ballparks — at least $200 at Yankee Stadium.”
Philly fans flew to Miami for a weekend spring break April 13 just so they could watch their hometown team from a vantage point they could never have in Philadelphia, where the best seats are sold out. David Gleason and Lance Lepchuk paid $37 for $77 face-value seats on Groupon and said they were close enough to practically exchange high-fives with Ryan Howard.
“Sports talk radio hosts in Philly were saying how Miami held a fan fest and about two people showed up to buy season tickets, so we knew we could get great seats,” Lepchuk said.
They were surrounded by Philly fans.
“I don’t see why people wouldn’t come even if the team stinks,” Gleason said. “If you love baseball it’s a nice ballpark.”
After the game, they looked around for a place to eat, but because planned revitalization of the area has not occurred, they took a taxi back to their Miami Beach hotel.
“In Philly, sports events are happenings,” Lepchuk said. “Here, not even the bartenders or cabbies are aware of the teams.”
The Marlins have not been a consistent big draw in their 20 years. Even during the World Series season of 2003 attendance was third-worst in MLB. Since 1997 it has hovered near or at the bottom of baseball, even when payroll was increased. Last year, when Loria spent $100 million on salaries, average actual attendance was about 17,000, Samson said, resulting in a $47 million operating loss. If attendance averaged closer to 30,000, the Marlins could afford an $80 million payroll, Samson said. The team is more dependent on ticket sales than, say, the Dodgers, who have a lucrative local TV deal.
“It’s cyclical,” said Samson, who added that season-ticket renewals were trending downward even before the cost-cutting fall trade of top players. “The Nationals were bad, got draft talent, now they’re good. We’ve built this team up before and we’re building it up again.”
The Marlins struggle against Miami’s history as a lukewarm sports town as well as what Samson calls the “HDTV home comfort experience” that all teams must contend with. The Boston Red Sox saw their 10-year Fenway Park sellout streak end earlier this month. The Tampa Bay Rays have employed creative marketing, such as Saturday and Sunday concerts, campouts inside Tropicana Field, Joe Maddon garden gnome night and free bobblehead dolls of David Price’s French bulldog Astro, but even winning hasn’t solved their attendance ills. In 2013, they became the first team to win 90 games and finish last in attendance in their league.
The New York Mets — with a disliked owner and poor record, slashed payroll and dumped stars Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey — have seen attendance fall from four million in 2008 (the last season at Shea Stadium) to a number projected to be less than two million this year at Citi Field.
The Marlins also must overcome a $35 million roster, second-lowest in baseball, just ahead of the Houston Astros.
“There’s a line from Mad Men: If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation,” said Tadd Schwartz, president of Schwartz Media Strategies in Miami and a former season-ticket holder. “Ownership needs to stop the harping on all the animosity by reaching into their pockets, starting a buzz and making a trade to shift the talk to baseball. The damage they’ve done to the brand is so much worse than the money they’re saving by cutting payroll.
“Endear this team to the community.”
Edwin Mercado, 7, was a fan of Reyes, but “he’s not here anymore,” he said. He and his teammates got four free tickets to a game against the Nationals last week from their Taylor Baseball Academy coach.
Sean Megens and Damian Castaneda, both 14, are athletes at Paul W. Bell Middle School who each got four free tickets from the 75 the Marlins donated to the school.
Guillermo Rodriguez and son Matias are fans of Giancarlo Stanton, but fear attendance could drop to 6,000 to 8,000 in the dog days of summer.
Friends Marvin Padilla and Felix Gaitan, who paid $29 for $60 tickets through a Marlins website promo, said they bought tickets for $1 through online aggregators in September for last-place Marlins games.
“It will drop that low much sooner,” Padilla said. “A weekday game against the Pirates in August? Oh, man, I can’t wait to see the promotions for those seats.”
Friends Edith Carbonell and Stacy Wilson said the vibe last Monday against the Nationals was like that of a two-thirds-empty stadium.
“It was kind of sad,” said Wilson, who contrasted the atmosphere with games she has watched inside the stadiums of the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks.
“From a community perspective, it’s disheartening, but I will be back,” said Carbonell, who got discounted tickets at StubHub.
Six University of Miami physical therapy graduate students bought $11 first-base line tickets online and had fun on a Monday night even though the Marlins lost 10-3. When the Marlins finally scored, there was so much noise “I thought an emergency had happened,” said Hayley Kepner. Afterward, they got into the Clevelander club in left field for free.
Canadian tourists Jay and Kathy Black were the exception to the rule at a recent game: They paid full price for their $46 tickets via the Marlins’ website before their trip to Miami.
“I like the stadium a lot — pretty, clean, really friendly,” said Jay Black of Kingston, Ontario, who grew up as an Expos fan. “We were surprised at the lack of spectators here given how many Latin American players there are in baseball.”
Samson said the franchise will continue to market itself aggressively and practice “dynamic pricing.” He often walks through the stands and converses with fans, even one who booed him last week.
“I apologized, said we went all out last year, but didn’t win and had to fix it and didn’t mean to screw it up,” said Samson, who gave the man’s son an autographed ball. “He shook my hand, said he will be angry for a while, but will go to some games. I said, ‘Good, we have an understanding then.’ ”