The Miami Marlins’ change in ownership has spelled relief for team diehards, elected officials, the community, and even casual baseball fans.
It’s no wonder why. Former owner Jeffrey Loria and his front office built an immeasurable amount of ill-will over the past 16 years by ridiculing fans, parting ways with beloved players and coaches, and misleading the public about the club’s finances with the goal of securing a taxpayer-funded stadium.
Even well-intentioned initiatives aimed at softening the team’s image — from sponsoring upgrades to public parks to raising money for nonprofits through the Marlins Community Foundation – were overshadowed by cost-cutting measures, public gaffes and eight consecutive years of losing.
The arrival of a new ownership team led by investor Bruce Sherman and retired Yankees star Derek Jeter is a chance to change the way Miami perceives the team. But resetting the narrative is only possible if the incoming management is prepared to operate the organization differently. That means rethinking the way the club interacts with the public.
The Marlins can begin earning back the respect of fans by engaging the community in a meaningful way. Sherman and Jeter should maintain a visible presence in public, meeting local businesses and interacting with fans. The club should partner with nonprofits that are tackling Miami’s pressing challenges – from affordable housing and job training, to youth violence and the need for more green space.
Another visible sign of progress would be making investments in Little Havana, which bought into the idea of a new stadium on the premise that it would bring economic change.
By subsidizing the cost of retail leases, bringing in pop-up stores and restaurants, introducing free programming and fixing-up commercial properties, the Marlins can create opportunities for local businesses in one of the country’s most culturally-rich neighborhoods, while planting the seeds for a vibrant district that is self-sufficient year-round.
Above all else, Sherman and Jeter have a baseball team to run and no amount of community outreach or local investment can match the goodwill derived from fielding a winning product. The debut of Marlins Park in 2012 drew more fans than any year in the team’s prior 15 seasons. Since then, the club has failed to achieve a winning record and its attendance has ranked in the bottom tier of the league.
The luster of a new stadium has faded. Filling seats will now require ownership to make shrewd baseball moves that get fans excited about the team’s future. In the end, what’s good for baseball is good for the brand – and the business.
Changing how the team is perceived means getting proactive with a coherent message. That starts with repairing management’s relationships with the press, creating marketing initiatives and events that bring the community together, and using social and digital media in a creative and engaging way.
Owning a Major League Baseball team in one of the nation’s most dynamic cities is a privilege. Seizing that opportunity will mean projecting a message of change and following-through with that promise, becoming genuinely entrenched in the local community, and making an unmistakable commitment to winning. Only then will the Marlins rebuild their brand and win back the hearts and minds of local fans.
Tadd Schwartz is president of Miami-based Schwartz Media Strategies.