The changes will be seen on the field, around the ballpark and in your wallet.
Another Miami Marlins season is on the horizon, and the front office led by majority owner Bruce Sherman and CEO Derek Jeter has once again made it clear: They’re pressing the reset button, ripping away the past and turning toward the future.
The team itself is still a work in progress as the roster rebuild enters Season 2, but the Marlins have made a concerted effort to enhance the fan experience at Marlins Park, inject some excitement back into the fan base and have the ballpark represent Miami’s diverse culture.
A new color scheme and logo that provides a South Florida vibe? Done.
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A more affordable trip to the ballpark? How does a hot dog, beer and a spot in the outfield for about $20 sound?
The home run sculpture? Moving outside.
The ballpark itself? New seating options and promotions are on the way, and a minor makeover is almost finished.
“It’s a new day for the Miami Marlins,” said Chip Bowers, the Marlins’ president of business operations.
That day will come March 28 when the team opens the 2019 season at home against the Colorado Rockies.
It’s a day the Marlins hope will be the first of increased attendance, anything better that their MLB-worst mark from last year when they averaged 10,013 fans per game in a ballpark with a capacity of 36,742. The league average attendance last season was 28,659. Every team but the Marlins averaged at least 40 percent capacity last season.
And it’s a day the Marlins hope serves as the next checkpoint toward mending relationships with a community that has felt spurned through the years by previous ownership.
The saying around the club last year was #JustGettinStarted. This season, it’s “Give us a chance.”
“There’s a lot of excitement here in this community,” Jeter said. “We need the people to come out. That’s the bottom line. ... When fans come in here on Opening Day, it’s going to be a different ballpark.”
Bowers, who has almost two dozen years of experience working with five different professional sports teams, knew he had a challenge ahead of him when he toured Marlins Park for the first time after being hired in February 2018.
“A lot of work to be done,” Bowers said at the time.
The rebranding process began there.
The Marlins used their Dimelo (tell me) campaign to receive feedback from the community to get a better understanding of what people feel makes for a quality night at the ballpark. They talked directly with fans, season-ticket holders and corporate partners so they could “have a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in our community,” Bowers said.
The goal is for fans to walk into Marlins Park and say, “This feels like me. This feels like my home away from home.”
After the end of the season, one that saw the Marlins finish with a National League-worst 63-98 record, announcements of upcoming changes rolled out one by one.
The main splash came in mid-November, when the team rolled out its new logo and color scheme as part of the “Our Colores” marketing campaign. The orange uniforms introduced by previous owner Jeffery Loria when the team moved to Marlins Park in 2012 have been replaced with a color scheme of Caliente Red, Miami Blue, Midnight Black and Slate Grey as well as a curvier, more stylish “M.”
The area in center field that once housed the county-owned home run sculpture is being morphed into a multilevel standing deck called the Center Field Zone — a “three-tier millennial park,” as majority owner and self-proclaimed baseball purist Sherman nicknamed it. It will be one of two standing-room only areas the ballpark will have for the 2019 season. The other will be located in right field. Tickets for these areas will be sold for a little as $10 per game.
The seven-story, $2-million home run sculpture, named “Homer” and built by artist Red Grooms (a friend of Loria), was dismantled shortly after the season ended and is being stored inside the ballpark. It is expected to be rebuilt on an plaza outside the stadium before the 2020 season and will go off after wins and daily at 3:05 p.m. The removal of “Homer” was one of the last Loria-influenced touches remaining from the opening of Marlins Park in 2012.
Right field will also host a new section called “Comunidad 305,” which will allow fans to showcase their heritage and bring another form of energy to the crowd on game days. Bowers said the idea stemmed from the excitement of the World Baseball Classic. Instruments, flags and noisemakers will be allowed in the area, and tickets are $8 per game.
“It’s amazing that it got done in six months and it’ll be done for Opening Day,” Sherman said. “That’s a great achievement. It was well researched. ... This is an entertainment venue first, and I think we’ve got to provide entertainment. We’ve said that from Day 1.”
Other changes on the horizon:
▪ Cheaper tickets, with about half of single-game tickets costing no more than $25.
▪ Themed weekends, including Little Havana Nights on Friday, Park Before Dark — featuring a post-game concert — on Saturday, and a family-oriented Sunday Funday.
▪ A combination of cheaper and revamped concessions. The former consists of the 3o5 menu, which features eight traditional ballpark menu items that will be either $3 or $5 at all home games. Items for sale at $3: Hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, nachos, water bottles and 16-ounce sodas. Mojo pork tacos and 12-ounce draft beers will be available for $5. The latter involves local food partnerships with Miami’s Best Pizza, PINCHO, Novecento, SuViche, Butterfly Tacos y Tortas, and La Pepa.
▪ An updated Diamond Club lounge area. The lounge, which will still be on the field level behind home plate and will “host season-ticket owners and VIP guests for dining, hospitality, baseball and business meetings” according to the Marlins, is now sponsored by DEX Imaging and will have a slightly more casual feel to it. The previously low-lit dining area with semicircle booths and white tablecloths will feature what the Marlins call a “contemporary club atmosphere” that balances the high-scale look while still keeping in mind that customers are watching a baseball game.
“We were pretty excited about taking on as much as we possibly could. That’s the nature of this organization,” Bowers said. “We’re going to be intelligent about it. We’re going to be sure we don’t make a promise that we can’t keep, but what you won’t find from this organization is being risk-averse. We will honestly just take on challenges head on.”
While the Marlins’ upgrades will be seen in full view between late March and September, their efforts extend past the ballpark and beyond the baseball season, as well.
The team is striving to create better inroads with the community, starting with the cities closest to it in Miami-Dade County and then branching its way out through the rest of South Florida.
The goal: Start building a fan base at the youngest age possible.
“For the past 25 years, for the Miami Marlins, for the most part, a lot of people in the market came from somewhere else,” Bowers said. “They were baseball fans who maybe grew up somewhere else and had prior allegiances. .. Kids here play baseball 365 days a year. This is a tremendous baseball market, not to mention the Latin-American influence that we have here in Miami and their affiliation and love for the game of baseball in their home countries and certainly in the Caribbean.”
To make that a reality, the Marlins created a youth baseball strategy department and started the Miami Marlins Tee Ball Initiative, in which they have donated uniforms, hats, and equipment to recreational tee ball programs in Miami-Dade County. According to the Marlins, more than 120 teams across 16 youth baseball and softball leagues are part of the first year of the initiative.
Marlins players and alumni went out to five of those leagues’ opening days throughout February and threw out ceremonial first pitches.
“Just to see the kids and their enthusiasm, having our players on the mounds with the kids, this is just barely scratching the surface for something that we see going on for years and years to come,” Bowers said.
Back at the ballpark, Bowers is already formulating ideas for the next round of upgrades. What might come next is still undetermined. He wants to make sure this first project sets the proper tone.
“It’s one thing to get it built,” Bowers said. “It’s another to make sure we do it right.”
He will find out March 28, when fans make their way to Marlins Park for Opening Day. They listened to what their fans wanted, Jeter said. The goal now is to deliver.
“This was one of the steps,” Jeter said. “I don’t want to say it’s the first step, but it’s another step along the way.”