It’s Opening Day, when everyone’s stadium dreams start with a 0-0 record

It’s Opening Day for baseball! I’m headed out to see the New York Mets open their season in a couple of hours (the one chance each year for a Mets fan to see their team without a losing record), but what else is going on around the baseball nation?

Marlins prez: More people would come to our games if they were mercifully over quicker

Miami Marlins president David Samson may have gotten booted off Survivor immediately for being a jerk and an incompetent manager, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop entertaining the people of America. Witness:

Win or lose, he wants the Marlins to do it faster this year.

“Pace of game is about our fans,” Samson said. “It’s very much a TV issue and an in-game-experience issue. No one is complaining about pace of game where it goes 12 innings and it’s 3 hours and 20 minutes and it’s a 5-4 game. That’s not the issue. If it’s a 3-1 nine-inning game that goes 3 hours and 12 minutes, that’s not enjoyable.”

The obvious jokes aside (the Marlins have certainly assembled a lineup that doesn’t interrupt the game with such distractions as baserunners), it’s amusing to hear Samson worrying about the in-game experience when this is the guy who had fans ejected for bringing signs to the game. But I suppose it’s easier to blame game length for your horrible attendance than your having traded off any talented players or having built a crazy-expensive stadium at taxpayer expense that boasts as its main claim to fame an award for excellence in drywall.

Not only can’t I believe they kicked this guy off Survivor, I can’t believe they didn’t give him his own reality show. Oh wait, they did.

Florida house speaker: No new sales tax “checks” for stadiums this year

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said earlier this week that he’d be introducing a bill to require sports teams to show they actually have a reason to ask for sales-tax kickbacks, upped the ante slightly yesterday by declaring that he doesn’t intend on approving any sports subsidies this year at all:

“Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks,” Weatherford said during an interview with The News Service of Florida in his Capitol office.

Currently, the state of Florida pays $2 million a year to the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic in exchange for the teams doing the state the favor of existing. (The Miami Marlins got left off this list after getting the $2 million a year break for their previous stadium, but did get everything else they wanted, so no complaining.) Right now the Orlando City Soccer Club, David Beckham’s as-yet-unnamed Miami MLS expansion team, and the Daytona International Speedway are all lining up to ask for sales-tax rebates as well, but it sounds like they’re going to have to wait — until next year, anyway, when Weatherford will, at the ripe old age of 35, be term-limited out of office. If Weatherford has his way, by then there will be new laws requiring team owners to “go through the process with the Department of Economic Opportunity just like everybody else does that wants to create jobs in Florida” to prove that their projects will provide a return on the state’s investment, though it remains to be seen whether he has a chance in hell of getting it through the state senate, which has historically been much more lenient about this kind of thing.

David Samson’s “claim to fame” is extorting public money for Marlins stadium

There’s no way I can top this headline from the Miami New Times:

David Samson Brags About Screwing Taxpayers in Survivor Bio

David Samson, as some of you may recall, is the Miami Marlins team president (and ex-stepson of team owner Jeffrey Loria) who made increasingly hilarious threats about the team leaving Florida in order to extract public money for a new stadium. Samson is also, equally hilariously, a contestant on the new season of Survivor, and he’s apparently really proud of the work he did on the people of Miami:

When asked what his “personal claim to fame” was, he replied, “Got local government in Miami to contribute over 350 million dollars to a new baseball park during the recession.”

As the New Times notes, Samson was president of the team when they won the 2003 World Series, but this is what he chose as his career highlight. Marlins execs really are a special breed.

New Marlins stadium now drawing as few fans as old Marlins stadium

It’s official: the Miami Marlins have had the shortest stadium honeymoon period ever.

What has moving to Miami brought the Marlins? About 100 extra fans per game.

That’s the current gap between this year’s attendance and the average gate count for the Marlins’ last season at Sun Life Stadium, the football field that owner Jeffrey Loria blamed for the team’s long-standing attendance and revenue woes.

Honeymoon periods typically last two to eight years, so that’s historically awful. Though it’s worth noting that plenty of stadiums considered rousing successes have reverted to pre-new-ballpark attendance levels after the initial buzz is gone: check out the Seattle Mariners or Cleveland Indians, for example.

Anyway, it’s not all bad in Miami: Thanks to the massive fan disinterest, kids can eat free on Wednesdays, and seniors get free tickets on Thursdays. Also, reports the Miami Herald, in Tuesday’s game against the Mets, “enough spectators jumped up with raised arms to perform several laps of a respectable fan wave before it fizzled.” Feel the excitement!

Marlins closing off top deck of new stadium because nobody sits there anyway

If you thought the Miami Marlins‘ attendance disaster couldn’t get any more embarrassing, it just got more embarrassing:

The Marlins, whose attendance ranks last in the National League five weeks into the season, have decided to close the upper bowl at Marlins Park for at least some weeknight games.

That’s right: On top of setting a record last year for worst attendance in the first year in a new stadium, and being dead last in the league in attendance in their second year (though three American League teams have even sadder ticket sales, including the second-place Kansas City Royals), now the Marlins are using a cost-saving trick — and no matter what the team says about a “better fan experience,” this is mostly about saving operating costs by shutting down concession stands and restrooms in underused areas — that has previously been used only by teams demanding new stadiums because their old ones are so poorly attended. And the Oakland A’s, who have tarped off their own upper deck since 2006, are actually ahead of the Marlins in attendance this year. And the Marlins’ stadium only has 37,000 seats to begin with, barely more than the Oakland Coliseum has after the tarps were installed.

Let’s see, what else could make the nearly one billion dollars spent by Florida taxpayers on this new mostly empty stadium even sadder? How about retail tenants backing out of leasing storefronts at Marlins parking garages because they’re afraid there won’t be any foot traffic?

Last-place Marlins now giving tickets away to try to draw fans

Okay, it’s not actually literally true that nobody is going to Miami Marlins games. Some people, it turns out, will go so long as they don’t have to pay anything:

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.

Other ways to get into Marlins Park for free, according to the Miami Herald: test-drive a new car, buy a pizza, or visit a museum. The downside: You have to watch the Marlins.

If Marlins fans are buying tickets, they’re not using them

Yeah, the Miami Marlins really aren’t drawing too well. From Wednesday night’s game, during the national anthem:

https://twitter.com/Manny_Navarro/status/322123225607843840/photo/1

The Marlins first declined to announce an attendance figure, then came up with 14,222, then lowered that to 13,810. Which is still way more than are in that photo, but the team wasn’t necessarily lying: MLB allows teams to announce tickets sold, not turnstile count, so it’s possible that lots of fans bought tickets and then decided not to go to the game because … well, it can’t be because the weather was bad, because the Marlins built a retractable roof at huge public expense so that fans wouldn’t stay home for that reason. So it had to be that they’d figured out that the Marlins are a horrible, horrible team, and it was going to be a horrible, horrible game.

At this point, the Marlins look like they have a decent shot at underperforming even the 18,772 fans per game they drew in their final year at Sun Life Stadium. Which would be some kind of record — I don’t believe any team has ever fallen below their baseline attendance levels in just the second year of a new stadium. They’ll just have to hope that Miamians like free hot dogs more than they like competent baseball.

 

Marlins eject some of their few remaining fans for being more entertaining than the game

So you’re the execs of the Miami Marlins, and you can’t sell out your opening game despite discounted tickets because everybody hates your owner’s guts after he demanded taxpayer money for a new stadium so he could keep his good players then went and traded all his good players. What else can you do to drive away your few remaining fans? How about, I dunno, physically ejecting them from the ballpark?

One fan identified himself as Dan Barton, 25, of Fort Lauderdale. He wore a shirt that read: “Marlins baseball – helping other teams get better since 1998” – a reference to the franchise’s first roster purge.

Barton and four or five of his friends showed up on the main concourse above the first base line in the second inning and were approached by two reporters, from The Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

They posed for photos and talked about their anger over Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. One fan, who did not give his name, would periodically say out loud to fans passing by, “Free the Marlins,’’ which was also written on a sign…

About an hour later, Barton contacted a reporter via email to explain that they had been ejected from the ballpark not long after they finished being interviewed.

“They kicked us out. We didn’t even make it to our seats,’’ Barton said in a phone interview as they drove back to Fort Lauderdale.

He claimed that one officer told them their sign was blocking the view of other fans. “My friend offered to turn his shirt inside out and they said no,’’ Barton said.

As Deadspin notes, “that seems like some pretty bogus reasoning for ejecting fans from a baseball stadium. I mean, it’s pretty hard to block someone’s view from the concourse, and fans bringing signs to the game is only something that has happened at every single baseball game ever.

Marlins president David Samson later insisted that the group was ejected for “drawing some attention to themselves” and refusing to show ID. Now there’s a marketing slogan: Come out to see your Miami Marlins, shut up, and sit down! Oh, wait, Jeffrey Loria used that one already.

Latest leaked Marlins financial figures are kinda weird

Reporters from the Miami Herald have been granted a peek at internal Marlins financial documents — literally a peek, as they were only allowed to take notes and not make copies — and some of what they report finding is … well, odd:

  • In 2003, when the Marlins won the World Series, the team’s audited financial report shows that they lost $43 million. The team payroll that year: $54 million, which while high for the Marlins, was still only 23rd in the league.
  • The Marlins turned a $110 million profit from 2006 through 2009, thanks to about $280 million in revenue-sharing payments from MLB that the team received over that four-year span.
  • The team lost $47 million last year, after spending nearly $120 million on payroll, an amount too high to make up for with those $75-85 million a year in revenue-sharing checks.

If you’re like me, you’re wondering a bunch of things:

  • What are the Marlins spending money on, if not players? It’s really, really tough to spend $54 million on payroll and take a $43 million loss, given that payroll usually represents at least half of team expenses, and even the Marlins get some money from fans buying tickets.
  • How well does this match with other data we have on Marlins finances? The leaked documents that Deadspin obtained in 2010 showed the Marlins making about $24 million a year in 2008 and 2009, pretty much in line with both Forbes magazine’s projections and the figures in today’s Herald report. Forbes, though, estimates the Marlins to have lost only $7 million last year, so either there’s something that the magazine isn’t taking into account, or there’s something funny about the figures that the books that the team provided to the Herald.
  • Are these real losses or, you know, “losses”? The Herald articles doesn’t indicate whether these figures are EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, as Forbes uses) or include such gimmicks as depreciation of player contracts, which can easily turn a real profit into a paper loss. They do indicate that the Marlins are paying off $155 million in stadium debt (though that can’t amount to much more than $12 million a year, unless they got a truly horrible loan rate), as well as that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is paying himself about $3 million a year in “management fees,” plus interest on loans that he himself made to his own team.
  • Why did the Herald’s source show these documents to the paper in the first place? The Herald doesn’t indicate whether this was a team official or what, but if it was, then you have to wonder if there’s an element of spin here, as Loria and his staff try to justify their salary-dump trades of last winter as necessary to keep the team from losing money hand over fist. While the Herald calls the documents it perused “audited financial statements,” it doesn’t indicate whether this was the team’s actual internal records, or a set of books for more public consumption.

If there’s anything we can take away from this, it’s that the Marlins’ spending spree last year didn’t go well, and the new stadium isn’t really doing much to boost the team’s bottom line. Both of which we pretty much knew already, and given how things are going so far this year, it doesn’t look likely that matters will improve much in the near future. Possibly the most pointed bit of information in the Herald article, in fact, is its closing quote from Stanford economist Roger Noll: “So far there is no reason to be optimistic about the future of baseball in Miami. But you have never had a team managed by someone who knows and understands Miami.”