WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The biggest unanswered question in South Florida pro sports the past few months? Simple: Why did Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria slash payroll by more than $60 million --- to a projected MLB-low $45 million – after claiming that a new ballpark would allow them to have a payroll in MLB’s midrange? Loria, who made the decision on his own after studying financial projections, is refusing to answer that.
So how could this happen?
Two MLB officials briefed on the team’s finances cite this as the issue: The Marlins dramatically overestimated their revenue at Marlins Park, largely because they expected much higher attendance.
“I expected it to be filled a number of times and we sold it out only twice all year,” Marlins special assistant Jeff Conine said. “It was very disappointing.”
One MLB official said the Marlins told people they overestimated stadium revenue by a whopping $40 million. Here’s how:
### The Marlins expected per-game attendance would be 33,000 to 35,000. Instead, paid attendance was announced at 27,400. That ranked 18th in baseball and was worst for a first-year ballpark in the modern era.
But the figure was actually a bit lower because some people got in free, including using tickets given away by MLB (which is routine around baseball).
And the number of people who actually showed up to games was, on average, 17,000. With an average ticket price of $29.62, selling 7500 more seats per game would have boosted revenue by $18 million.
“Our attendance was not anywhere near where we thought it would be,” Marlins president David Samson said on his former 790 The Ticket radio show. Loria recently banned Samson from speaking.
### Season-ticket sales were widely reported at 15,000. Not true. The Marlins actually sold 12,000 season tickets and will be fortunate to reach 7000 in 2013.
“Part of this,” according to WallStreet27 marketing report, “may be due to the fact that the Miami metro region has the second-lowest median household income among all 30 teams.”
Nor does this market have as much baseball history, tradition, or fan interest as many others.
### Because attendance was much lower than expected, concessions and merchandise revenue fell far below expectations. Say, instead of having 17,000 people in the ballpark per night, the Marlins had the 35,000 they hoped for.
Suppose each of those extra 18,000 people spent $10 in concessions per game. That’s another $14.6 million.
### The Marlins were required to pay the county $10 for 5000 parking spaces every game. Parking is included in prices for season ticket holders and is $15 (weekdays) and $20 (weekends) for others.
The Marlins expected to make a modest profit. Instead, they had to cover the cost of a lot of empty spots and ended up losing $300,000 on parking.
### The Marlins expected to find a naming rights partner that would pay them $4 million or so a year. They never did.
### Some ballpark costs were higher than the team projected, including air conditioning.
### Though the Marlins knew this going in, their annual TV revenue ranks among the bottom five in baseball.
The view here is none of these facts justify Loria fielding a team that will pay current Marlins a projected $33 million, with another $12.5 million paid in 2013 to San Diego and Toronto to cover some of the salaries for Heath Bell, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle.
Loria, who is refusing to sell the team, should sell if he’s not willing to finance a far more representative payroll.
The Marlins told people in baseball that they lost $40 million in 2012, a figure that cannot be independently corroborated and one they know will invite skepticism, in the wake of Deadspin.com reporting the team made $49 million in 2008-09.
The Marlins refuse to discuss their finances, beyond Samson saying on his former radio show that money lost in 2012 “is too much to talk about.”
The new ESPN/Fox/TBS TV deals will deliver twice as much annual revenue as the old deal, which should theoretically give the Marlins a reason to boost payroll in 2014. But Loria hasn’t told his people if he will.
### Among the oddities that puzzle the Heat about its league-worst rebounding: Though Udonis Haslem is a much better rebounder than Shane Battier, Miami has been outrebounded by 38 with Chris Bosh, Haslem and the other starters on the floor, but by just four with Bosh, Battier and the other starters.
The major reason: Bosh rebounds a lot worse playing next to Haslem than Battier; he mentioned Monday about having to “compete with my guy for a rebound.” Erik Spoelstra has used Joel Anthony with Bosh more recently, and the Heat is plus-eight in rebounding (45 minutes) with them together, though Anthony is a below-average rebounder for his size.
### The NCAA delayed (for a day or two) scheduled Monday calls to former UM coaches and staffers to tell them what they’re charged with. Meanwhile, we confirmed at least five former Canes players ended up talking to the NCAA after the NCAA mailed them an ultimatum to do so.
Attorney Bruce Fleisher said his two clients – whom he wouldn’t identify -- spoke to the NCAA, before an extended Jan. 3 deadline, and they said they received no benefits from Nevin Shapiro. “In order for them to continue going on the UM campus, they had to give statements to the NCAA,” Fleisher said. “None of these guys wanted to be banned from that activity.”
### The UM basketball program, also awaiting potential allegations, is the only team with a Top 10 RPI ranking (fifth) that’s not in the AP Top 10. But it's more irritating that that.
In fact, UM (12-3) isn’t even in the top 25. Miami was eighth in "others receiving votes," which would place it 33rd. Conversely, Syracuse is sixth in the AP poll but 13th in RPI, well behind Miami.
Jim Larranaga isn’t angry because he knows RPI -- which places strong emphasis on strength of schedule -- weighs more heavily than ranking with the selection committee.
“The thing that makes them dangerous is they’re old,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “That team fits together. They’ve got shooters, some inside presence. Defensively, they’re good. Shane Larkin is really good, kind of makes them go.”
### Some final rankings for Dolphins defensive players by Pro Football Focus: Randy Starks was 40th and Paul Soliai 50th among 85 qualifying defensive tackles (both seem too low).... Kevin Burnett was third and Koa Misi 10th among 43 outside linebackers in a 4-3...
Karlos Dansby was 13th among 53 inside linebackers... Cameron Wake was first and Jared Odrick 59th among 62 defensive ends in a 4-3.... Reshad Jones was third and Chris Clemons 24th among 88 safeties... Nolan Carroll was 68th and Sean Smith 75th among 113 qualifying corners.
### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, campaigning for stadium upgrades, declared: "I've made as big a commitment as anyone in pro sports in this country."