When the Marlins moved into their new ballpark in 2012, they said they expected to average at least 30,000 spectators per game and sell 15,000 season tickets annually, at least for the first few years.
They fell short in the first year (27,400 and 12,000), then predictably nose-dived in both categories last season after slashing payroll, dropping to 19,584 distributed tickets per game in 2013 (ahead of only Tampa) and selling just 5000 season tickets.
And now, even after an offseason devoid of any public relations disasters, the Marlins are still trying to reach 5000 season tickets, just days before the March 31 opener. They’re hoping five factors ultimately will boost attendance:
### A better team. With the addition of four new starting position players and an augmented bench, the Marlins aren’t likely to endure another 100-loss season. But nobody is predicting playoffs.
“The ballpark is fantastic,” Marlins president David Samson said. “But now it’s time to match the ballpark with the product, and I don’t mean as a payroll. I mean as the result.”
### Lower ticket prices. The Marlins reduced prices for every seat, with an average cut of 25 percent on season tickets and 20 percent on single game tickets. Some season-ticket prices were dropped as much 69 percent, and some single game tickets as much as 55 percent.
The lowest-priced seats are now $9 on weekends and $12 on weekends.
“It’s supply and demand,” Samson said. “We want more people. We didn’t perform the way we should have performed. We’re going to lower prices.”
Samson said stubhub.com will not be permitted to charge anything less than $6 for Marlins tickets.
### A “rewards plus” points system similar to the type of programs that airlines and major hotel chains use.
Sean Flynn, the Marlins’ senior vice president/marketing, said the program will be available only to season-ticket holders this year, but to all ticket holders beginning in 2015.
Here’s how it works: Season-ticket holders will receive varying amounts of points for buying tickets, actually attending the games, posting Marlins-requested messages on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and purchasing merchandise at the team store. At some point in the next year, fans also can earn points by clicking on news stories on Marlins.com, buying concessions and other Marlins-related activities.
Points can be redeemed for tickets to future games, suite access, bats or baseballs used in games, retail items and passes to concerts or other Sun Life Stadium events.
The perks for the fans who earn the highest level of points: participating in batting practice or walking out with the lineup card (accompanied by manager Mike Redmond) before the game.
“We had two goals: to retain customers and to grow our fan base,” Flynn said. “Increasing attendance is a longterm goal when we open it up to all fans.”
The Marlins are not sharing with the general public a specific breakdown of how many points are needed to redeem what prizes, but Flynn said season-ticket holders will have that information on a secured portion of the Marlins web site by Monday. Flynn said season ticket holders are automatically enrolled.
### Faster games. The Marlins played the fastest games in the majors last season, largely because they scored fewer runs than any other team in baseball. Samson believes the slow pace of games might be hurting attendance and has told players to hurry it up.
“Our focus in Miami is pace of game,” Samson said. “It’s very important to me. The games are going too long."
MLB games averaged 2 hours, 59 minutes during the 2013 regular season and 3:22 in the playoffs.
"If we want to engage fans 18-49, we have to play faster," Samson said. "[In the new replay system], there needs to be a call on the field, a replay, and an overturn within 60 seconds. Period. We're not going to put up with 3 1/2-hour games. Our fans don't want it."
Samson said the Marlins also will encourage batters not to step out of the box as often or pitchers to step off the mound.
“For us, these four-hour games and 3 1/2-hour games, it can't happen," Samson said. "We are studying all of our home games, and we're finding out what can we do to shave our running time. This is a Marlins thing, because I've had it. Our fans have had it. There should be 2-hour, 35-minute games."
Commissioner Bud Selig told me last week that he agrees with Samson's contention that the pace of games must improve, and he's working on it.
Is Samson convinced this market will support baseball to the level the team expected in a new ballpark? “Yes, because it’s our job,” he said. “We failed so far, but we’re getting better. It’s our job to give our fans a winning franchise and a stable franchise.”
### More entertainment. Saturday night concerts no longer will be limited to the west plaza. There will be concerts and parties (with disc jockeys) in the Clevelander area on the east plaza on select Saturdays, beginning April 5, when DJ Laz hosts.