Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins change it up, hope for more wins and larger crowds in 2014

cspencer@MiamiHerald.comMarch 31, 2014 

Nobody is predicting a third World Series title for the Marlins.

But when they take the field for Monday's season opener at Marlins Park, they'll be hoping to end a run of three consecutive last-place finishes and equally poor results at the turnstiles.

After suffering through a staggering, 100-loss season in which the Marlins also pulled up the rear in league attendance, team executives have taken a series of steps — both on and off the field — in hopes of producing more wins and larger crowds.

To help accomplish the latter, the Marlins have lowered most ticket prices.

"It's supply and demand," Marlins president David Samson said. "We want more people. We didn't perform the way we should have performed. We're going to lower prices."

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 the American League's Tampa Rays) and selling just 5,000 season tickets.

And now, even after an offseason devoid of any public relations disasters, the Marlins are still trying to reach 5,000 season tickets, just days before Monday's 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 and bullpen, the Marlins aren't likely to endure another 100-loss season.

"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 as 69 percent, and some single-game tickets as much as 55 percent.

The lowest-priced seats are now $9 on weekdays and $12 on weekends.

Samson said StubHub.com cannot 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, game-used bats or baseballs, retail items and passes to concerts or other Marlins Park 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 long-term 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 position 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 [from ages] 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 and pitchers not 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."

•  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.

As for the on-field product, the Marlins return Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, who will make the Opening Night start against the Colorado Rockies, as well as slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

The team also signed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who not only has the longest last name in major-league history, but was also a key member of the Boston Red Sox, who went from 97 losses in 2012 to a World Series title last year.

The Opening Night lineup is expected to contain only two players — Stanton and Adeiny Hechavarria — who were on manager Mike Redmond's lineup card the same day a year ago.

Of the eight position players who took the field for the Marlins on Opening Day last year, three — Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre and Casey Kotchman — are no longer in baseball, and another, catcher Rob Brantly, is back in the minors.

"We had players who were either at the end of their careers or weren't ready to play in the big leagues," said president of baseball operations Michael Hill. "Now you have talent in their prime. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in his prime. And we have players with championship pedigrees who didn't come to Miami to lose games."

After watching the Marlins rally to defeat the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in a spring training game earlier in the week, Hill strolled across the lush grass of the diamond wearing a look of satisfaction. Through Thursday, the Marlins were 18-11 in spring traing, which was the second-best record in Florida’s Grapegruit League and the best record of any National League team.

Sure, it was only the exhibition season.

But for the Marlins' new president of baseball operations, a Harvard-educated man who isn't one to engage in hyperbole, the outcome carried meaning, symbolic of something greater.

"What you've seen this spring is not a mirage," Hill said, stopping to autograph bright orange Marlins caps belonging to a couple of young boys before continuing on his way. "It's not an aberration."

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