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The Sunshine Economy

The Sunshine Economy: Remaking The Miami Marlins

Tom Hudson
Workers prepare Marlins Park for the Marlins' 2019 opening day. The team hopes to rebuild trust with local fans in the effort to boost business.

The Miami Marlins is one of the least-liked teams in Major League Baseball. More than $1 billion in public money will have been spent for their new stadium by the time all the loans are paid. The team's management hasn't been shy about getting rid of top players. It's been 15 years since a playoff appearance, and the Marlins have ranked near the lowest in attendance for six years.

But this season the Marlins hope to remake its business operations.

The business has a long way to go.

It’s the second season of the new ownership group, which includes billionaire investor Bruce Sherman and former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter. First pitch for the Marlin’s is Thursday, March 28, against the Colorado Rockies. It is the earliest opening day ever for Major League Baseball, and the Marlins are banking on improving its business.

The team had the worst record last year in the National League, along with one of the worst home game records and one of the lowest payrolls in the league.

While the value of the franchise has increased, the business has struggled. Forbes estimates the team has not turned an operating profit since 2016.

"It's a rebranding," says Adam Jones, senior vice president of business strategy and development for the Marlins. "In many ways, it's a rebirth."

Credit Tom Hudson
Miami Marlins Senior Vice President of Business Strategy and Development Adam Jones calls the 2019 season "a rebirth" of the team's relationship with fans in South Florida.

Jones grew up as a Cincinnati Reds fan. He played third base and batted third in Little League before giving up baseball for basketball. He spent more than a decade as a business strategy consultant, working with professional sports franchises across the country before coming to the Marlins. He’s been instrumental in the team's decision to add new sections in the stadium, cut some ticket prices and drop the price of ball game staples like hotdogs and a beer.

He calls last season "year zero." This season, Homer, the centerfield publicly funded sculpture is gone. The majority of seats in the stadium sell for $25 or less. The Marlins are experimenting with one ticket that allows fans to have two standing room only spaces. A 12-ounce beer will sell for $5. "We came in eyes-wide-open to the current state of the organization. Our number one objective was to build trust."

The driving vision for this? "We want to be authentically Miami," says Jones. 

Leading up to Opening Day, season ticket sales were up compared to the same point ahead of the 2018 season, according to Jones. His goal was to have more than 70 percent of season ticket holders return. "We've hit those marks and are exceeding them."

Falling Attendance Despite New Stadium

Since beginning play at Marlins Park in 2012, attendance has been sluggish at best. The 2018 data shows a significant decline as the new ownership group stopped including unpaid tickets in its attendance data. "Attendance is one of our key priorities," Jones says. "We're focused on getting as many people in the building as possible and earning as much support as we can."

Expectations on the field are low. Oddsmakers give the Marlins a 500-to-1 chance of winning the National League Pennant -- the lowest in the league. The team faces 800-to-1 odds of winning the World Series.

But in the stands, the team hopes to beat the bad business that has plagued it for several years. It has lowered ticket prices and followed a trend by some other teams in cutting the prices of popular food and drink items. The Marlins are joining the Minnesota Twins this season in offering cheaper menu items. In true Miami style, the Marlins call it the “3 o 5” menu -- items for $3 or $5. While that’s a new strategy, the team also is trying something old -- inviting familiar local restaurants into the stadium.

Moving forward also means acknowledging the past with the Marlins -- not the two World Series trophies, but the acrimony built up over years.

"We truly believe that we're building a formula that will deliver on a promise that was made by others, but we'll deliver on the commitment that the community made in return (for) that promise."

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.