The Runner Sports

What Is Derek Jeter’s Plan For Marlins?

The Miami Marlins are in a dilapidated state, and have perpetually been so since joining MLB as an expansion team in 1993, despite winning two World Series in that short run. That didn’t stop the sale of the team this last week for a whopping $1.2 billion (well above Forbes’ 25th ranked $940 million value estimation) to a group headlined by All-Star Derek Jeter.

The Marlins (in whatever incarnation) haven’t posted a winning season since 2009 and haven’t been to the playoffs since winning it all back in 2003, just a prepubescent decade into their franchise history. They’ve finished worse than 10th in NL attendance every year since 1998 and have been dead last in each of the last five years; also regularly battling for the worst attendance across the entire league year in and year out. The team, via multiple reports, is losing upwards of $40 million a year.

Not exactly the state of a franchise that sells for 22% more than its perceived market value. So what’s the big plan for Jeter’s new ownership group? Surely, there has to be a grand plan.

The Problems

It’s easy to pick on the Florida sports franchises and their regular struggles with consistent attendance. More so than any other franchises (across the major four professional sports), success is truly tied to putting butts in seats in Florida. But it’s also much more than just putting a good product on the field for the Marlins, something they’ve come short in managing to accomplish.

Florida, in general, struggles with the fact that a large majority of their population are transplants. As of 2012, just 36% of the state’s population was born there. With an influx of retirees and mid-lifers looking for warmer weather and quieter days comes the negative effect on their sports markets. With so many transplants coming to the state with previous sports allegiances, the pool of every game attendees takes a hit.

Located on the ruins of the old Orange Bowl in Little Havana, Marlins Park (minted in 2012) is also geographically handcuffed. Attending professional sporting events (even an 81-game home schedule afforded to MLB teams) is not cheap. The Marlins, even through their woes, are still the 15th most expensive median ticket price, coming in at $57 a pop. Combine that with the fact that the surrounding neighborhood’s median income is just $28,000/year and it’s not hard to understand why the locals aren’t flocking to the game.

So the locals aren’t streaming in, that means there’s a big need to land out of town fans. The surrounding area of the stadium reflects the low-middle class that populates it. Lacking an abundance of bars, restaurants, and things to do pre and post-game in the wake of the stadium, there’s a strong reliance on those to commute in from the glitzy beaches that define the South Beach, some 20 minutes into the mainland across the causeway, and over 3 miles from the defined “Downtown Miami” without ultra attractive public transit options. Those that do make that trek come (often after first pitch) and are quick to leave the area following their moment of resigned defeat.

 

The Solution

Marlins Park is only five years old, so the odds of Jeter making an attempt to move the franchise any time soon would be foolish. But that’s not to say that’s not the ultimate outcome for this team. If Jeter’s group fails to turn things around, not only will they likely have to short-sell down the road, but the new owners would most certainly face little choice but to jump from the area.

So moving isn’t what to expect from this team of owners, that now reportedly claims to include Jeter’s Jumpman sponsor Michael Jordan.

Win Share

The immediate remedy to plenty of the team’s issues is to develop a franchise operating philosophy and stick to it. Far too often Jeffrey Loria’s regime bounced between their desired approach on how to field a winning team.

Whether it’s blowing things up in 2017 to start laying down the foundation of organizational shift the likes of the 2007 Red Sox, 2015 Royals, and 2016 Cubs, or building around existing pieces and short-term solutions throwing money at the problem, this group needs to commit and stick firmly to this plan. None of their business plans can ultimately come to fruition without putting a quality product on the field.

A big question for the immediate days of the new owners (who will no doubt have shadow handling in his immediate future with the franchise) and one that will likely define the approach they opt for is what to do with Giancarlo Stanton. Signed to a ludicrous 13-year/$325 million deal in 2015, Stanton’s contract situation over the next decade severely dampers a “small market” team’s operating budget. He recently cleared waivers and speculation of a trade looms. Shipping him out points to a fresh start for the new ownership, keeping him around points to a more immediate need to build upon him.

Buy Low, Sell High

It seems Loria was caught in a self-imposed Catch 22 with his low attendance rate and reflecting ticket prices. It would appear the reason Marlins tickets were never discount bin cheap was that the ownership group was trying to combat low attendance with higher prices. The math and logic are simultaneously simple yet complex. Higher prices mean fewer are needed to “make” money. But you can bring more (and a more diverse fan base) to the stadium by cutting ticket prices.

Jeter will be the face of the ownership group and he’ll need to put that pretty mug to use and find a connection to a local fan base, and much of that will start with understanding the economic truths of the fan base at hand. He might have been a Yankee, but he can never afford to operate like his team of yore. Even the Yanks are finding a combative trend against their pursuit of upper-class ticket prices.

Fresh Prince Of Little Havana

The immediate thing any sensible owner has to do is commit to the area that defines the stadium’s footprint. Little Havana was no doubt chosen for it’s cheaper building option, but you can’t just plop a stadium in a low-income area and expect the stadium itself to manifest a positive change in the neighborhood, despite the sexy sales pitches owners put forth when they look for tax payer funded stadiums. It takes actual work to accomplish this.

For the Marlins to gain any fan appeal in their current location, there’s a desperate need to drive businesses to the area. There needs to be budget ranging food and drink options at hand as well as a few hotel accommodations. Few travel to the Miami area simply to catch a baseball game, but having more hotels around the stadium could lead to more choosing a ball game as part of their itinerary. The more there is to do around the area, the more attractive staying there rather than overlooking the beaches might become. The stadium is where it is, now it’s time to make the best of it.

This is comparing apples to oranges as Little Havana still has much more in terms of what’s at hand than Foxborough, but the Jeter group can take a look a the business operations of the New England Patriots and their implementation of Patriots Place in the shadows of Gillette Stadium. Understanding that they were well outside the Boston city limits and lacking much in the surrounding area of the stadium, Robert Kraft had the genius idea to construct his own little playland right in his back yard. Now a fully functional shopping facility, Patriots Places offers the likes of Bass Pro Shop, a movie theater, bowling alley, clothing stores, a number of restaurants, on-site grocery/pharmacy, and hotels all in the footprint of the stadium. It was easier to do considering the lot, but it’s the philosophy that Jeter should loosely embrace. Kraft gave fans that used to say it wasn’t worth trekking down to Gillette because there was little to do beyond the game plenty to do.

Building up the area around the stadium can help manifest the culture of the fans.

 

Jeter and his group of investors surely have examined all of this and believe they have a solution. This can’t be a vanity purchase or nothing will change for this team and it’ll be a money pit dealing in the millions. The obstacles are large and no solution comes without spending even more money than they already have. The MLB should ok this sale ultimately because it seems to a be a good-headed group with the desire to turn a profit and make the Marlins relevant. The big question is simply how they plan to do so.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold