The Miami Marlins and Major League Baseball will need to keep fans interested in coming to the ballparks once they are allowed to see live action.
If thievery is the best form of flattery, then I hope my friend Ken Babby who owns the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp will forgive me for stealing his team’s mantra when it comes to the start of the MLB season in 2020. As the Miami Marlins and 29 other teams await the signal to resume baseball activities, the League office must step back for a moment and think of the fans while seats will remain empty.
Hopefully, at some point, fans will be allowed to attend games in accordance with the rules for safety that are being implemented by MLB, the CDC, and by state and local government. And when that happens how these organizations plan to honor these fans will be part of the oddest story told one Major League history.
Babby, who bought the Marlins AA affiliate four years ago, has preached the idea of “affordable family fun“ when reaching out to the masses to bring fans to the gates to enjoy Southern League baseball. It has worked masterfully. While minor-league baseball has its own following and is a different brand than what you see in Major League ballparks, the adaptation of such a concept would serve Major League owners well.
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I had a chance to talk the other night with former major-league pitcher Mark Littel about how fans will need to be lured back to the stadiums. The economy is not what it was and that families are taking a major hit during the Coronavirus pandemic. As in any sport, front offices must be sympathetic to the fact that families won’t be able to afford high ticket prices and large concession bills. The Marlins, and organization with one of the lowest payrolls in the sport today, should understand this because of how frugal the front office had to be to make the operation of the organization work.
That’s not to say teams aren’t going to do what they can to make a profit. We all understand that these franchises are losing money hand over fist because the game isn’t being played. But in the interest of “winning,” there has to be some kind of balance which appeals to the family of four that used to be able to afford a night at the ballpark, but now because of the economic situation across the nation, they have fallen on hard times.
I use Babby‘s example because it has been successful since day one. Consistent theme nights. Two dollar hotdogs, Thirsty Thursday beer nights, and concessions that are reasonable make the baseball experience enjoyable. Themes that are considered “out of the box“ where fans come for the “show“ in addition to seeing future Miami Marlins stars have made the summer ticket here in Jacksonville worth it.
The Jumbo Shrimp have also put together reasonable ticket prices where seats are just $5 for general admission. And if you haven’t been to a game here in North Florida on the St. Johns River, there isn’t a bad seat on a Friday evening where fireworks are on display after the game.
Marlins owner Derek Jeter agreed to the proposal put forth by the League office to bring back the game by July. The offer is now on the table for the Players Association to wade through. It’s the next step in an 82-game season becoming a reality. It’s also the albatross the fans are waiting to see either approved or modified based on dollars and sense.
Because of the time away from the game and because the family dynamic has changed because of COVID-19, MLB and the Miami Marlins will need to try harder to get people to come back to the stands. The idea of families sitting around the television as a unit and enjoying time indoors at their own convenience, in air-conditioning, and it less expense is going to have an effect on the season as well.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Players Association, team owners, and the players had better hope that once the 2020 season begins without fans in the stands that there will be as much excitement when they are allowed to come back to the gates. And that the American game doesn’t lose its perspective. While Major-League players are squabbling over millions of dollars in contracts, mom and dad are wondering whether they will be able to afford at least one game this season, let alone the potential for 40 of them.
As Marlins Park remains empty and Jeter and the front office look to get back to the business of baseball, families are waiting to get back to the experience and fun of the game.
Hopefully, this is the season where both of those practices work in cohesion. If not, this could be another long hot summer that has nothing to do with wins and losses. The biggest hit MLB will take will be because it lost the fan base that wanted to just enjoy games, to begin with.