Baseball

Early Returns for Miami's Notoriously Absent Baseball Fans


Don’t look now, but the Miami Marlins are in first place in the National League East. Through the first seven games of the season, the team has scored the most runs in the league and emerged with five victories. Plus, in 21-year-old right hander Jose Fernandez, the Marlins have one of the most exciting pitching talents in the game. It’s the sort of situation that might make a fan forget about team owner Jeffrey Loria, his stepson and team president David Samson, and their brazen exploitation of Miami taxpayers to build a new stadium.

Early returns suggest Marlins fans may already be forgetting. The chart below show’s the team attendance for the first seven games of the season since 2011:

Seven games is a small sample, but the chart shows the recent history of the franchise. In 2011, before the new stadium was built, the Marlins were still in tank mode. More than 40,000 people came out for the home opener three years ago, yet by the fourth game attendance had dropped to slightly more than 10,000. Then came the year of big promises, a new ballpark, and a new roster full of big names to fill it—and the opening day excitement that launched 2012 stayed relatively strong through the early season. But the team played poorly, and Loria sent his expensive talent packing. By 2013, amazingly, fans could still be relied on for the crowded home debut before attendance cratered and stayed down.

And this year, the Marlins’ second game saw the same collapse as last year before a surprising weekend recovery: 35,188 came out to see Fernandez shut out the San Diego Padres on Saturday; a respectable 22,496 showed up on Sunday. It’s too soon to declare victory for Loria’s explode-and-rebuild strategy, but this could be what hope looks like. Never discount the short memory of the sports fan.

Aside from the Marlins drama, the numbers show the power of pent-up demand. After a long winter, baseball fans will show up in droves to see just about any collection of men in uniform. In the case of the Marlins, as shown above, this urge sometimes endures for all of one game. Fans, it seems, quickly remember why they ignore the team. (Earlier this year, Samson, the team president, was voted off the reality show Survivor in the first episode of the season, which seemed a fitting result.)

The Marlins fan experience sent me looking for other early-season attendance trends. The power of Opening Day is a constant. But how to account for the swiftness and severity of the drop from there? Attendance, of course, fluctuates by the day of the week, time of start, opponent, pitching matchups, ticket prices, and so on. In my noncomprehensive analysis, however, fan expectations and climate seem to be the biggest drivers early on. Here are a few teams from the top and bottom of the table for Opening Day odds of winning the World Series (with a minimum of at least three home games played so far this season).

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the favorites to win it all, at 6-to-1 odds:

The Detroit Tigers, at 9-to-1 odds, are just behind the St. Louis Cardinals, who have yet to play at home:

The 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox are 13 to 1 to repeat:

And at the bottom, here are the Houston Astros at 500 to 1:

And, for a cold weather comparison, the Chicago White Sox at 150 to 1:

Boudway_190
Boudway is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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