There’s nothing terribly surprising about the headline. The Marlins finished in last place in the National League East last season. They traded all of the marquee players over the winter, save for superstar Giancarlo Stanton, who is under team control until after the 2016 season. The team threatened to sue season-ticket holders who refused to pay their ticket invoice in a dispute over whether their view was obstructed. And a week before the season started, the Marlins had teamed with Groupon to offer two-for-the-price-of-one tickets for opening night against the Braves. Then the Marlins started the season on the road with a 1-5 record.
Still, when my colleague Jeff Sullivan snapped this photo just as the opening night was getting underway at Marlins Park, I was, well, surprised.
The official attendance, courtesy of the box score on MLB.com, was 34,439. That’s 3,000 or so shy of the 37,442 seating capacity. Of course, official attendance means tickets sold, not the number of fans through the turnstiles. Even so, the Marlins failed to match the attendance from last season’s inaugural opening night of the ballpark, missing that 36,601 mark by more than 2,000.
How does the Marlins’ second opening night stack up against other ballparks that have opened since 2000? Not particularly well.
Fourteen ballparks have opened between April 2000 and April 2012. The only one to see a significant drop in attendance from the first opening day to the second — other than Marlins Park — was Minute Maid Park (nee Enron Field) in Houston. The Astros’ new park opened in 2000 and hosted 41,583 fans on opening day. The next season, the Astros sold only 35,526 tickets to opening day. Why? I bet the collapse of Houston-based Enron — for which Minute Maid Park was originally named — had a dampening effect. It may have had something to do with the Astros’ .444 winning percentage in 2000, as well.
But a losing record in the first year doesn’t tell the whole story. Indeed, several other teams had dismal records in their inaugural seasons in the new digs. And yet fans still showed up for the second opening day. Here’s a chart listing the 14 ballparks opened since 2000, the inaugural opening day attendance, the team’s winning percentage in its first year in the new ballpark, and the second year opening day attendance.
Inaugural Opening Day Attendance
Winning Percentage First Year
Second Year Opening DayAttendance
40,930 (sell out)
.599NL Wild Card
40,930 (sell out)
41,583 (sell out)
42,024 (sell out)
43,005 (sell out)
Great American Ballpark
42,343 (sell out)
42,122 (sell out)
Citizens Bank Park
44,080 (sell out)
43,538 (sell out)
.516NL Central Title
.636AL East Title
.580AL Central Title
40,714 (sell out)
Other than the Astros, and now the Marlins, only the Pirates saw a drop in attendance from the first opening day to the second, but it was minimal. Every other team saw opening day attendance rise in the second year, even teams with losing records in the inaugural season — the Tigers, Brewers, Reds, Nationals, and Mets.
This isn’t about “attendance shaming.” Marlins fans have every reason to stay away from the ballpark this season. It’s simply an effort to put the Marlins’ experience in some historical context. Based solely on these opening day attendance numbers, history hasn’t treated the 2013 Marlins particularly well.
And, don’t bother trying to ask the Marlins players about it. Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports talked with Placido Polanco and Kevin Slowey about the crowd after the game, but notes that he was then escorted out of the clubhouse by the Marlins media relations director. At least he was allowed to stay in the stadium, unlike several fans who wore shirts and carried signs protesting the franchise’s direction, and were asked to leave by stadium security personnel.
Major League Baseball is at its most most prosperous point, perhaps ever. In an era of unprecedented labor peace and financial well being for all, the current state of the Marlins is simply an unfortunate stain on the game.