The Miami Marlins had to think that perhaps the home opener's attendance mark of 34,439 fans was a relative success. After all, with all of the fan outrage from what transpired in the offseason, the Fish had to be happy that their turnout was only a few thousand shy of their supposed sellout of Opening Day last season. Wendy Thrum of FanGraphs, however, reports that even with that mark, the Marlins' second opening night attendance falls way short of the historical pace for new stadiums.
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.
Apparently, the second year for most parks still features a florid attendance record, as most stadiums go up in attendance, with or without losing seasons.
Of course, for the Marlins, it is not so much about the losing season as it is about what transpired after that, and when you consider all of that, it is easy to explain what happened on the Marlins' second home game of 2013. The Marlins drew just 14,222 fans to Marlins Park in last night's game versus the Atlanta Braves, This represents a 59 percent drop-off in attendance from the home opener to the next game, and that drastic response can only be explained by the Marlins' inability to hold fans following all of the team's struggles and its ownership issues.
I wanted to find out if this drop-off was a new low for the Marlins franchise given their history of poor attendance. Had the Fish seen this kind of radical decline? I checked the records from 1998 to 2011 for the Marlins' attendance on their home opener and their second home game. I only looked at games occurring from Monday to Thursday, as weekend games tend to have better attendance. Let's see what the percentage drop-off was for each of these games.
The Marlins should indeed consider themselves lucky, but not just about the first game. The Marlins' second home game of the season could have been a lot worse, as the history of the park formerly known as Joe Robbie Stadium can attest to. The drop-off of 58.7 percent for the Marlins this season would have been the second-best result in team history among openers that occurred from Monday to Thursday!
It turns out that the Marlins have a significant history of large drop-offs in attendance from the first to the second game. The worst cases occurred in the doldrum years of the early 2000's, when expectations were still low before the 2003 World Series season. Surprisingly, the best seasons came in the darkest years of Marlins history, as the Fish had their lowest drop-off occur during the highly-forgettable 1999 campaign. The 1998 season can be understood, as the team just came off a World Series win and may have been riding that residual high for a small amount of time. But in 1999, the Fish were coming off a 108-loss season and were not expected to do much better.
The worst drop-off occurred in 2002, but there is a caveat present on that one. The Marlins did not open their season at home, as the team played two series on the road before coming home to a sparse crowd in the first gme and a record-low turnout in the second. This highlights a situation in which the Marlins struggle to draw when the home opener is not the season opener; the other instance of this situation in 2006 represented the second-lowest home opener attendance of the sample.
After the 2003 World Series, the Marlins posted their best home opener attendance marks, but even those teams that were expected to compete were not exempt from the fall in attendance. The 2004 and 2005 squads both had drops of above 60 percent, and those were akin to the drops seen in 2008 and 2009. Even competitive Marlins teams were victim of apathy towards the second game of the regular season.
What can we learn from this history? It is obvious that this season's occurrence was not an isolated one; the Marlins have a clear and obvious history of second-game drops in attendance. But this one had a few other factors working in opposite directions:
- On the positive side, the Marlins still must have had some residual "new stadium" bonus.
- On the negative side, the team's performance certainly did not help, and the fact that the home opener was a week after the team's actual season opener hurt their attendance as well. Naturally, the fire sale was also a factor.
Given all of the negatives that hung on the Marlins' heads, the 2013 showing for last night's game was actually good from a team historical perspective. The history of bad showings means that, with or without a fire sale, the Marlins likely would have struggled to bring up attendance. That factor probably weighed down the "new stadium" effect along with the "opener delay" effect, resulting in a drop-off that was not as severe as it likely would have been had the Marlins been playing in Sun Life Stadium. If Marlins Park were not a brand new and beautiful facility, the Marlins likely would have drawn closer to 10,000 fans in like in 2000 rather than the 14,000 that they actually got.
Of course, that is still bad by Major League Baseball standards, and as always, we here at Fish Stripes would implore someone in the commissioner's office to view this as a travesty rather than "same old south Florida." The Marlins did everything possible to lower attendance this season, but it does not meant that it is right that a stadium just one year old should be drawing in the tens of thousands one night after their home opener. It may be par for the course in Miami, but the goal is that it should not be.