Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria yesterday in his first public comments in more than three months reaffirmed that the team "is not for sale" and said that breaking up a team that finished last in the NL East "was necessary for the franchise to move forward," according to Manny Navarro of the MIAMI HERALD. Loria said the reason he has kept quiet since trading several high-priced players, including SS Jose Reyes and Ps Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, is because he wanted to “decompress” and get out of the way of “a runaway train” of negativity. Loria: "I have a sense of (the public anger). I’m sorry we built this amazing ballpark and fans are feeling the way they do. But we did this for a reason." The Marlins' payroll entering the '12 season was between $95M-100M, and Loria said the club lost “tens of millions,” causing the team to “push the restart button.” President David Samson said the Marlins expected “worst case” to draw more than 2 million fans last season, but drew just 1.4 million. Samson said that after selling 12,000 season tickets last year, the club is "hovering below 5,000 with five weeks to go before the home opener. Loria said that all spending "moving forward will be based on a function of revenue." Asked if the Marlins might spend $100M on payroll again, Loria said. “No. We’ll never get to $100 million. We don’t have the TV contract yet to do that. We will one day" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/26). Loria: "We built this ballpark because we thought there would be a lot of fans coming here down the road. I understand they're disappointed. That's a natural reaction. We didn't do this for fun. We did this because we think we had something special." He added, "I understand the feeling, but I have no interest in endless losing and we had two years of that" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 2/26).
TROUBLE AT THE GATE: Samson yesterday said that the Marlins’ new ballpark was "slow to draw fan interest even before a disastrous season led to a collapse in attendance so steep that the front office never contemplated it." And while Samson said that the "biggest miscalculation was in just how poorly the Marlins would play, he said lukewarm support was noticeable well before the Marlins’ infamous mid-season dive." In Miami, Douglas Hanks notes season-ticket buyers "did not respond" to the team signing Reyes and other star players months before the ballpark’s debut. Samson's marketing team had "hoped to announce a string of sell-outs" before the April 4 Opening Day, but even the June games against the Red Sox "didn’t bring enough demand to sell all 37,500 seats." He said that the Red Sox series was an "early sign of trouble." Samson: "We were very, very worried when the Red Sox games didn’t sell out." Last season's announced attendance of 2.1 million was "still far better than what the team drew when playing in Sun Life." But Samson said that the "internal numbers of actual paid attendance were much worse." He put the "so-called 'turnstile' attendance for the season at 1.4 million." That is "roughly 17,000 people per game -- or not even half of the stadium" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/26).
BLIND TO PUBLIC PERCEPTION: In Miami, Greg Cote notes Loria hiring a new PR firm, The JeffreyGroup, is a sign of "awareness that his image has fallen to squalid disrepair and dragged the team’s brand with him." Cote: "I pity the PR firm’s Herculean challenge. I can only hope the planned reimaging of Loria did not mean to commence with that 'Letter To Our Fans' ... a letter that begged a tone of conciliation but was combative." It was a "spectacularly misguided shirking of responsibility that left Marlins fans shaking heads at this man who evidently doesn’t get it or just doesn’t give a (bleep)." Cote: "I’m not sure Loria has any idea (or concern) how unpopular he is. In my latest blog poll, I asked readers if they wished Loria would sell the Marlins. 'Yes' was running about 98 percent" as of last night. Loria does "not seem to understand the disbelieving reaction he would get from most customers, for example, if he told them what he tried to feed the media" last night (MIAMI HERALD, 2/26). WPLG-ABC's Will Manso wrote the letter to fans "highlights why Loria continues to be so out of touch with reality." The "reality is no one in South Florida really likes him." Loria has "no one to blame for this mess but himself." In the end, he can "take this condescending joke of a letter and go back to hiding." Manso: "I’ve got a great place he can do that in this season, somewhere no one else will be: his $600 million ballpark" (LOCAL10.com, 2/25).
BLACK MARK FOR THE GAME: In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon writes under the header, "Marlins Stain The MLB Landscape." Gordon: "The franchise may struggle to draw 1 million fans into its sparkling new ballpark, which was largely financed by the public. There is no bigger fiasco in all of professional sports" (STLTODAY.com, 2/26). ESPN’s Buster Olney said, "Miami’s attendance promises to be a black mark for baseball.” ESPN’s Karl Ravech added, “A green mark at the very least, since that’s the color of those seats there. They’ll be nobody in them” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN2, 2/25).
KEEP US OUT OF IT: In West Palm Beach, Joe Capozzi notes Loria during his address last night "described as 'a smear campaign' the Miami Dolphins’ efforts to distance themselves from the Marlins in their effort to get public money to renovate Sun Life Stadium." Loria said, "I'm sure it's their effort to get their deal done. I hope the Dolphins get their deal. I want every team to thrive in South Florida. It has nothing to do with us. We should not have been included" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/26).