How can Marlins replicate World Baseball Classic crowds? ‘Winning baseball games’

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Sandy Alcantara can still hear the roar. Nearly 36,000 packed into loanDepot park for the first night of the World Baseball Classic on March 11 when the Miami Marlins’ ace started for the Dominican Republic against Venezuela.

With every play made, with every pitch thrown, fans made their presence known.

“When you see that kind of crowd,” Alcantara said, “you say ‘Damn. That’s what I want.’”

Alcantara has rarely had crowds like that at loanDepot park during his Marlins tenure. He started in front of more than 30,000 people at home just once — the Marlins’ home opener last season against the Philadelphia Phillies.

But after experiencing the atmosphere the World Baseball Classic brought to loanDepot park over the past week and a half, culminating with Japan beating the United States 3-2 on Tuesday, Alcantara, other Marlins players and team executives alike are trying to find ways to replicate the setting over 81 home games.

How can they do it?

Infielder Jean Segura, who joined Alcantara on the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic and played in his first World Series last season, boils it down to its simplest form.

“Winning baseball games. Get to the playoffs,” said Segura, who signed a two-year deal with the Marlins this offseason after spending the past four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. “I guarantee fans are going to show up. If I’m a fan, I’m not going to pay [for] a ticket to watch people losing. We have to take care of business. We have to play the game the right way. We have to bring energy to the baseball field. If we do that, I guarantee fans are going to show up. If we’re not going to do that, I don’t think they’re going to show up.”

The Marlins’ total home attendance last season over 81 regular season games was 907,487, an average of 11,204 that ranked 29th out of 30 MLB teams. This isn’t a new phenomenon. The Marlins have at or near the bottom of league attendance for years now.

But for 10 days in mid-March, fans showed up to the ballpark in droves.

The combined announced attendance for the 15 World Baseball Classic games played at loanDepot park — 10 during pool play, two quarterfinals, two semifinals and the championship — was 475,269, an average of 31,684.6 fans per game. Nine games had more than 35,000 people, including 36,098 for the championship on Tuesday.

“Once you taste this,” Marlins president of business operations Caroline O’Connor said, “it’s hard to get the memory out of there.”

Miami Marlins president and principal owner Bruce Sherman speaks with Caroline O’Connor before the team’s season opener at home on April 14, 2022.
Miami Marlins president and principal owner Bruce Sherman speaks with Caroline O’Connor before the team’s season opener at home on April 14, 2022.

It is part of O’Connor’s job to find ways to get that experience to extend from the World Baseball Classic to Marlins games, from people coming to the ballpark proud to represent their country to coming to the ballpark to represent the hometown team.

That’s easier said than done when the product on the field has consistently been lackluster at best.

O’Connor is entering her sixth season with the Marlins. She served as the club’s chief operating officer for the first five years before being promoted to president of business operations in November. The Marlins have not won more than 69 games in a full regular season during the time O’Connor has been with the club.

The Marlins did reach the playoffs once in this span, but in came in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season when fans were not allowed at ballparks.

“Winning is great,” O’Connor said, “but we can’t rely on that on the business side. Our job is to get people in here to enjoy the experience and want to be here regardless.”

The Marlins used the World Baseball Classic as an opportunity to try to get fans to return. At each World Baseball Classic game, they highlighted their various Heritage Night celebrations that occur on Saturday home games, tailoring the advertising to the teams playing. When fans logged onto the ballpark wifi, they were prompted with offers to buy tickets.

The team also began selling single-game tickets in November.

“We love having the World Baseball Classic here,” O’Connor said, “but this is the home of the Marlins and we want them to come visit us again.”

Maybe that long-awaited strong start to the season could help them. The Marlins retooled their roster this offseason, adding more offense in Segura, Luis Arraez, Yuli Gurriel and Jose Iglesias. The have the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner in Alcantara and a potential future face of baseball in Jazz Chisholm Jr.

And they have an expectation to compete despite playing in a stacked National League East that includes three playoff teams from a season ago.

“We all want to get out of the gate quickly,” Marlins general manager Kim Ng said last week, “and basically show people what we think we can do.”

If the Marlins can do that, maybe fans will come. The Marlins saw what the experience could look like over the past two weeks.

“They bought tickets to a baseball game,” O’Connor said. “They could buy tickets to another baseball game. I see it as opportunity. They’re showing us, ‘Hey, we’re listening and we’re interested’ and we’re going to try our hardest to make that connection and have them come back.”