The Miami Marlins are not a franchise known for being particularly well-liked by its own fanbase. The team immediately broke up both of its World Series rosters to save money, while owner Jeffery Loria and president David Samson are known for being slightly out of touch with what the fanbase wants. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the team once pumped fake fart noises into its stadium.
Still, no matter how clueless the Marlins’ brass is, you would think they would be smart enough not to sue their own fans. Yet, somehow, that’s exactly what they are doing. The Marlins are currently engaged in at least nine lawsuits with season ticket holders as well as two vendors for allegedly violating their contracts, according to The Miami New Times.
While suing your fans is an awful PR move, the team might have a case if fans legitimately broke their contracts. However, according to some of the fans in question, the team didn’t exactly follow through on what it promised when it upped season ticket prices by $11,00o per year when it moved into its new stadium in 2012.
Take one of the people being sued, Mickey Axelbrand. He had been a season ticket holder since the team came into existence, and despite the price increase, he stayed on when the team moved to Miami after it promised him all sorts of new amenities. However, once the team began to fall short of their expected income, Axelbrand says it suddenly yanked all those amenities away and basically told him to screw himself when he complained.
Yes, the new location meant an extra half hour on the road. But during numerous sales pitches, Axelband says, the Marlins promised first-floor parking in the stadium garage and a private entrance. There would also be a lounge with pre- and postgame buffets so season ticketholders could arrive early or hang out late. Axelband happily paid $24,000 for the two-seat package (that’s $148 per seat for each game) — nearly double the $13,000 he’d ponied up for the final year at Dolphin Stadium. He agreed to a two-year deal. Although only the private lounge was actually written into the contract, Axelband says he had no reason to believe the team wouldn’t follow through.
But Marlins Park wasn’t the success the team had hoped for. By midseason, crowds had dwindled to near Dolphin Stadium levels, and the team began slashing expenses. Those nearby parking spaces? Gone. The private entrance? Closed to save money on the extra usher manning the door. The buffet was stocked with the same bland panini for every game. Soon the team shut it down in the sixth inning.
These all might seem like small details, but “that’s exactly what we paid all the extra money for,” he says. Worst of all, Axelband says when he wrote the team to complain, the Fish weren’t sympathetic. “I didn’t want my money back or anything, but I said, ‘Please give me back the stuff you promised.’ The answer I got back was basically, ‘Yeah, we know we took it all away, but tough sh*t.’ “
Axelbrand didn’t come back for the second year of his two-year contract because of the team’s failures to follow through on its promises, and now he’s being sued because.
Unbelievably, the Marlins’ treatment of their vendors sounds even worse.
“You bamboozled us for this ballpark and now you have the audacity to sue a small businessman?” says Rene Prats, who went into bankruptcy after his Sir Pizza franchises failed at the ballpark. “I lost it all. I lost my business. And you’re coming after me?”
Prats spent about a decade as an NFL agent, he says, before getting into the restaurant business full time. He started with Papa John’s and worked with the Marlins for more than a decade doing promotions. In 2009 he opened the first of what grew into nearly a dozen franchises of Sir Pizza, a small chain with corporate headquarters in Indiana. When the new Marlins Park opened two years later, it seemed like the perfect way to grow. Prats signed on as the team’s official pizza sponsor, with four concessions in the ballpark for a $2 million fee.
But the deal quickly tanked — and Prats says Marlins executives fed him false expectations. “They made promises to me that never happened, such as 30,000 fans a game and $2 million in pizza sales a year,” Prats claims. “We never did more than $1.1 million in pizza sales, which was the first year, and then averaged $600,000 per year the next two years.”
Yikes. Although the Marlins may technically have a case with some of these, there is no way the small financial gain is going to be worth the abundance of horrible press the team is going to receive. On top of it all, the organization appears to at least be partially at fault for failing to meet the expectations of the clients that agreed to pay for their season tickets and vending deals, and yet it still is going after them for every last dime in court.
There are some very good candidates for the most tone deaf franchise in North American sports, but the Marlins might have surpassed them all.
(Via The Miami New Times)