Fleeing Fish: MLN Sports Zone Examines Florida Marlins' Possible Move

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Where will the Florida Marlins go? Vegas sounds so sexy. San Antonio wants the MLB. Where can they really go? Perhaps not far, MLN Sports Zone ( http://www.mlnsportszone.com ) suggests.

Last month, Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria broke the news that the team, with a checkered existence in Miami since 1993, was given permission by the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig, to explore the option of moving out of South Florida.

To put out the unwelcome mat further, the Marlins conducted a fire-sale of high-dollar player contracts in December, 2005 that rivals the big sell-off that former fish owner H. Wayne Huizenga engineered after the club’s first World Series win in 1998. That infamous plug-pulling sent the team into a community relations tailspin with fans in the Marlins’ school that has affected the club’s following to this day.

Low regular season attendance predates the 1998 World Series run, though. It has been the perpetual lament of the club since 1994, when Huizenga began militating for a separate baseball park in the Dolphin-dominated South Florida sports market.

With great fanfare, the Marlins announced that they had received permission from the Commissioner to look around for another place to play. The local press, which seizes on bad Marlins news like a donut addict locked in a Krispy Kreme, said good riddance and began screaming all of the usual rumors about towns where the Marlins might go.

Las Vegas, Portland (OR), and San Antonio have been floated through the major league press.

Las Vegas is the most romantic of the choices. Big gambling and hotel outfits take a piece of the action out of anything entertainment on the Strip. Hotels, shows, restaurants and tawny strip malls full of brand shops are either directly owned or the companies are their landlords. Baseball’s much-prized Federal anti-trust exemption means that the casinos can’t have a direct or even traceable indirect participation in the stadium or the club. If it doesn’t line big gambling’s pockets, it’s not a big win for Sin City.

Portland, Oregon built a new stadium, PGE Park, in 2000 to house the Padres’ AAA Pacific Coast League franchise, the Portland Beavers. In late 2004, the team, teetering on insolvency, was taken over by the Pacific Coast League. The league found a new ownership group. The city completed negotiations with the new owners for a lease on the park that runs through 2010. The Marlins were rebuffed by the Mayor on a recent visit. No one is going to tear down a multi-million dollar park that has been a political hot potato in a market that has been very soft on professional baseball.

San Antonio has made some noise about becoming a major league market. A small population market and proximity to major league clubs like Houston and the Texas Rangers make it a Class AA Texas League town, not an MLB city.

Look, Don’t Pack

Commissioner Selig gave the Marlins permission to investigate a move, but the most likely scenario is that MLB will get more involved in finding a home for the Marlins in a part of South Florida that has the kind of population demographics that will sustain the club better than Miami. Nearby North Broward and Palm Beach counties are more affluent. A shorter commute to the long season of games would be expected to boost season ticket numbers.

Buzz at the Winter meetings off the record was consistent: The sentiment is that the Marlins should try to work out their problems and stay in the South Florida market.

Should they move, though, the likely candidates would be high-drawing Triple-A baseball markets, like Sacramento or Memphis. Both have issues that would make a move difficult, though. Indianapolis has broad drawing power and is a sports town, but a big bill to keep the Colts housed and happy would mean that putting together a stadium deal in Florida would still be easier.

For the Marlins to succeed anywhere, some of their community relations habits will have to improve. The team fields championship clubs, that, according to their math, should be enough to command less Rodney Dangerfield-like respect. It’s not the World Series rings that make the daily payroll. It’s the long home season that the Marlins have to deliver. Both the Expos and the Marlins have fallen under repeated criticism in that department. An autograph signing last Spring was blown off to much fan criticism. This and other miscues will make fence mending as important a component of the Marlins’ operations plans as stadium building.

The complete article, with analysis of where the Marlins may go, can be found at MLN Sports Zone: http://www.mlnsportszone.com/baseball/features/articles2005/12/28/01.html

Since 2000, Minor League News (MLN) has been the Leader in Minor League Sports™, with original features at its flagship magazine, MLN Sports Zone ( http://www.mlnsportszone.com ), the only dedicated minor league and independent sports newswire in RSS, MLN -- The Raw Feed™ (http://www.minorleaguenews.com/rawfeed ), and the Open Source Sports Directory (http://www.ossd.info ), the first comprehensive biographies of players from every minor league and independent sport from 1900 to the present. For more information contact info @ minorleaguenews.com. For advertising opportunities on MLN publications, contact Nancy Fisher at advertising @ minorleaguenews.com.

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