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Good PBP article about how to market the Fish in 2006


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Students in Scott Becher's Sport Marketing graduate class at Florida Atlantic have had some real-life assignments through the years, from writing a marketing program for Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler to devising a promotions plan for the Florida Panthers.

 

But this semester's assignment is a doozy: Find a way to get South Florida excited about the Marlins.

 

Any advice, professor?

 

"Be honest with your fans, find ways to give fans an experience that no other sports or entertainment product can rival," said Becher, who runs Sports & Sponsorships Inc., a promotions agency in Hollywood. "Then cross your fingers that somehow this young team is able to perform beyond their expectations."

 

The Marlins haven't given Becher's students much with which to work. The team's a tough sell after a tumultuous off-season.

 

Catch Florida Marlins fever! Just forget about the seven popular players we dumped and ignore our talks about moving to another city!

 

The Marlins begin reporting for spring training this week, but the front-office staff has some major kinks to work out to promote a team that could lose 100 games after being gutted for the second time in the past decade.

 

"It's going to be very difficult for the Marlins to bring their fan base back," said Patrick Rishe, an associate professor of economics at Webster University in St. Louis, who specializes in sports marketing issues. "It's just a unique situation from the standpoint of there aren't too many times that a team wins two championships in such a short period of time (seven years) and yet they gut their roster and threaten to move."

 

Marlins President David Samson, who didn't do his PR staff any favors by getting into a shouting match with season ticket-holders in December, is confident in his marketing staff.

 

The Marlins' approach is along the lines of what Becher suggests: Sell fans on the idea of connecting and growing with their new, young players.

 

"The truth is everyone we meet on the street says, 'What can we do to help the team, because we don't want them to leave,' and the answer is, 'You've got to come to games,' " Samson said. "You've got to show the politicians around the country, and in Florida, and show Major League Baseball that South Florida deserves a team."

 

Here's another truth: Even in the best of times, the Marlins had trouble drawing crowds.

 

Last season, owner Jeffrey Loria forked out $65 million to field a lineup that included Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. But the Marlins drew just 1,823,388 fans, up slightly from the team's total in 2004 (1,723,105) but still 27th among baseball's 30 teams, ahead of Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

 

This season, they'll field a lineup of two rising stars, pitcher Dontrelle Willis and third baseman Miguel Cabrera, and a cast of largely unknown players with minimal big-league experience.

 

If fans didn't come out to see a playoff-caliber team, why would they pay to see a starless one?

 

"We ask ourselves that often," Samson said. "We're not hiding from it. We don't have rose-colored glasses. This market's been under-performing since '93, but no one is willing to give up on it yet ? certainly not us, because we're still too young to give up."

 

As of Friday, Samson said, the team was on pace to sell 5,000 season tickets, down from about 10,000 last season.

 

"I don't know what the final attendance will be," he said. "I don't know what the record will be for the team, but to me, it's not about records or attendance. It's about baseball. It's about coming out to games.

 

"Every day fans can give an excuse for why they don't want to come to the park. My hope is people say, 'I'm going to go out to the game. I'm going to try it.' "

 

The Marlins haven't turned to outside consultants for help. Their marketing slogan is a slight variation of last year's, going from "Get Hooked" to "Get Hooked Up."

 

"It's get hooked up with tickets, get hooked up with people, get hooked up with a good time. It's sort of a double-entendre, which is fun," Samson said.

 

If you think the Marlins would or should hook up to the success and popularity of Willis and Cabrera, think again.

 

Pitcher Jason Vargas, the team's rookie of the year in 2005, promising right fielder Jeremy Hermida and manager Joe Girardi are among images that will be featured on billboards and season-ticket items. The team also will feature newcomers Mike Jacobs and Hanley Ramirez on giveaway gloves and T-shirts.

 

"We're going to integrate the new guys into the mix as much as we can," said Sean Flynn, the team's vice president for marketing. "They'll be used evenly. We're not going to say this is Dontrelle and Miguel's team. This is the Florida Marlins. We're going to highlight all of our guys."

 

None of the team's TV ads will feature players, continuing the approach the team used last year.

 

"If you look at the turnover in Major League Baseball, none of the rosters are the same," Flynn said.

 

Rishe, the sports marketing expert, believes the best way for the Marlins to bring in more fans is to slash prices.

 

"Offer a lot of discounts for food and beverages and tickets, because otherwise you're charging major-league prices for a minor-league experience," he said.

 

Perhaps the Marlins can pick up some pointers from another struggling Florida baseball franchise. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who have had miserable draws at the gate since the team's inception in 1998, are planning radical changes with new owner Stuart Sternberg.

 

For starters, he's lowering ticket prices. He'll offer free parking this season, which is believed to be the first time a major-league team has done such a thing.

 

"Mainly it was to tell everybody, 'Listen, this is a work in progress, but we want to put our best foot forward here,' " Sternberg said.

 

For the 2006 season, the Marlins raised their ticket prices an average of $4.25, though Samson said their prices are still among the cheapest in baseball.

 

Becher, who has followed the Marlins since their inception in 1993, doesn't see such a bleak outlook. He points to how fans returned to stadiums after the 1994 lockout and how the Marlins eventually won back fans after then-owner Wayne Huizenga dismantled the 1997 championship team.

 

"Sports fans have the resiliency of the most durable rubber band," Becher said. "There is no question about whether the Marlins have fans. They do and they always will."

 

Despite Becher's optimism, he realizes that two issues will keep many fans away ? the constant threat of summer storms in a stadium with no roof, and the team's continued efforts to explore relocation options.

 

The Marlins wish they had more fans like Ron Castellano, a season ticket-holder from Boynton Beach who believes the loyal supporters will stick with the team despite the upheaval.

 

"Did it tear my gut apart? Of course, it did," Castellano said of the off-season trades. "It killed me inside. But as long as they stick with me, I'm going to stick with them."

 

Becher has one more suggestion to sell tickets.

 

"In sports," he said, "the best marketing plan is written with only one word ? wins."

 

Meanwhile, Samson plans to attend Becher's FAU class later this spring to see what the students have in mind for his Marlins.

 

"Maybe we'll get a few more ideas," Flynn said.

 

 

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/marlins/conte...RLINS_0212.html

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