WASHINGTON, November 27, 2012 — From 2011 to 2012, the rapid rise and fall of the Miami Marlins pushed fans through the last three phases of the “Seven-Step Method to Alienate Fans (and Lose Money)” that I introduced yesterday. Euphoria was the start of both part one and part two, but the happiness of the 2011-2012 offseason quickly turned to disappointment and dismay.
5) Boundless Optimism
In this stage, the boundlessly optimistic fan can’t wait for the season to start so he or she can see the shiny new uniforms on the shiny new superstars as they dash into the shiny new state-of-the-art stadium. Their team is a championship team on paper, they look like a championship team in the preseason, and, most importantly, a new precedent and a new commitment to winning have been set in stone.
Before shopping for the 2012 season got underway, the Marlins were the recipients of a new ballpark, creatively named “Marlins Park,” new uniforms and a new color scheme, and a new name, trading the “Florida” in their name for “Miami.” But it was the shopping itself that set the tone, as the Marlins inked shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell to mega-deals. They also traded for fiery manager Ozzie Guillen, formerly of the Chicago White Sox. Suddenly, the Marlins were top-tier in talent and payroll, everything was looking up, and “Marlinsanity,” as it was termed by Sports Illustrated, was in full swing.
6) Guarded Optimism
The guardedly optimistic fan is just the boundlessly optimistic fan with some of the shine taken off and some extra wear and tear. The fantasy season didn’t quite pan out, but some major gaps that were exposed were at least partially fixed, and the newly committed front office would surely fix them fully. The future seems still bright, and hopefully without the spotlights, success will still be achieved.
To say that the 2012 Marlins season was a disappointment would be a major understatement. The Marlins stumbled to a 69-93 record and a last-place finish. Meanwhile, at the trade deadline, first baseman Gaby Sanchez was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, star third baseman Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and setup man Edward Mujica to the St. Louis Cardinals. But the majority of the core — Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Johnson — was still in place, so a second try wouldn’t be out of place.
7) Down The Hill To Abandonment
Then the final stage: It takes an awful lot of mistakes and indifference to create the abandoned fan. The abandoned fan discards his or her enthusiasm, not because they lose, but because they don’t care about winning. Everything is so bad that it isn’t worth the attention and anguish any longer.
November 14, 2012. Barely a month after the regular season ended, Reyes, Johnson, Mark Buerhle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio were on their way to Toronto. In one fell swoop, the Marlins were dismantled, and the tedious cycle was starting all over again, complete with cheap payroll and low expectations.
Where did Jeffrey Loria and the Miami Marlins go wrong? Set aside for the moment the extreme possibility of blatant disregard for the on-field performance of the Marlins in favor of economic performance, i.e. cash in the owner’s pocket; though this is not hugely far-fetched, considering Loria’s history with both the Marlins and the Montreal Expos. To keep existing fans and gain new ones, a sports team needs one of two things or preferably both. They must either win or have a tasty-looking carrot — a No. 1 prospect, a nice new stadium, a load of cash to spend on top free agents — to dangle.
What the Marlins have made a business of doing is wash, rinse, and repeat, never becoming too good or too bad by just making a sustainable model of mediocrity. It’s no wonder that one of their few remaining cornerstones, star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, is “pissed off”, as he wrote on Twitter.
Marlins’ management has forever lost its franchise’s fan base by making clear once and for all that winning is not their top priority. When the commitment to winning appears and flees in the span of a single calendar year, nothing is believable except results, and considering the latest Marlins fire sale, those aren’t likely to appear anytime soon.
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