Marlins Park has an attendance problem, to put it mildly. Attendance is averaging around Triple-A level numbers, if that, and has been for years if you don’t fall for the inflated numbers former owner Jeffrey Loria posted (which you shouldn’t.) Although you can certainly argue that the Marlins’ struggling roster has a hand in depressing numbers, there might be at least one tangible way Derek Jeter can get more people to his stadium: public transportation.
Case in point: During my visit to Marlins Park on Sunday, I took the free Miami Metromover from the Knight Center to Government Center, transferring onto the Miami Metrorail there, which is a serviceable line, if in need of some maintenance.
Where I ran into problems was finding the Marlins free shuttle to the stadium. The MLB website says that the shuttle can be picked up from Culmer station. When I was actually in Miami however, I was told by multiple transit workers that the shuttle in fact operated from Civic Center. Then once I arrived at Civic Center, the station manager informed me that the shuttle does not run on weekends, and I’d have to walk from the metro station to the stadium itself, about a 20 minute walk. All told, Google Maps originally told me I could be at the stadium in roughly twenty minutes via public transportation, but I finally entered the stadium after an hour and fifteen minutes of transit.
Clearly, this is a problem, both because of general confusion over where the shuttle goes and because of the hours themselves. If the Marlins had a more consistent, reliable approach to transportation to and from the stadium, more people might come to the area, which in turn could boost not only attendance but commerce in the area immediately surrounding the stadium, which after all was part of the Marlins’ promise when they picked their location. I’m not the first person to point this out; a 2011 column in Chicago Magazine when the stadium was being built raised many of the same points.
This might all come across as an indictment of the public transportation system in Miami overall, but it’s not. It’s a cautionary tale of what happens when a major sports team doesn’t spend enough time considering how they can get fans to their stadium, and paying the price year after year as a result.
As a counterpoint, consider Miami’s booming Museum Park district. Once known as the forlorn Bicentennial Park area, today the development anchored by the Perez Art Museum and year-old Frost Museum of Science is a beautiful and modern space with views of cruise ships heading south through the city’s Main Channel. Even though its original plans were significantly scaled back, the area continues to draw attention from developers. David Beckham even wants to build a new soccer stadium there. Most importantly, in my opinion, the area is easily accessible by Miami’s free Metromover, a Tomorrowland-esque monorail that traverses much of downtown.
All of this was evident when I visited the Perez Art Museum on Memorial Day. For $4, you could enjoy a hot dog and chips on the well-designed terrace and listen to live music, which is a far cry from the nearly $20 you spend on a hot dog meal at Marlins Park. The museums were also open on the holiday, so you could walk inside and enjoy the art as I did.
Although I haven’t seen attendance numbers for the event, I can guarantee nearly every outdoor seat was taken by 4 pm, when the event was supposed to be wrapping up, despite the constant threat of rain that had kept crowds relatively low at events elsewhere in the city. It was refreshing to see an event comfortably at capacity instead of the rows of empty seats at a weekend baseball game I’d witnessed the day before.
All of this illustrates an important lesson: it’s not enough to just say “if you build it, they will come.” Maybe developers and sports team owners should consider instead, “if you build transportation to it, they will come.”