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By Robert Andrew Powell | January 16, 2012 | People
Flynn takes a seat at the stadium
|A replica of the New Marlins Stadium, which will feature a retractable roof and air-conditioning, sure to guarantee higher attendance|
The Florida Marlins—a franchise still not 20 years old—have already won the World Series twice. And they’ve built a real and enviable history, defeating the Chicago Cubs in the famous Bartman game, and silencing Yankee Stadium with Josh Beckett’s live arm. Yet the team languished as a stepchild in the South Florida sports market, below the Heat and the Dolphins for sure, and probably still under a mediocre Hurricanes football program. In fact, at one point, baseball commissioner Bud Selig talked of contracting the team out of existence. At an infamous home game last season, the “crowd” consisted of exactly 347 people. Sportswriters were able to count each fan by hand.
As the team’s senior vice president of marketing for the past 10 years, Sean Flynn has a pretty good handle on why the Marlins have appeared to be so unsupported, despite their uncommon successes on the field. Sharing a home stadium with the Dolphins, in the economics of baseball, limited the Marlins’ ability to acquire or even hold on to top talent; Josh Beckett, for example, moved up to the wealthy Boston Red Sox. Three different ownership groups in nine years undermined any sense of franchise stability. The daily evening summer rains crippled impulse ticket sales. A roofless stadium left fans exposed to humidity and, on Sunday afternoons, to dependably punishing sun. The stadium was built for football anyway, Flynn points out. Seventy thousand seats for baseball, he argues, “is over the top.” But, he adds, “the new stadium solves all of those problems.”
The New Marlins Stadium, as it’s currently being called—“the coolest ballpark ever,” according to ads airing for a year on sports talk radio—is a billion-dollar public venue that was among the factors that cost Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez his job. It stands in Little Havana, replacing the Orange Bowl, and is at the center of Flynn’s and his franchise’s efforts to revive the Marlins brand.
Or rebrand, as is the case. On November 11, Flynn’s boss, owner Jeffrey Loria, took to a temporary stage atop what will be the new stadium’s third base dugout. In front of a select group of VIPs—potential buyers of top-tier tickets or suites—Loria announced that his team will officially be known from here on out as the Miami Marlins, a geographic name change mandated by lawmakers (it was written into the stadium deal) that the team has decided to embrace, and in a bear hug. Or perhaps, en un abrazo de oso. “If our ballpark could speak,” Loria posited at the ceremony, “its first words would be, ‘¡Hola, Miami!’”
Either way, Flynn sees it as a keen marketing move. “When people hear the word ‘Florida,’ they think of Disney and retirement homes. But ‘Miami’ means world-class entertainment, excitement, and beautiful people. So our brand now is right in line with Miami. This is a ballpark that fits Miami. Our colors are Miami.”
|Miami Marlins senior vice president of marketing, Sean Flynn, outside the team’s new stadium, slated to open on April 1|
|The Miami Marlins’ new logo|
Those colors have changed, as well: orange, black, yellow, blue, without a dash of the former teal. Although reception of the new uniforms has been mixed, there is no doubt that the look is bold and different, decidedly the start of a new era. On the field, too: The team has installed a veritable sound-bite volcano, Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen, as manager. Funds freed up by the new stadium’s construction (it’s still not clear to an outsider how the numbers all work out) are allowing the Marlins to step into the free agent market extending contract offers to some of the boldest names in the game.
The rebranding process took more than 18 months, and Flynn has been intimately involved from the get-go. Now that the team’s new identity is set, Flynn is managing any fallout, if there is any. He doubts the name change will alienate fans in Broward and Palm Beach, though he acknowledges that, for commuters from the northern counties, the stadium relocation 12 miles farther south is “the big issue.”
Flynn’s own commute has significantly shortened. He lives what is now only five minutes away, in Coconut Grove. A native of St. Louis, Flynn briefly considered a career in accounting before he came to Florida to study sports administration at St. Thomas University. He worked with the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club for five years before joining the Marlins in 2002. “We were talking about the new stadium even then,” he recalls. “It was an absolute necessity.”
The new stadium will be the centerpiece for Flynn to change locals’ relationship to the team, and the game-time experience. There’s the retractable roof and the air-conditioning, a view of downtown, and aquariums stocked with tropical fish flanking the batter’s boxes. Most of the high-end seating has already sold out, Flynn says, pointing to a map of the stadium, specifically a section of seats that retail for $400 per game. Private lounges have been designed to echo the look of a South Beach boutique hotel. Flynn spends nights leading private tours of the stadium for bankers and lawyers from Brickell, Coral Gables, and the Beach—the foundation of the new fan base.
However attractive Marlins tickets ultimately prove to be, Flynn recognizes that the new stadium, and his responsibility to market it, is a once-in-a-career opportunity. Showcasing the building seems straightforward, but selling the Marlins will always pose a challenge. “It’s not like the job has become so much easier,” he says. “The pressure’s always there. It’s just what goals and what achievements you need to hit. Now, is it more exciting? Of course it is.”
photographs by Presscott McDonald