Baseball's Marlins Inspire Inventive Marketing

The Florida Marlins are a perennial cellar-dweller when it comes to winning and attendance. Management has dealt away the team's best players. So what's left? Some pretty outrageous marketing — and lots of it.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Florida Marlins may very well have the best team in the Major Leagues. Not their baseball team - oddsmakers are predicting the team will finish with one of the worst records in the Major Leagues.

As NPR's Mike Pesca reports, despite or maybe because of the players' performance, the Marlins' marketing team has been forced to innovate.

MIKE PESCA: Scientists believe manatees evolved from a plant-eating animal that once trot on solid ground. Here in an upstairs studio of a Miami Athletic Club, a devolution of sorts is taking form.

(Soundbite of feet pounding)

PESCA: These Florida Manatees are a dance team, an all-male dance team. An all-male dance team made up of dedicated Marlins fans who got the same e-mail as Steve Bauer(ph) saying the team was looking a few good-sized men.

Mr. STEVE BAUER (Member, Florida Manatees): Fat guys with no dance experience. That's us.

PESCA: So has anything surprised you so far with this experience?

Mr. BAUER: No buffet.

PESCA: Probably smart. The 11 men practicing this evening must weigh accumulative 3,000 pounds. Today after practice, they will be christened with their Manatee names.

Ms. VANESSA MARTINEZ-HUFF (Choreographer, Florida Marlins' Manatees): Mark Chocolate Thunder(ph), it is.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. MARTINEZ-HUFF: Rob Burton(ph), you aren't big enough for Big Sexy(ph).

Unidentified Man #1: Oh no.

Ms. MARTINEZ-HUFF: You've got to fit to survive. How about Pink?

(Soundbite of cheers)

Ms. MARTINEZ-HUFF: George(ph), Gordito(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: The choreographer Vanessa Martinez-Huff tells the Manatees they will not be dancing on the dugouts.

Ms. MARTINEZ-HUFF: We will not be dancing. Are you ready to do that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEAN FLYNN (Vice President of Marketing, Florida Marlins): We've been sitting on the Manatees for two or three years now.

PESCA: Which is better than the other way around, as Marlins VP for marketing Sean Flynn can tell you. Flynn oversees a staff tasked with trying to get stadium attendance out of last place in the National League. Unveiling the Manatees was but his latest pitch.

Mr. FLYNN: We also have player autograph sessions. We have Dueling Pianos. We have marching bands. We have the mermaid performances. We have a host. We have a DJ.

PESCA: That's for Marlins' Super Saturdays which feature post-game concerts by acts like Poison and KC and the Sunshine Band. The Marlins have two dance teams besides the Manatees, including the lovely Mermaids. They have an energy team, a mascot, and so many giveaways and gimmicks that you get the idea that they're not really selling baseball.

Flynn says that's pretty much right on.

Mr. FLYNN: We position ourselves as an entertainment property with a core product of baseball. So when we go out and position our product and our brand, you know, we speak of all the attributes of coming to the stadium, not just the baseball game.

PESCA: The Marlins have only had four winning seasons in the 15 years they've played. Yes, they've won two world championships but they frequently traded away top players in order to field squads of lesser and more importantly cheaper players.

Eric Fisher covers Baseball for the SportsBusiness Journal.

Mr. ERIC FISHER (Columnist, SportsBusiness Journal): They under perform. There has just been, sort of, a polarization around this team. Folks that would perhaps be inclined to go to some games or a lot of games, just don't feel the kind of affinity with the franchise because of how thing's have played out.

Unidentified Man #2: Number three, (unintelligible).

PESCA: An hour north of Miami, in Jupiter, Florida, the Marlins have been quietly putting together a very good record. But Ralph Wolfrom(ph), who's been a Marlin seasoned ticket holder since the team's birth, says he understands why it's hard to draw fans in the Major League stadium.

Mr. RALPH WOLFROM (Marlins Fan): And so the fan base has been essentially jerked around by ownership. And it's hard to maintain faith in that type of ownership.

PESCA: The question is whether a dozen fat men currently synchronizing themselves a hundred miles south can change any of these.

Manatee Joseph Love(ph) has humble goals.

Mr. JOSEPH LOVE (Member, Florida Manatees): I have no delusions of people going out and say I'm going to go and see the Manatees. I have delusions of them seating in their seat going, you know, forget the beer, let's just hear and watch them. They're good, they're funny and we enjoy them.

PESCA: When the Marlins move into a new stadium in 2011, you get the feeling that the Manatees will wedge their way into the fancy league gigs, crashing the party if not the dugout roof.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

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