Nick Barbella can pinpoint the exact moment he tumbled down Jeffrey Loria’s rabbit hole. It was late August, and Barbella was pleading with a Miami Marlins sales rep to be allowed to hand over around $4,900 for a season ticket package — and repeatedly being refused.
“That’s when it hit me: Wait, I’m begging them to let me give them my money? What the hell is going on here?” Barbella recalls.
Welcome to life as a Marlins fan. Even as the franchise has struggled mightily to attract fans to its Little Havana stadium — which will cost Miami taxpayers upwards of $2 billion in the long run — the team has repeatedly alienated even its most diehard supporters. Earlier this year, New Times broke the news that the Marlins had filed lawsuits against at least nine season ticketholders for trying to escape their multiyear deals.
But the Fish are also turning away true believers such as Barbella who want to buy new season ticket packages. Barbella’s crime? The team says he resold too many of his tickets last year.
Barbella has been a Marlins fan since he was a kid growing up in South Florida. After his parents divorced when he was young, his dad would regularly take him and his brother to games on weekends. Two years ago, Barbella signed up for a season ticket package. He paid about $2,500 for two seats in the 21st row behind first base. This year, he doubled his order.
The 27-year-old University of Miami employee admits there were many games he couldn’t make. “Last year, I had a 1-year-old and a pregnant wife. Going to 81 games was unrealistic,” he says. “If I couldn’t go to the game, I tried to at least make some money back.”
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But it wasn’t until he went to renew his package for next season that he learned of a fine-print clause in his contract: The Marlins ban season ticketholders from reselling more than 30 percent of their stubs. (A Major League Baseball spokesman confirms the 30 percent threshold is a Marlins policy, not an MLB-wide rule, although other teams also have their own standards on reselling season tickets. The Marlins didn’t respond to requests to comment for this story.)
Barbella says he understands wanting to avoid scalping profiteers — but this is the Marlins. Even with a winning record, the Fish are fourth from the bottom in MLB attendance. “You’d think with the number of fans buying tickets, they’d be out there begging their season ticketholders to renew with them,” he says.
For now, like so many others in Miami, Barbella is walking away from the team he once loved.
“I hear people all the time saying the only way to get fans back is for Loria to sell the team, and now I think that’s true. I don’t think he can fix this,” Barbella says. “If this was a restaurant or a grocery store, I’d never shop there again... Just because it’s the only baseball team in town doesn’t mean they can treat their fans this way.”