The long and arduous auction sale of the Miami Marlins has apparently concluded and it appears as if New York Yankees icon Derek Jeter and billionaire money manager Bruce Sherman are now the proud owners of the financially troubled franchise. Along with Michael Jordan and thirteen other investors, the $1.2 billion purchase price has bought membership into an exclusive fraternity where Jeter will serve as the franchise’s Chief Executive Officer overseeing baseball and business operations. It is being reported that Jeter’s investment in the franchise is approximately $25 million. Sherman will serve as the franchise’s control person or in other words, the managing general partner. Even though annual losses nearly approach $70 million and the Marlins illicit disdain and ignominy for a litany of indiscretions, there is a genuine opportunity for prosperity if an effective organizational philosophy and business plan is established at genesis by Jeter and Sherman. The key to the Marlins’ future success is predicated on culture.
Obviously, Jeter and Sherman have a lot of work ahead of them if they are going to build the Marlins into a highly attractive and lucrative franchise with aspirations of cultivating a championship pedigree. Besides the rebuilding of a franchise that actually has legitimate potential on the field, Jeter and Sherman need to be pillars of trust and commitment to a disenchanted fan base who has grown accustomed to acrimony. The lack of interest in the Marlins is ever present in a community bursting at its seams in their profound disdain for Jeffrey Loria and David Samson.
Jeter’s brand name and immaculate reputation as a consummate winner will undoubtedly excite and entice South Florida residents to revisit the Marlins as an entertainment option. However, the five-time world champion is a novice when it comes to the business of professional sports ownership. Jeter will be embarking upon a crash course in sports ownership as well as on the job training in all circumstances. As a ball player, Jeter was known for his fiercely competitive spirit, meticulous preparation, and intense commitment to achieving greatness in the midst of adversity. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to believe these are transferable skills for Jeter and expect to see them on full display in Marlins Park beginning immediately.
Community trust in sports ownership is earned by actions and results rather than reputation or perception. Jeter will obviously be the face of the Marlins, but he cannot live in an ivory tower. He will need to actively mingle with the fans and have his finger on the pulse of what they are seeing and feeling regarding the franchise. Jeter will also have to engage with season ticket holders, suite lessees, sponsors, advertisers, media executives, politicians, and key members of the local business community since Major League Baseball’s business model is still predicated on local revenue generation. Jeter will have to be conversant in several topics. One moment he could be discussing digital ticketing with a fan sitting in Section 210 and the next reviewing Christian Yelich’s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) with the baseball operations department. In truth, he needs to become the antithesis of Loria in every aspect and actively restore goodwill to a fan base and community desperately seeking enlightened leadership.
As Jeter and Sherman embark upon a journey that will undoubtedly have dizzying highs and catastrophic lows, a foundation for success is imperative if both men aspire to one day hoist a World Series trophy over their heads as proud owners of the Miami Marlins. In truth, Jeter and Sherman should use their first year of ownership solely as an opportunity to dive deeply into all internal aspects of the franchise. They need to identify the franchise’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as well as build a solid management team around a unified vision for greatness. Jeter and Sherman will need to surround themselves with seasoned baseball executives who intimately know the business and can help them navigate through the complicated maze of professional sports ownership. They need to have an open mind and listen intently to advice before making any decisions based on emotion or inexperience. Sometimes, a leader’s greatest attribute is the ability to listen and obtain information from those with more experience in particular matters.
The Marlins are by no means a trophy asset for the uber wealthy Sherman or the ultra-competitive Jeter. There is a strong determination and motivation to restore glory and prominence to a franchise that has already won two world championships (1997 and 2003) since its inaugural season in 1993. However, one cannot overlook the significant issues that plague the Marlins. Besides the horrific yearly attendance, annual high eight figure losses, staggering debt, and relentless public backlash, the Marlins lack an identity and culture.
Jeter and Sherman must come to terms with the fact that failures will occur with regularity at the outset until a new culture and philosophy is implemented within all aspects of the franchise. As long as the Marlins have a sound organizational philosophy accompanied by a thorough business plan which has undivided support, it is far easier to trust the process and weather the storms that come with losing and change. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing for the Batavia Muckdogs, Jupiter Hammerheads, or on the twenty-five man roster for the Marlins, everyone in the organization must wholeheartedly subscribe to the culture and philosophy. A clear and unified message that outlines a plan for future success at all levels of the organization will immediately quell the negativity. It is imperative for employees as well as the fans to become excited about these changes and relay a message of hope and optimism supported by a bona fide strategy for future success.