On the clock: Marlins strive to enhance ballpark experience so fans don’t balk

As rain clouds faded into the South Florida sky and the sun reemerged brighter, fans of all ages quickly entered Little Havana’s loanDepot Park Wednesday to cheer for their Miami Marlins against the Washington Nationals. There was no time to waste cause games are 30 minutes shorter now on average thanks to the new pitch clock, a tool designed to make pitchers play faster and thereby speed up the entire game.

With Major League Baseball’s introduction of the pitch clock this season to shorten ballgames, checking out a Miami Marlins game is faster than ever.

To try and leverage the quicker nine innings, Marlins business officials are using technology to enable fans to spend less time on things like parking and buying food at the concession stands. People can use apps on their phones for both of those things.

Additionally, there’s enhancements for moms with babies and toddlers in tow at the ballpark and those fans who just want a break from the crowd noise. All of this is aimed at improving the “fan experience” during the shorter Marlins’ games, many of which are finishing in under two hours.

Noting that an April 4 contest against the Minnesota Twins was completed in only an hour and 57 minutes, Caroline O’Connor, Marlins president of business operations, sees the faster games as an opportunity for fans to have more agency in managing their time inside and outside the stadium.

Margate resident Jim Dingevan, 44, is warming up to the pitch clock. “It’s a good thing when I’m watching at home,” he said. “It’s a bad thing when I’m at the stadium trying to drink.”

It didn’t seem that Dingevan, who wore the jersey of former Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer to this game, knew about the CHEQ app. Using it on his phone, he and other fans at Marlins games can order and pay for food and drinks right from their seats, then go pick it up.

No matter the length of the game and new fan services, he was with a bunch of friends — including Nats and Marlins fans — enjoying the evening game.

“It’s a fun stadium,” Dingevan said.

In addition to the pitch clock, loanDepot Park’s newest improvements for fans on game day are a sensory room and a nursing pod. The sensory room can be accessed via guest services and provides individuals on the autism spectrum or those overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of a Marlins game with the opportunity to recenter and decompress.

“We can change the colors of tiles on the remote and there’s a variety of colors we can play with,” said Anthony Favata, Marlins vice president of operations and events. “When you shut that door, it’s about hearing, feeling and seeing. The room is meant to be very interactive.”

The Marlins added a sensory room located on the fifth level of the ballpark for those sensitive to crowd noise during a ballgame.
The Marlins added a sensory room located on the fifth level of the ballpark for those sensitive to crowd noise during a ballgame.

The Marlins are the latest South Florida professional sports teams to add a sensory room to a stadium or arena. The Miami Heat has had two sensory rooms for fans at the team’s basketball arena, now the Kaseya Center, since 2018, said Lorenzo Butler, director of business communications.

“We were one of the first teams in North American pro sports to have a sensory room” for fans that may have post-traumatic stress syndrome or are sensitive to loud noises, Butler said.

Since 2019, the Miami Dolphins have had a sensory room at Hard Rock Stadium thanks to the Dan Marino Foundation and Bose Corporation.

Meanwhile, the Marlins nursing pod gives mothers with young children a discreet space to breastfeed and change diapers. Using an app during a ballgame, moms can check the pod’s availability before using it.

With the CHEQ app, Favata estimated that concession services are up by 10% to 12% since the baseball season began.

“To be in your seats and get a text when your order is ready, you’re not having to wait in line,” O’Connor said. “You’re scheduling when you want to eat and there’s better communication from us. I think it’s improved the fan experience.”

A close look at the self-service concession checkout station at Shortstop Market on the promenade level in Miami Marlins’ loanDepot Park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, on May 17, 2023.
A close look at the self-service concession checkout station at Shortstop Market on the promenade level in Miami Marlins’ loanDepot Park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, on May 17, 2023.

During this first season of faster games and the Marlins responding with fan enhancements, it happens to be the 30th anniversary of the team’s South Florida launch. To commemorate that, the Marlins have assembled a mini-museum at the ballpark full of memorabilia to celebrate the team’s two World Series victories in 1997 and 2003 as well as players’ achievements over the years. Walking through the museum littered with well-worn baseballs and jerseys of Marlins greats like pitcher Dontrelle Willis gives fans a blast from the past.

Walking through the museum, one young mother Marisa Christiansen, 28, smiled from ear-to-ear as her small boys pointed at baseballs in glass cases and a wall of televisions that showed different Marlins highlights. Her older son Riley, she said, is seven years old and already dreams of becoming a Marlins player.

Riley Christiansen, 7, shows his best pitching stance as his younger brother Colton, 2, looks on while touring the Miami Marlins 30th Anniversary History Museum inside loanDepot Park on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.
Riley Christiansen, 7, shows his best pitching stance as his younger brother Colton, 2, looks on while touring the Miami Marlins 30th Anniversary History Museum inside loanDepot Park on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

Enthralled by the museum, the boys were among the youngsters at the ballpark Wednesday too young to relate to longer games prior to the pitch clock. But to everyone else, Marlins officials think the new clock itself adds to fan experience.

“It’s another element of wondering if the pitcher is going to release the ball in time and people love that,” O’Connor, the Marlins president, said. “You don’t want to turn away because there’s so much action.

A Florida Marlins Dontrelle Willis jersey displayed within the Miami Marlins 30th Anniversary History Museum inside loanDepot Park on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.
A Florida Marlins Dontrelle Willis jersey displayed within the Miami Marlins 30th Anniversary History Museum inside loanDepot Park on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.
The entrance to the Miami Marlins 30th Anniversary History Museum inside loanDepot Park on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.
The entrance to the Miami Marlins 30th Anniversary History Museum inside loanDepot Park on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.