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04/18/11 1:18 PM EST

Marlins close to finalizing naming rights partner

This is part of an MLB.com/Marlins.com exclusive series with team president David Samson chronicling the progress and developments of the new retractable-roof stadium that is scheduled to open in 2012. Throughout the series, fans are encouraged to e-mail David at D.Samson@Marlins.com with their thoughts.

MIAMI -- No firm date has been set, but sometime around mid-May, the Marlins are expecting to announce the naming rights for their new ballpark.

Team president David Samson had hoped to have the sponsor for the building around Opening Day, but finding a partner is taking a little bit longer than anticipated.

The short delay is due to a couple of reasons, one of them being the Marlins are looking at a more involved relationship with the company than just placing its name atop the 37,000-seat retractable-roof stadium.

The team hopes to integrate the naming partner into the Marlins' brand.

"We continue to make progress," Samson said. "I would say that we've made significant advancements in that, which is good. I really had wanted to have it in April.

"We think we have found the final companies. The talks have truly increased to the point where we're continuing to talk significant details with them. I feel very confident that we will have an announcement shortly."

Asked if it could be in a couple of weeks, Samson said: "Yes."

One of the "significant details" being discussed is length of the contract.

"That's one of the types of details we're talking about," Samson said. "But really, the most important details we're talking about is the depth of the partnership and the activation. Just like everything else to us with this ballpark, our naming rights deal, there is activation, not just inside the ballpark, but outside the ballpark."

Because of the expanded role of the partner, more time is needed to find the right fit.

"It makes it a little more complicated, because we want to make sure we have a partner who understands and shares the vision that we have, and we share the vision of what they have and what they want to do," Samson said.

"What's attracting people to our ballpark, which makes me so excited about it being in Miami, is the fact we are in Miami. And these companies have such interest in Miami and the people who live here."

The Marlins will move into their new ballpark in 2012, and construction is moving forward rapidly.

Recently, the white canopy that will cover the steel structure of the retractable roof was sent to the site. A few weeks back, the final panel of the retractable roof was installed, and completion of the roof should come by October.

Eventually, it will be encased with the white canopy.

All stages of construction can be followed via the new ballpark webcam on www.marlins.com.

Less than a year away from opening, the new ballpark already has 12,500 seats installed, with the number increasing at a steady rate.

The project also is finalizing various configurations for the building for events other than baseball. At some point, the stadium, located in the Little Havana section of Miami, also will be able to handle soccer matches, along with football and basketball games as well as concerts.

Discussions regarding timelines also are well under way, such as when to lock in "soft openings" at the ballpark before the Marlins start their 2012 season.

More than likely, the first baseball game played in the building will be by college teams.

"We'll maybe have some college baseball games, and then some exhibitions games between the Marlins and some local college teams," Samson said. "We're talking soft openings."

From the outset, crowds will be eased into the ballpark. For instance, the first college game would be open to about 5,000 people.

"Not because that's all we can draw, but that's all we want for the first game," Samson said. "Then we'll do a [Marlins] game against a college team and we'll allow, say, 15,000 into the park, and we'll see how that works."

Progressing from there, there is a strong likelihood the Marlins would play an exhibition game or two against an MLB team before the regular season gets under way.

"We'll maybe allow 30,000 people, and it would all lead up to Opening Day," Samson said.

No firm dates will be set for any events until after the 2011 hurricane season, which runs from June through November.

As optimistic as the Marlins are about the project, they still are being cautious because of the potential threat severe weather may cause.

The Marlins have made it clear publicly and to MLB that they would like for their home opener in 2012 to be a nationally televised game the day before the rest of the league gets going.

"We remain very confident that we will open the ballpark with a nationally televised game the night before the season starts," Samson said.

As construction advances, certain parts of the stadium project are concluding. In some cases, various contractors have completed their work and are starting to exit the site.

"That's something that hadn't been happening until now," Samson said. "So many contractors have been working on site.

"For example, there is no more steel, so we're closing out that contractor. That means they've completed all of their work, they're paid and they are off the site. We're almost done with all the concrete, so that becomes finished."

Some contractors who will remain until the end are those handling plumbing and painting.

The stadium also will feature restaurants that will be accessible from the outside. Three will be smaller, and about 700 square feet. Additionally, there will be a 7,000-square foot restaurant that will be open year round.

"That will be a regular sit-down restaurant," Samson said. "It will be more of a sports bar theme."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.