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The Nats and their attendance


(By Greg Fiume - Getty)


Media members have enjoyed picking on the Nats for their supposed attendance woes since about 10 minutes after Nats Park opened. Yahoo's Jeff Passan devoted an entire column to the topic when the stadium was all of a month old.

Kasten can't ignore the games on television where it looks as though the Nationals are playing to a crowd of ushers. The President seats, positioned behind home plate, go for more than $300 apiece, and they're selling like underwear at a nudist colony. Every pitch, the view is the same: hitter, catcher, umpire and about 25 of their unoccupied blue friends.

Such observations have only increased this season, as the crowds have diminished. Through 19 home dates, the Nats have drawn an average of 19,475, which ranks 25th of 30 MLB teams. Last season at this time, without this spring's gorgeous weather, the team was averaging 21,059 a game. Thus, the media mentions, like this late last month in the Boston Globe:

Kasten has always said that the Nationals will get the attendance they deserve based on their play, but in a pair of games last week, they barely got 11,000 fans. There's always a lag between performance and attendance in both directions,'' Kasten wrote in a text message. "And it's silly to make judgments based on April games, which are almost exclusively determined by offseason ticket sales. Relax. All signs and trends here are positive. And the fans here will make this market a huge success."

Phil Wood also discussed the issue at MASN Sports, pointing out that there have been some thin crowds despite the team's on-field improvements.

Locally, DC-area fans have traditionally been a little slow to notice when their teams are on the upswing. The Capitals sell out almost every night now, but the previous couple of seasons had some spotty nights at the turnstiles....

It would be pure hyperbole to suggest that the Nationals are contenders, or have even turned the corner. However, they now can at least see where the corner is. Fans, in general, are frontrunners, and it's no different locally. Baseball doesn't offer the kind of instant gratification many fans are seeking, unfortunately, but every game is its own piece of history. That's what works for me.

I guess I'm in Kasten's camp on this issue, believing that regular success will lead to above-average crowds. And even coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons, the Nats' attendance numbers don't seem especially jarring for a slightly-above-.500 team. Fourteen MLB teams are playing above .500 ball right now, and five of those teams rank in the bottom third of attendance. That's not even counting the Rays, who have the best record in baseball and the 20th best attendance.

Like Kasten (and Tom Boswell) have often pointed out, there's at least a one-year lag between on-field results and bottoms in seats, owing to the season-ticket issue, so these numbers likely won't change dramatically even if the Nats keep up their pace for another month. Once Baseball Jeeeesus arrives, who knows.

And yes, I just blathered on for all those words merely as an excuse to publish Michael Jenkins's thoughts on the subject, seen in video form below. It's worth your time.

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 10, 2010; 12:04 PM ET
Categories:  Nats  
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Next: The Nats' unluckiest fan sees a win

Comments

They let the team disolve into a National punch line the last 2 years. They got worse instead of better. But,if they continue to improve it will get better. Not just because of the play which is paramount. But because,much like the Caps,it's a heck of a party. Especially when they win. With the bands inside the park and at the Bullpen across the street,the vendors outside,it's really quite an atmosphere. When people experience it,they'll come back.With players like Zimmerman,the Hammer,Capt. Morgan,Dunn,Strasburg,the table is set. It's up to the team to deliver the goods.

Posted by: ridgely1 | May 10, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Looks like various Lerner's, Kasten and Rizzo are making pretty frequent use out of the seats directly behind home plate. Is that a new thing?

Posted by: tha_prophet | May 10, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

strasburg will give the nats a huge bump at the gates, but this is what happens when you treat your squad like the lerners have for their couple years as owners, the fans noticed we were an embarrassment and now the general goodwill of the people has run out, the team has to perform or it will be brutal, if the lerners really want people to show up and pay for their high priced tickets they themselves will have to spend some of their 3rd ranked profit (2 consecutive years) on the roster, I like what we have done but it aint enough, hell the orioles out spend us by 20 mil

Posted by: bford1kb | May 10, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Ah, but what has the extra 20 mil gotten the Orioles bford?

Posted by: adhardwick | May 10, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Dan I really wish you would mention the Tigers attendance after consecutve 100 loss seasons. I posted everything that was needed 3 weeks ago. I can give other examples as well. You seem to ignore the facts. If the team keeps winning the attendance will grow and that will carry over into next year . Thats the way baseball is and always has been. Why does this concept seem lost on the Washington Media

Posted by: JDB1 | May 10, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Dan - Get your point, but what have the numbers looked like recently? Watching the games on TV, it appears the recent homestand has been much better attended.

Looking forward to getting to some games when I move back to the area this summer!

Posted by: BT23 | May 10, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I thought this was the D.C. SPORTS Bog, yet all you seem to care about is attendance. If you're not chastizing a team on account of low attendance (Nats) you're chastizing a team on account of high attendance (Mystics). How 'bout you just chill, and stick to covering the games and the players like you're supposed to? Report that right, and the attendance will work itself out, just as it always does.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 10, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

@JDB1 I saw what you posted, and it's good stuff, but I think what I wrote above -- that many of this year's most successful teams are doing poorly at the gate -- makes a similar point.

@BT23, they averaged just about 21,000 for the three games against the Marlins. Bad opponent, but it was a weekend series.

@nunof1 I think attendance is a part of sports, and I frequently write about fans. I also don't think anything in this item could be described as chastising. I think "I'm supposed to" write about anything that interests me, really, and attendance will probably continue to interest me.

Posted by: DanSteinberg1 | May 10, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

its about the fan experience: the high price of the ticket, low quality and excessive price of the concessions, the less than average experience at the Park...when its not enough to drive someone to want to attend as their first choice, they move on to other options to spend their dollar...not real complicated.

Posted by: outrbnksm | May 10, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Let's see. Do I want to take my three sons to play a round at one of the nice golf course in the area or attend a Nationals game with one of them and sit behind the plate? Or do I want to take two of my children to Mary Poppins at the Kennedy Center? Or the whole family to Kings Dominion for the day and then out to dinner aftewards?

$300 for a ticket? You've got to be kidding. No sane person would pay that. A business might to cultivate clients, but obviously that isn't happening.

Time for a reality check, Nationals.

Posted by: InTheMiddle | May 10, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Dan - I wonder is the difference between this year's April attendance numbers and late year's number can be attributed to season ticket holders who did not renew based on last year's poor performance. My group didn't renew this year because we figure, why reward a 100+ loss season. It's not like we won't be able to get walk-up seats.

Posted by: dsk097 | May 10, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

without a significant season ticket base, it's not a surprise that april/may attendance is what it is. not too many compelling matchups outside the first series with the phils. attendance always picks up when school lets out, and with strassburg coming up, good weather and if the team continues to do well, i expect pretty good attendance through the summer.

for now, enjoy it while you can. easy access to tickets, plenty of parking and fewer lines at the concessions.

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | May 10, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

"300 for a ticket? You've got to be kidding. No sane person would pay that. A business might to cultivate clients, but obviously that isn't happening.

Time for a reality check, Nationals."

________________________________________

I bought tickets down the left field line last week for 18 bucks. Their ways to get cheaper tix, be resourceful. Those 300 dollar tix are intended to be bought by you or me.

Posted by: JDB1 | May 10, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

The attendance issue interests me greatly. I don't believe it will significantly improve, even with a winning team. While I'm certainly glad that baseball is back in DC, I don't for one second believe that DC is a good baseball town for all of the reasons that have been gabbed upon for quite a while now - there's simply not a large core of unaffiliated local fans to pick from. The time to grab them has passed through uncompetitive teams, high ticket prices, questionable stadium location, and poor initial efforts at marketing and media exposure (think radio network). Another elephant in the room and this is entirely not the fault of the Nats is the declining interest in Major League baseball. Sure the free-spending big market teams do very well, but in many other cities the interest is just not there. Tampa Bay has a very good exciting team, but a crappy ballpark and another very transient fan base - most are FOOTS, Fans of Other Teams. They should be filling up the park, instead they're in Nats territory.

The Lerner's will continue to make money on this venture and will more than likely spend some on the team in the future, but unless the Nats are World Series contenders year in and year out they will be in the bottom third in attendance and TV ratings every year.

Posted by: bendersx6 | May 10, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Its about the fan experience: the high price of the ticket, low quality and excessive price of the concessions, the less than average experience at the Park...when its not enough to drive someone to want to attend as their first choice, they move on to other options to spend their dollar...not real complicated.

Posted by: outrbnksm | May 10, 2010 1:42 PM

Nationals Park is amazingly comparable to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia when it comes to cost (Nats ticket prices are cheaper, beer costs a little less in Philly), accessibility, design, cleanliness/upkeep, views, etc. They were designed by the same firm within 4 years of each other.

They get 45,000 a night - you tell me what the big difference is.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I had season tix when they were at RFK, and didn't even make it to a single game last year...part of that was due to having a 1-year old son, but mostly it was because I didn't feel like the Lerners were fielding a major league team (it's not like I was expecting a contender, but seriously, it was amateur hour, but it lasted for years)...but Trader Jim's departure and ownership's significant investment in the baseball brain trust department mean I'll be back in the stands this year, and maybe I'll join in a season ticket group again next year.

Posted by: EdTheRed | May 10, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

While I get the point that attendance lags success, I continue to be puzzled by the very limited marketing, whether to sell game tickets or tickets to other events (like baseball 101 for women).

I know the Nats provide information to media and a bunch of bloggers, but relying on this free publicity has its limits. I live and work in the City and see next to nothing about the Nats, except occasional downtown appearances by the Racing Presidents.

I'm not a marketing expert and don't know what other teams do, but I'd be surprised if other teams' marketing budgets weren't multiples of what the Nats spend.

Posted by: jenjensn | May 10, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

The Nats think they have some entitlement to fans in this area, and for whatever reason REFUSE to run promotions and discounts to get butts in seats. Every MLB franchise, aside from maybe the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers, runs promos and discount days to fill the stadium on off-nights. From half-price days to all-you-can-eat-seats to two-for-one deals, othe clubs have no problem working hard to sell as many tickets as possible. Except for the Nats. Stan seems to think that every seat in the park is priced appropriately for every game of the season. Well, the 20-30k+ empty seats would suggest that fans are not in agreement.

Stan will swear up and down that the team is working hard to sell tickets by noting the promos they do actually run (obligatory bobblehead days, t-shirt days, and kids run the bases), and loves to tote out the fact that the club sets aside 500 $5 seats for day-of-game sales only. I would agree that those $5 seats are one of the best bargains in baseball, but the team barely promotes those tickets outside of Kasten's appearances on local radio stations. In fact, that is really the extent of the franchise's promotion in this city. Sure, there are ads on MASN and ads in the Metro system (bus and rail), but the team has not done much innovative or unique to attract an audience to this club. They did nothing to capitalize on the success of our hockey team (no pun intended), and haven't done anything with the other local sports teams to increase the team's visibility in the city.

Stan is right when he says that the fans will eventaully come out to see a winning club. However, there would be a lot fewer empty seats right now if the club tried a little harder to sell tickets. Every empty seat is lost revenue to the franchise, and if the club could sell just half of the empty seats at $5 a pop, they'd be looking at a $100k+ windfall without even considering the concession and other miscelaneous revenue. Kasten and the Nats need to get their heads out of their posteriors and discount ticket prices to fill this ballpark. If they do that, the fans will come, and will be more willing to pay full-price when the team is a legitimate contender.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

The Nats think they have some entitlement to fans in this area, and for whatever reason REFUSE to run promotions and discounts to get butts in seats.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 2:39 PM

They've lowered ticket prices two winters in a row - and if you sign up for their fan newsletter you get emails with half price ticket offers for many home stands. The season ticket holder incentives this off-season were terrific.

It's amazing how much disinformation there is out there about the gameday experience. But, I certainly blame the Lerners and Kasten for part of that - clearly the franchise has been lacking when it comes communicating a powerful message to potential fans.

Parking is NOT tough and the price is about average for a large market team - even a bit cheaper.

Metro is NOT inconvenient.

The neighborhood is largely barren for now, but NOT unsafe.

Tickets are NOT expensive.

Food is NOT bad or outrageously expensive for a large market team.

The Park is NOT boring, nor is it sub par. It's quite pleasant when not filled with Philies fans.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the issue of ticket discounts, etc. All you have to do is sign up for the Nats email newsletter and I get tons of promotions for half price and buy one get one free tickets, which I then forward on to friends who may be interested.

While they certainly can always do more promotions, they aren't going to get attendence up until the team creates a "buzz" and a history in DC. A lot of these successful teams have a multi-generational history with dads and moms developing the fan base in their kids. We are still a generation away from that happening with the Nats and time and success are going to be the factors there.

Posted by: jdindc | May 10, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Kev29 (and others),

Tickets ARE expensive. According to the 2009 fan cost index, Washington's average ticket price ranks seventh in MLB. Seventh! Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, White Sox, Phillies, then the Nats. Their average premium ticket price ranks fourth. Only the two NY teams and Dodgers offer more expensive seating. As far as total fan cost index, Washington ranks 13th total. And that is in spite of sketchy numbers. The Nats claim that beer cost $6 and parking cost $5 in 2009. Beer cost $7.50 last season, and the cheapest parking was $15 (I think). Most parking around the stadium costs $30 and $40.

I'm a season ticket holder, and I've been since day one at RFK. But for the average person, a day at Nationals Park is too expensive. The most ardent fans, the season ticket holders, have dropped so quick that Kasten refuses to release numbers. You can't develop new fans until you intice people to the park, and convince them that a day at the park (or a full season), will not cost an arm-and-a-leg.

I disagree with Steinberg in that I don't think attendance will pick up considerably in the next few years, no matter how well the team performs. We'll have a few sellouts when Strasburg first comes up, but we will continue to be in the bottom third of attendance this year, next year, and the forseeable future. If you can't attract season ticket holders, you can't attract casual fans.

Posted by: ricandersen | May 10, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I apologize that I can't spell "entice" or "foreseeable".

Posted by: ricandersen | May 10, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

"They've lowered ticket prices two winters in a row - and if you sign up for their fan newsletter you get emails with half price ticket offers for many home stands. The season ticket holder incentives this off-season were terrific."

That's great, and I did note the $5 tickets. The team has done an average at best job at setting up a seat pricing structure that is truly palateable for fans. If the price was right, fans would come. 20-30k empty seats to me says, the price is not right.

Sending out e-mails to subscribers of the "fan newsletter" notifying of promotions is not what I would call "working hard" to sell tickets. Heck, I didn't even know the team had a fan newsletter that provided anything beyond day to day news and notes about the team.

This franchise is LAZY when it comes to attracting fans. They had an audience whent he team first came to DC, and they expected that people would continue to come out at the same price (or a little more when they move to the new digs) despite the team turning into one of the worst in MLB history. They failed to take advantage of the newness baseball in DC and auroa of a brand new shiney stadium and it's well-publicized $300 seats. I know some people who refuse to go to a Nats game because they don't want to give money (even for a $5 ticket) to a franchise that openly admits to gauging patrons like that.

The Nats need to work harder to earn their fans, just like the Caps did (a season ticket base that grew a couple years ahead of a team that now sells out every game). They need to be out and about promoting their product, and not just to baseball fans watching on MASN. They should be running contests, deals available to ANYONE (not just e-mail subscribers), and until they can sell out a mid-week series against the Marlins, their work is not done. This work needs to come out of the marketing department, NOT the general manager's office, because a great fanbase will turn out to see a mediocre team if there are actually fans.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"This work needs to come out of the marketing department, NOT the general manager's office, because a great fanbase will turn out to see a mediocre team if there are actually fans."

Name one other fanbase, if the team wasn't expected to be good. You can't. The stats regarding baseball attendance are crystal clear. If a team has high expectations or was good the previous year they will draw, if not they won't. If they have several good years they attendance level will stay high, but once the competiveness wears so will the attendance. This is true in every city

Posted by: JDB1 | May 10, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

"The Nats think they have some entitlement to fans in this area, and for whatever reason REFUSE to run promotions and discounts to get butts in seats. Every MLB franchise, aside from maybe the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers, runs promos and discount days to fill the stadium on off-nights. From half-price days to all-you-can-eat-seats to two-for-one deals, othe clubs have no problem working hard to sell as many tickets as possible. Except for the Nats."

The Nats do all these things - except maybe the all-you-can-eat seats, but I do recall hearing Kasten mention that they were considering that option - and more. And you don't need to be on their e-mail list to find out about them either. Maybe if you shut your trap and paid attention instead of spewing your venom when you obviously don't have a clue you might actually hear about them. Y'think?

Posted by: nunof1 | May 10, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Most parking around the stadium costs $30 and $40.

Posted by: ricandersen | May 10, 2010 3:17 PM

You can park in the Nats economy lots for $5 or $10 this season (team's response to ending the RFK option). I recommend the $10 lot at 7th and M SE, then it's a perfectly nice 10(ish) minute walk past the DOT HQ (or Five Guys!). Or get there early, walk three blocks north and enjoy 8th St and the free ride to the Park in one of the bar buggies.

I agree that the premium prices are absurd for a losing team in a bad economy, but I don't really think of them as options for real fans. The Nats offer a ton of tickets for $22 or under - and plenty under $10.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the fan experience, the Nationals have a long way to go compared to the Orioles. #1-There are lower priced food options at Camden Yards (even $1 hot dogs for kids) #2-You are allowed to bring in your own food and drink at Camden. #3-the ushers are actually nice at Camden Yards and don't police the seating to the insane level that they do at Nats Park. Do they really think someone's going to come in and plunk down money for a good seat after the 2nd or 3rd inning? Their policy (at least last year) was that you couldn't move to better seating until after the start of the 7th. Also, the service in the Red Zone sucks. So for my money, I'll take the bad team that treats the fans right.

Posted by: PRGinSS | May 10, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

#2-You are allowed to bring in your own food and drink at Camden. #3-the ushers are actually nice at Camden Yards and don't police the seating to the insane level that they do at Nats Park. Do they really think someone's going to come in and plunk down money for a good seat after the 2nd or 3rd inning?

Posted by: PRGinSS | May 10, 2010 3:45 PM

More misconceptions - you can bring your own food into Nationals Park - always have been able to. The ushers and staff that I come in contact with are incredibly friendly - I even tell them that they don't have to be so nice to me, they can chill out, I'll be back.

Any open seating options are up to higher management - they let ushers know what to do. The club doesn't want the word on the street to be you can pay $5 and sit behind home plate, and I understand that. But more often than not when I pay for a $5 seat and stand in the outfield, an usher offers me to have a seat (outfield lower level) where I'd like after the 3rd or fourth inning.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

"#2-You are allowed to bring in your own food and drink at Camden. #3-the ushers are actually nice at Camden Yards and don't police the seating to the insane level that they do at Nats Park."

You clearly don't know what you're talking about. They have always allowed outside food (and water, although not other drinks) at Nats Park, just as they did at RFK. Also, there is no insane usher policing at Nats Park. And if there ever was, it was only during the first few weeks in 2008. I've moved around freely in all three seasons of the park's existence. Of course, I've never tried anything ridiculous, like buying a $5 seat and expecting to plop down in an empty seat by the dugout. For something like that, there SHOULD be policing.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 10, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I went Friday night for the first time this season and enjoyed myself.

But, the published ticket prices are way out of whack for the product on the field (especially the last two seasons...) I compared the prices to Baltimore this weekend and tickets are a lot cheaper there than here.

That said, if they continue playing like they've been, attendance will pick up some when it is consistently warmer and school's out.

Posted by: tidalwave1 | May 10, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

"Name one other fanbase, if the team wasn't expected to be good."

Cubs.

I can do a few more...Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals, and probably the Twins now that they have their new ballpark.

The Nats don't have enough real fans, and until the franchise understands that, they will only sellout for opening days and when they have a pennant contender.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"The Nats do all these things - except maybe the all-you-can-eat seats, but I do recall hearing Kasten mention that they were considering that option - and more. And you don't need to be on their e-mail list to find out about them either. Maybe if you shut your trap and paid attention instead of spewing your venom when you obviously don't have a clue you might actually hear about them. Y'think?"

They do them, and Kasten talks about them the few times he books himself on a local radio station. However, they don't really push them. I don't see street teams in the city pushing these "deals." I don't see banner ads on Washingtonpost.com pushing deals (aside from season tickets and multi-game deals). I don't see the Nats going into different communities with player and representatives pushing their product. When was the last time the Nats publicized a player appearing for autographs since the ultra-lame fanfest.

I'm not spitting venom. I'm merely speaking the truth, and 30k empty seats is the only proof I need of that truth. That's 30k pairs of pockets the Nats are losing out on. That $150k plus whatever those people spend on concessions if the Nats were to sell all of the seats at a mere $5. Other teams face the same problems with empty seats, but the work very hard to get guests to come to games, and I just don't see the Nats trying very hard to fill the stands. Maybe you enjoy sitting in an empty stadium.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Cubs.

I can do a few more...Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 4:11 PM

Those clubs spend money like they are going to win every year. Even the Cubs, who at least try to win these days with comic results.

The Nationals are around 25th in payroll and attendance - an interesting symmetry. You often get what you pay for in Major League Baseball. People won't care about parking and hot dog prices when they're watching a talented team win.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

It also has to be remembered that MLB completely lost the good feelings from the first year by not resigning several of the better players; and, of course, they have been absolutely savaged in the Post the last three years with all the bile about the "cheap Lerners..."

Posted by: truke | May 10, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

If you build it, they will come.

Seriously, The fan base has been so beaten down by the last few years. It is going to take a while for the love to come back.

Part of the problem is the lack of attention in the media. It is rare to turn on local sports radio and hear a mention of the Nats. Who give a sh about the Redskins, especially in May. Why is that all we hear about?

Posted by: Tom8 | May 10, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

A little more on the Cubs, losing and attendance...

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/

Did you know that they've only lost 100 games in a season twice in their 125 seasons? The Nats have done that two years in a row.

The Cubs have also been to the playoffs 4 of the last 12 seasons - which is not really that bad. They tease their loyal fan base, not torture them with AAA players.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

@Russtinator-
I was downtown last week and all of the mascots and nat pack were there. they handed me a discount card for the marlins series. actually i dont think i've ever paid full price for a nats ticket. they always have deals. and i dont even go to any effort, they usually find me. i remember being downtown last year on multiple occasions and receiving cards for 40% off.

Posted by: natfan616 | May 10, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

adding to my comment - i've never once gotten a discount offer for a caps or a redskins ticket. ever.

Posted by: natfan616 | May 10, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Those clubs spend money like they are going to win every year. Even the Cubs, who at least try to win these days with comic results.

The Nationals are around 25th in payroll and attendance - an interesting symmetry. You often get what you pay for in Major League Baseball. People won't care about parking and hot dog prices when they're watching a talented team win.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

The Nats actually rank #23 in payroll and #25 in attendance. Probably about where they should rank if the team just relied on their on-field performance to market the team.

The Dodgers rank #12 in payroll yet are 3rd in attendance.

The Cardinals rank #13 in payroll yet are 5th in attendance.

The Twins are #11 in payroll and #6 in attendance (new ballpark effect).

The Brewers are #18 in payroll and #10 in attendance.

All of the clubs have FANS that have been groomed over the years, some despite long stretches of pathetic on-field performance. The Nats are not trying to build a fanbase. They would rather get the bandwagon fans that come with a winning team and the fat cats that don't mind expensing $100+ seats on their black Amex. The need to work from the ground up, and gain fans through heavily discounting tickets and offerring an experience that those people want to experience again and feel that experience is worth paying a little more money for next time.

Until they start doing that, a higher payroll will not significantly affect their attendance.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

So many things to comment on, my head is spinning, so this may come out a bit disjointed.

@bendersx - love the FOOTS acronym, and it fits perfectly. This is such a transient area, it's extremely difficult to build a fan base from scratch.

@Kev29 - all good points, though I would disagree and say that parking is outrageously expensive, which is why I never use it.

@Everyone who think it's too expensive to go to the game - My family has a 20-game season ticket package. Our seats are in section 220, which has a fantastic view. In the heat of a day game, we are in the shade for almost the entire game. The seats cost an exorbitant $10 each, meaning $200 for the season. Now here comes the part that not enough people know about: you can bring your own food to the game! And I'm not talking about sneaking it in, either. You can also bring in water, up to a liter bottle per person. So I buy my $1 1-liter bottle of water, (freeze it the night before during the summer, yesterday the weather was cold enough to keep it cold), buy a $5 footlong sub from Subway (2 blocks from the stadium, right next to....Five Guys....you know, the concession that almost always has the longest line at the park? The prices are almost twice what they are offsite. Before we knew about it, we would pay $35 for the three of us. We can get the exact same order for $18 offsite and then bring it in), or even more cost-effective, bring foor from home! Yesterday we brought sandwiches from home, water, oranges, and peanuts in two little soft-sided Nationals coolers. Total cost for the day: $30 for tickets, $12 for Metro, $8 for beer, $5.50 for soda, $5 for a funnel cake = $60.50 for a family of three. Can you believe those money-grubbing Lerners? ;)

Now of course they aren't going to actively promote the fact that you can bring your own food to the game, and obviously you can't bring giant 50-gallon coolers, either.

So my point(?) is this: the game experience is what you make of it. If you want to pay $300 for a seat behind home plate and then complain about the price, why the hell did you buy the ticket in the first place? We have a great time at the park, it's a chance to be outside enjoying the weather and, this season anyway, a good game with a bunch of people who are of the same mind (except when the Phillies are in town). it's a chance to breathe fresh (mostly) air and spend some time not, as Ray Bradbury so eloquently put it, "contemplating our electronic navels"

See you at the park!! Go Nats!!

Posted by: RPrecupjr | May 10, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

@Russtinator-
I was downtown last week and all of the mascots and nat pack were there. they handed me a discount card for the marlins series. actually i dont think i've ever paid full price for a nats ticket. they always have deals. and i dont even go to any effort, they usually find me. i remember being downtown last year on multiple occasions and receiving cards for 40% off.


Posted by: natfan616 | May 10, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

It's good to hear that. That's not the experience I have had, nor any of my friends, many of whom are baseball fans. It's also more than showing up in the city unannounced. It's getting the media to talk about your club by offering interesting promotions and the like. I'm not sure if this club felt beneath the idea, but the Nats should have been marketed like the minor league team they were. There should have been record-breaking gimmicks, silly contests, and other promotions to gain the interest of the media and fans. They also need to try to market more to the suburbs and the "crossover" neighborhoods in northern Montgomery, PG, and southern Howard counties. This team makes too much money on overinflated ticket prices to not try harder to fill that stadium!

Posted by: Russtinator | May 10, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand what you're trying to argue, Russinator? That the owners should not spend money to build a winner - because they could just make all the tickets $5? No one in Major League Baseball operates with that logic. In fact, most MLB teams don't offer $5 tickets at all - the Nats do.

It's been demonstrated over and over in this comment thread that the games are not actually that expensive when you know the prices and the stadium does not provide a poor experience. Losing 205 games over the last 2 seasons, coupled with some PR gaffes and poor corporate strategy (e.g. the rent fiasco) has alienated potential fans. They averaged nearly 34,000 fans in 2005 with a .500 team and the area appreciated their efforts. And that was in a crumbling stadium with horrible concessions and service - not to mention government cheese ownership and marketing (you can thank the league for the awful branding and Screech).

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

@Kev29 - all good points, though I would disagree and say that parking is outrageously expensive, which is why I never use it.

Posted by: RPrecupjr | May 10, 2010 4:47 PM

Do you know about the $10 lots, RPrecupjr?

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/ballpark/economy_parking.jsp

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

"I can do a few more...Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals, and probably the Twins now that they have their new ballpark"

When was the last time any of those teams DID NOT HAVE AN EXPECTATION that they would be good? Further I want you to go look up the yankees attendance pre 1995. Further in 1996 a year they one the world series and after coming of the playoffs they drew what? You won't like what you see. The Twins have a new park and are expected and are good (you have no point), The Red Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals are competative or expected to be every year and are baseball crazy towns, plus LA has no Football team. The cubs drew in the mid 20's every year untill 2000. Further the examples you give are of 5 or 6 of the staple franchises of the sport. You gave one end of the spectrum with these examples. Ultimately if the Yankees don't draw when they stink or aren't expected to be good why would anyone expect the Nats.

Posted by: JDB1 | May 10, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

media doesnt care about covering "silly promotions" if a team isnt winning. they have tons of interesting promotions. look up nats pups in the park. regarding discounts, just google their $1 strasburg ticket promo from last - they had tons of national media off that. and i dont think you can get any bigger discount than $1 tickets.

Posted by: natfan616 | May 10, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

The Twins are probably the ultimate rebuke to the Lerners. They are a club that plays in a market about half the size of Washington's, but pays $46 million more to field their team. Ramping up the team and salary level (example: beating the Nationals for free agent Orlando Hudson this off-season) before they moved into their new stadium.

The Lerners did the opposite - cut salary and assembled a poor team as they moved into a publicly financed ballpark. We saw the results in '08-'09 and we still see how it's hurt attendance.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

They got rid of the Nats Express bus from RFK? Well, they've lost me as a customer. Why should I pay one red cent for parking for a pathetic team? The $5 tickets are nice, but coupled with $5 in parking, that's a 100% increase in price. Totally unacceptable.

Posted by: Randy_Hawkins | May 10, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Why should I pay one red cent for parking for a pathetic team?

Posted by: Randy_Hawkins | May 10, 2010 5:20 PM

I don't know - ask the Orioles.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 10, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Bad teams draw poorly. When the Nats improve, so will their ST base. Ask the former ST holders (which include myself and a few dozen friends). 30k empty seats? When, for some midweek games against Colorado? Please. Look, do you think the Red Sox always sold out Fenway, the Yankees always sold out Y. Stadium and the Cubs Wrigley? Not until they spent big $ to put REAL players on the field did they get butts in the seats. Look at Cleveland. How many years did they sell out Jacobs Field (or whatever they call it now)? Quite a few. Now, with a putrid product, they draw nada. And it will take a while before their attendance takes off again. So hold your idiotic venom against DC baseball fans. They will come when they get a competitive product to enjoy. They will swarm if the team contends. Your anecdotal study of DC baseball attendance is flawed at best.

Posted by: Natstoyou | May 10, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

They have many failings, but they are running tons of promotions and discounts. Anybody that thinks otherwise is not paying attention. Get on their mailing list and you can get lots of good deals.

Posted by: markfromark | May 10, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

The Nats have never been anything but terrible to average. There is little reason for someone to see us play outside of a good team coming here.

Now, we are decent this year but our pitching is terrible still and we lack talent across the board compared to the elite teams.

When we win games at a good rate, attendance will pick up

Posted by: Bious | May 10, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

When the team is a contender, it will draw like a contender. Everyone forgets 2005, year one of the Nats in RFK. The team was in the wild card race until September, and the team drew more than 33,000 a night--more than that in June, July and August. When people are convinced that the Nats are a real team--and that finally appears to be the case--everything will be OK.

Posted by: TheFingerman | May 10, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

I not arguing against building the team by spending money on payroll. I'm just stating that the Nats do not try as hard as they could could sell tickets for what is/was obviously a sub-par product. When a team is down, that is when the marketing department needs to be doing their best work. When the Lerner's bought this team, they claimed it was a "major" baseball market. Well, if it's a major baseball market, then where are the fans? Fans are not going to pay exhorbitant prices for a minor league product, yet the front office continues to maintain the current pricing scheme with some minor alterations from season to season.

Everyone here obviously knows about the $5 seats, but I can guarantee that if you walked up to 10 strangers on the street in DC and asked them if they knew they could walk up to Nats Park and buy a baseball ticket for $5 that more than half wouldn't know that and half of those probably don't even know that the Nats are even playing baseball right now.

The team has not worked hard at being a part of the city's conciousness, and until everyday people are talking about the Nats, they're not going to draw well, even if they spend another $50 million per year on payroll. How many stories in this very paper have talked about the Nats over the past few days? How many stupid Redskins stories have there been in that same timeframe? What team is actively playing games right now, and which one is going through boring off-season volunatry workouts? The Nats need to fight for attention in this town, and it takes work on their part to get fans to notice their team. They're having a great season (by current standards), yet the once a week postage-stamp-sized stories about the team always talk about how the performance is just an abberation, not actually talking about how this team is doing so well.

There have been more stories in the past 5 days about Albert Haynesworth, a fat, useless, overpaid, piece of goo on the bottom of Mike Shanahan's shoe, than there have been this entire season about Matt Capps, the current lock to represent this team in the mid-summer classic. Some of the lack of attention is out of the club's control, but they can certainly do some things to get more attention for the club through other methods. The Nats deserve to draw 25-30k per game this season, yet they have again squandered this opportunity, just like they did in the first year of Nats Park, and are hoping that next year will be the year everyone will want to come to the park.

Well Stan, if you guys tried a little harder this year, fans would be coming out to see a vastly improved team right now, and that would give the team more money to spend in the off-season to build a truly contending baseball team in 2011.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 11, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Here's the bottom line: When the Nats start winning consistently then more people will show up. It's really that simple. There's a lot of corporate money in DC (Northrop Grumman is moving their HQ to NoVA soon too) and eventually they and other residents will gladly pay money to see a winning ballclub play.

Posted by: Fitz157 | May 11, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

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