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Relocation: The Aftermath

This issue, which I probably should have addressed last week, has been percolating a bit, and it's a very important glimpse into how the team treats its most loyal fans - the season-ticket holders, however many there are. The challenge: Relocate 15,000-or-so fans - Stan Kasten said he believes about 95 percent of 2007 season-ticket holders renewed - from RFK Stadium, a multi-purpose bowl of a facility, to a baseball-only ballpark that, as Kasten pointed out, is different geometrically in a hundred ways.

The Nationals braced for this, because they knew that - regardless of how careful they were or how much time they put in - there would be people that would be upset. But let's walk through how they did this, just a reminder about the factors they considered in reassigning folks.

1. The year you signed up, which would be Kasten's off-referenced "Class of '05, Class of '06, Class of '07."
2. The size of the plan (i.e., full season, half-season or 20-game)
3. The category of your seats (i.e., if you had $30 seats at RFK, you can't jump over people who were paying more at RFK for better seats at the new park)
4. The date and time stamp on your purchase (so, I'm told, someone who sent in their deposit on Dec. 1, 2004 would be ahead of someone with the same above criteria who sent it in on Dec. 2, 2004)

Kasten made it a point last week to say that the number of seats you had WAS NOT used in determining relocation, nor was where you sat (other than the pricing category).

So, where does that leave us? You've probably heard this before, but it's worth repeating, and as I've talked to people about this matter - both people who are happy and those who are upset - it seems people forget what the new seating bowl means. (Stan can thank me later for reminding folks of this, as I'm sure he will.)

First off, the big difference is that there are roughly 1,800 "premium" seats behind the plate in Nationals Park - those designated as "Presidential Seats" ($300/game) and "PNC Diamond Seats" ($150/game). The highest price at RFK Stadium was $140/game, and there was a small number of them.

So follow the trickle-down. Unless all of those people upgraded to seats that would cost them, in most cases, hundreds of dollars more per game, then new customers would have to be recruited for those expensive seats, and the others would be displaced - most likely to the baselines, or to further back behind the plate.

Take, then, the folks who were, for instance, seated in the seventh row behind the Nationals' dugout - as one gentleman I spoke to earlier today was. They could then lose those seats to someone who had primo seats behind the plate at RFK but who wasn't going to upgrade to stay in that position.

On and on. You get the idea.

Because not everyone was going to get a seat that exactly replicated his/her seat at RFK, the Nationals new there would be instances where people didn't end up precisely where they wanted. That's why folks were supposed to list their top three choices. Kasten said that 50 percent of people got their first choice, and 90 percent of people got one of their top three choices. (Glass half-empty version: Half the people didn't get their first choice, and 10 percent of folks didn't get any of their top three choices.)

So let's take an example like ... oh, I don't know, my own group.

As I've discussed before, I got in a group for the 2005 season, one that submitted its deposit sometime in November/December 2004. The idea was, like with most of the folks who did this, is that we'd be in position for the rest of our lives to have nice seats at the new park. We have four seats and 10 members, some with a full share (two seats for roughly 20 games) and some with half shares (two seats for roughly 10 games).

At RFK, all four years, we had seats in Section 309, Row 7, which was basically right at first base tucked up under the overhang. Good seats, but not great (except when it was raining or 3,000 degrees out for a day game).

When it came time to choose for the new park, everyone was excited enough that our first choice became the dugout box seats, the ones offered to season ticket holders at $60 a pop. The idea: This is what we waited for for three years, so why not jump on great seats before the demand gets too high? We should be up there in line, right?

Beyond that, we figured we'd choose the infield club at $55 each (the green seats in the diagram). And our third choice was the first- or third-base club seats at $45 each (the light blue seats in the diagram).

So I was just like a bunch of the rest of you last Friday, waiting for the news. (In the interest of full disclosure, I've never told anyone at the Nationals what name my group's seats are under. That has, thankfully, prevented me from getting seats in the upper deck way down the right field line but still getting charged $60 for them.)

The email popped in midway through the afternoon: We got our third choice, third-base club seats, Section 219. We did some rationalizing through the email group, and basically everyone seems happy/ecstatic/satisfied. The seats are quite comparable to where we were at RFK, but they're likely better because they'll be raised up and a bit closer to the line, the Nationals' dugout will be on the first baseline rather than third, so we'll be closer to the home team, and we'll have access to the club-level bars, etc. Because they're Section 219, they're the closest-in section of the $45 seats, so - and I'm thinking like Boz here - they could be among the best values in the ballpark.

That is just one man's story. (Or make that 10 men's story.) I would like to hear, as we head into Thanksgiving, your thoughts on a couple of things regarding the whole process.

1. Are you happy? If so, why? If so, why not?
2. Do you believe the process was handled in the best manner possible? If not, what improvements would you suggest.
3. Will the outcome of this process have any impact on the number of games you'll attend, the number of seats you'll buy, etc.

I know this post is really for season-ticket holders, a small segment of the fan base. But there's no more important segment than those who make that kind of financial commitment. That's the base for revenue every year, and those people have to remain happy so they'll renew every season. In a market in which the season-ticket base fell from more than 22,000 in 2005 to less than 16,000 in 2007, the Nationals understood the ramifications of not only recruiting new buyers, but making sure the old ones are pleased.

So have at it. We'll likely write about this for the paper at some point, but I'd be interested in hearing some reaction. My initial impression in talking both to friends and colleagues who have tickets and from reading messageboards and the like - as well as talking to readers - is that there's a small segment who are upset about the process, but the majority of fans seemed to be satisfied. Am I right?

[Also, I need to pass on a very important thank you - though I'm not entirely sure who it's to. A group of NJ readers chipped in (and I hope it was a large group) on a nice gift certificate for me and Mrs. NJ to go to one of our favorite neighborhood spots in Capitol Hill at some point this offseason. I can't thank you enough, though it was quite unnecessary.]

Everyone have a great Thanksgiving.

By Barry Svrluga  |  November 20, 2007; 4:10 PM ET
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