Tickets Still Available For Opening Day
Two-hundred and one days have passed since the Washington Nationals last played a regular season game in Nationals Park. And several factors, President Stan Kasten said today, explain why tickets still remain for the first chance to see the Nationals in 2009. The franchise has a threefold problem: It's coming off a 102-loss season. Its stadium no longer has the first-year honeymoon. And its customers -- like everybody -- are dealing with an economic recession.
When talking about ticket sales, Kasten said that seats, "but not many," remained for the opener. Breaking from his annual tradition, he declined to identify the number of season tickets sold this year at Nationals Park, saying only that sales had declined.
"I thought for now I'm going to continue to hold off, and for a couple reasons," Kasten said. "First of all, I will tell you, obviously season ticket sales are down. But I'm noticing more and more teams this year -- this team (the Braves) are one example -- that aren't releasing season ticket numbers. So I'm just going to hold off and see what other teams do. But we're aware that coming off 102 losses there's going to be a drop-off. Second year in a new ballpark there's going to be a drop-off. And then the big thing -- what's happening in our economy... So another reason to just hold off on season ticket numbers: We just don't know what to make of it all, and is this a short-term, month-long phenomenon that gets better over the course of the season as I hope? So I do not have a number for you today."
In 2008, the Nationals attracted 29,005 per game, for a total of 2.32 million. That was actually a drop from their first year in the District, when they drew 2.73 million. Following 2008 -- when the team had a base 22,000 season ticket holders -- the Nationals cut prices for season tickets in 7,500 of the stadium's 42,000 seats. Some prices in the lower bowl fell by as much as $15, bringing the average season ticket price to a $29-per-game average.
Data released by the Team Marketing Report, measuring the cost of taking a family of four to a sporting even, estimates the full experience at Nationals Park -- tickets, parking, beers, hot dogs and sodas are all factored in -- to cost $215.52, a decline of 4.7 percent from 2008. Still, the Nationals are just above the big league average, $196.89.
Kasten expressed optimism about group ticket sales and popularity of smaller ticket plans. He also said that sales for premier games -- series against the Red Sox, the Orioles, etc. -- are brisk. But it's the other games that will determine the big picture.
"What happens with the games that aren't those?" Kasten said. "That's what we'll have to take the course of the season to understand."
First pitch tomorrow is 3:05. Center field games open at 12:30 p.m., and fans are urged to come early.
Though White House officials have stated that President Obama will not throw out the first pitch for tomorrow's opener, Kasten still is not ruling it out.
"Truly, last I've heard -- I've heard two things recently, and they were directly contradictory," he said. "I'll know tomorrow. Maybe late tomorrow."
So who's the back-up? My speculative list starts with Frank Howard. It does not include Jim Bowden.
Your de rigueur note on a particular center fielder: Lastings Milledge, off to a 2-for-18 start at the plate (with nine strikeouts) is getting a day off today. Manny Acta, facing the daily battery of Milledge questions, tried to calm things down by reminding everybody that 1.) Milledge actually led the Nats in home runs and RBI last year, and that track record means far more than the small five-game sample size and 2.) he started slow last year, and picked it up in the second half. In other words: He's capable of overcoming slow starts.
"I'm gonna overcome it this year, too," Milledge said this morning. "You can bet that. Yeah, you get mad when you don't do what you're supposed to do. You know you're going to come around. It's just how long it will take and how long they'll keep running you out there and let you fail. But I know I'm a way better player than what I'm doing now. At the same time, I think I'm too good a player to be in this position now."
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