The New Nats Stadium: $300 Seats! (Or $5 Seats for the Same View)
I'm just back from a tour of the new Washington Nationals ballpark, which is further along than you might expect (hey, for $611 million, you too can have your construction project finish on time and on budget.) It's going to be a beautiful place to watch a ballgame, with extraordinary sightlines, a much more intimate feeling than RFK ever had, and prices that will take your breath away.
We're talking about $300 seats right behind home plate and $150 seats right behind those. This is the way things have gone in all of the new ballparks, with the prime seating behind home becoming a new way of sucking big money out of the rich, the corporations and, in Washington at least, the lobbyists. (Though the Nats management take pains to note that in this post-Jack Abramoff era, they are not counting on lobbyists to be the prime holders of those premium seats.)
In general, however, the price increases announced by the Nats today are not that steep for the vast majority of current RFK ticketholders. A $50 seat at RFK will be $60 at the new stadium, which is being called Nationals Park until the name is sold to the highest bidder sometime in the next few months. The rough equivalent of the $8 upper deck RFK seats will go for $10 or $15. And in a sop to those who might complain about the loss of the incredible deal that the Nats offer this season--$5 for outfield upper deck seats--there will be 400 seats at the new park priced at $5 and available on day of game only to walk-up customers.
So don't fret about not having $300 to waste on a ballgame. In fact, courtesy of the Lerner family's man in charge of building the new stadium, John Stranix, there's a way for the $5 fan to have almost exactly the same view of the ballgame as the swells in the $300 seats. Stranix, a wizard of sports facilities who built both the Phillies new stadium and Washington's Abe Pollin Arena, showed me what he considers the great leveler of the Nats' park, the main concourse, a wide walkway that runs the entire circumference of the stadium.
What's so special about that? Well, unlike, say, Camden Yards in Baltimore, where, as Stranix says, "if you go back to the concessions, you might as well be in the subway because you totally lose contact with the game, here you can see the field from any point along the main concourse." So a fan in the cheap seats could easily spend a few innings--or the entire game--taking in the action from the main concourse, stopping along at the bars, eateries and viewing areas. Folks who have visited the Phillies stadium, which features a similar design, say that's exactly what many fans who paid for upper deck seating do, chortling at the folks who shelled out for the $300 tix.
Despite the progress at the stadium itself, the area around the ballpark will remain very much a work in progress even after Opening Day next season. The Nationals hope to arrange for the developers of all the empty lots and industrial sites in the ballpark neighborhood to pave over their land and turn it into surface parking lots, but it's not remotely clear how much of the demand for parking can be met that way. The good news, Nats president Stan Kasten said, is that the expansion of the Navy Yard Metro station is well underway and will result in a station with a greater capacity to move a big crowd than currently exists at RFK.
The Nats are moving into heavy sales mode now as they try to sell out the premium and club seats. Kasten made no bones about the fact that the Lerner family seeks to dramatically boost revenue in the new park: "We worked really, really hard both to maximize revenues and to keep everyone--even the budget-minded--able to access the facility," he said. One third of the non-premium seats in the park will cost $20 or less, he noted, and 3,000 seats will be priced at $10 or less.
"We want to make the most money we can," Kasten said, "while keeping our game affordable." In all, the new park will have 41,000 seats, down from 46,000 for baseball at RFK.
Outside the stadium, the path from the Metro station is still a rough slalom course of giant potholes, construction pits and the debris from an industrial zone that's been turned into a construction site. But Gregory McCarthy, former D.C. mayor Tony Williams' deputy chief of staff and now a Nationals executive, says that by Opening Day, Half Street SE will be a wide, pleasant pedestrian lane that fans can walk to go the one block from Metro station to ballpark entrance.
And the D.C. transportation department will announce plans Thursday to open up the Capitol Street side of the stadium by removing the ramp from the Frederick Douglass Bridge onto Capitol Street and sprucing up that raggedy boulevard.
The longstanding mystery over whether there will really be views of the Capitol dome from the stadium is still not quite solved. As of today, the view of the dome from the upper deck of the stadium is spectacular--another advantage for the cheap seats. But the two above-ground garages that are rising beyond the outfield stands--the result of a failure of vision and lack of political will by both the city and the team owners--are likely to block many, if not most, of those views of the dome, according to four Nats executives I spoke to on the tour. A narrow view corridor through centerfield and up Half Street may make the dome visible to some fans, but not many.
Work on the lower seating bowl is expected to be finished this summer, and in October, the field will be installed. It takes weeks and weeks to excavate the field and put in all the layers of infrastructure that lie beneath a modern playing surface, but then the actual bluegrass is put in in just two days, Stranix said. "Immediately when the grass does down, everyone stops work and it's a ballpark," he said. "It's breathtaking."
By Marc Fisher |
June 6, 2007; 4:15 PM ET
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