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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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I can't wait for the stadium to open. It's going to be great for that part of the city. It will be one of the best investments this city has ever made.

Posted by: Logan | June 6, 2007 5:07 PM

I'm excited too. I put my deposit down today. Hopefully I'll get what I want. I've been in section 427 the last three years and section 319 seems comprable and the price is only a few bucks more. Hopefully being a season ticket holder for three years will get me where I want to be.

Posted by: Loggie | June 6, 2007 7:32 PM

Once AGAIN, Marc gets it wrong. From blog My Brain Says Rage:

``Tickets in the outfield will be $29 a game for partial season ticket holders like myself. No, that is not a typo. That is a price nearly double the gate price at Comerica park", which is a >5 year old stadium that is home OF THE AL PENNANT WINNERS.

The Lerners are trying to gouge us. Well, I swore off the Nats this year, so later for them. Let them sell to rich yups like Marc.

Posted by: RL | June 6, 2007 7:59 PM

It's so disappointing that the view of the Capitol dome will be obstructed by ugly parking facilities. This was really a chance to make the new stadium unique to the city. What idiots. What a waste.

Posted by: Fancypants | June 6, 2007 10:29 PM

Marc needs a refresher course in arithmetic. He says the price increases (other than for the super premium seats) are not steep, and then goes on to describe a price increase to $15 from $8. That's an increase of 87.5%. If Marc doesn't think that's steep, see what he says when someone raises his rent that much.

Stan Kasten's tenure in Atlanta led to the highest ticket prices in the Major Leagues, which in turn led to unsold seats for the postseason. Whether the Nats new pricing scheme is good for the team is hard to say; I will presume that Kasten knows how to maximize revenue. Whether it turns out well for fans of baseball in Washington is more uncertain. There does at least seem to be an effort to keep some prices reasonable, and to plow the revenues into creating a competitive team.

To be fair, this is the trend in sports ticket pricing. Anyone who expected otherwise when they approved underwriting the stadium's construction with tax money either wasn't paying attention or was deluding themselves.

Posted by: Meridian | June 6, 2007 11:49 PM

Not to mention that an added benefit to my part of town from the stadium is the proposed Disneyland of sex near New York Avenue. To hell with the Nationals. My loyalty still lies with the old Senators. I miss Frank Howard!

Posted by: johng | June 7, 2007 2:29 AM

Please stop with the rhetoric about trends in ticket prices and the Lerner's need to maximize revenue. They've got every right to try to make a buck, same as the next guy. But there is something fundamentally wrong with the fact that Joe the Fan, the guy who is going to see games in RFK in 2007, will almost certainly never, ever be able to afford to catch a game from behind home plate.

I am intrigued about this main concourse, though. Hopefully it's close enough to the $300 seats for me to spit on all those idiots who've paid that kind of cash, only to talk on their cellphone the whole time and wave to their buddies on TV.

Posted by: bryc3 | June 7, 2007 7:18 AM

I've been generally disappointed with the design of the new park since it was revealed. They missed an opportunity to make a truly grand and iconic structure in one of the most grand and iconic city in the world. Instead, they chose a design that is the sporting equivilent of Tysons Corner mall. I'm sure the amenities and "sightlines" will all be wonderful. But from the outside, it will be another uninspired bland structure. . .with two monstrous parking garages. When the Lerners refused to fund the underground lots, that's when I knew that they were not going to be the big spenders we were led to believe they were. . .that and the refusual to upgrade the facade to limestone from concrete.

Posted by: Section 429 | June 7, 2007 7:29 AM

Why does the Metro writer on the Temple Courts story say that the property is "in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol." It is not. It is north of the Capitol by about 10 blocks. The Capitol shadow extends east and west, not north and south. I wish Metro writers would stay employed at the Post long enough to get to know the city.

Posted by: Karl | June 7, 2007 7:37 AM


What is it? $300 seats or $400 seats as Thomas Heaths article says? Cant you guys agree on at least one basic fact?

Posted by: DC | June 7, 2007 7:48 AM

Hey, Fancypants -- You missed a great ending last night! Shoulda stayed!

Posted by: farnick | June 7, 2007 8:08 AM

My guess is that the $7 upper row seats will be a thing of the past at the new stadium. Long live RFK.

Posted by: dcbubble.blogspot | June 7, 2007 8:09 AM

Welcome to the era of selling out fans to corporations, businesses and independently wealthy, while the real fans are stuck at home watching on a substandard channel.

Posted by: KraziJoe | June 7, 2007 8:46 AM

"Joe the Fan" isn't going to be able to see a game from behind home plate in any other major league stadium either. Not sure where exactly all this outrage is coming from. We all knew that RFK was a lousy rundown stadium and that prices would be higher in the new park.

As for the Capitol view, wasn't it reported that a few of the outside projects were planning towers that would block the view anyways?

Posted by: dgc | June 7, 2007 9:18 AM

If Angelos is a smart as he thinks he is, O's 2009 (once novelty wears off) ad campaign is built around affordability versus Nats.

'City Paper' ran an article months ago on the class distinctions between seats: kicker was that upper deck fans will get room-temperature water from fountains (in DC July & August) while higher priced seats' will be chilled.

Posted by: Ray Chapman | June 7, 2007 10:21 AM

DC, the front section of seats is $300 per seat -- except for the first row, which is $400. This is noted in the Heath article, about halfway down. The diagram that was first released yesterday did not include the price for the first row.

dcbubble, the grandstand seats at the end of the top deck in left field will be $5.

Posted by: Cosmo | June 7, 2007 11:21 AM


I am a little confused here: Don't we go to baseball games to watch the baseball game? Is the skyline really all that important?

Posted by: SoMD | June 7, 2007 12:08 PM

SoMD - yes, the view is important especially in baseball. You have to look at something while the Nats are bringing in their third relief pitcher of the inning. Look at Camden Yards, PNC Park or (phone company here) Park in San Fran. It's a shame they are blocking in the park with the garages; those should have been behind, not in front of, the home plate area.

Posted by: riverbear | June 7, 2007 12:46 PM

"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."

That's great, but will we actually be able to do that? I can easily see ushers shooing people along if they're in one spot along the concourse for too long.

Posted by: Natfan | June 7, 2007 12:51 PM

By and large, there is a ton of whining today about this. A man on the Metro was belly-aching very loudly about how for $300 a ticket, the Nats had just priced out a new generation of fans and how he'd never be able to go to a game again. Except that I had no desire to converse with such an idiot, I wanted to scream at him to pull his head out of his tailpipe. There are something like 500 seats in a 41,000-seat stadium for $300 or more and, obviously, nobody HAS to pay for them. Lesser seats are consistent with prices for all other major sports (including MLB in other cities) and that fact that not all can afford tickets is an observation about American income disparity, which is not the fault of or the responsibility of the Nats. If the market speaks and says we're not paying this much for seats, prices will be adjusted. If the Nats can sell out with this price structure, that's their right. Nobody is entitled to anything and the knee-jerk, crying reaction of so many posters is as ill-informed as it is pointless.

Posted by: hazmat | June 7, 2007 1:11 PM

Yes, but... (Poor) taxpayers helped give Lerners $611 mil for stadium, plus Metro (again, taxpayers) improvements, plus road/bridge engineering- and are now told, "Stay on your side of the gated community, thankyouverymuch."
It's a business decision, and it's their team, but there's something to be said about the atmosphere- and profit- in a park full of people paying somewhat less; versus a park maybe one-third full but paying top dollar.
And the design of most modern stadia have either moved "cheap" seats much farther from the field, or put them into near-vertical upper decks.

Posted by: Ray Chapman | June 7, 2007 1:55 PM

Just out of curiosity (I couldn't get the press release to load properly) are the ticket prices under discussion the actual walk-up ticket window price or the significant discounted per-game season ticket price? If so, there's a much bigger stick shock coming for the casual Nats-lving family and time will prove the Nats management is making a huge mistake.

The only "Joe Fans" that will come into town a few times each season and pay $40+ for the privilege of sitting somewhere in the lower level will be cheering for the away team.

Posted by: athea | June 7, 2007 2:13 PM

SoMD, you've obviously never attended a baseball game. You are very confused.

Posted by: Batter Up | June 7, 2007 2:24 PM

Natfan, in response to your question about ushers shooing people away from the concourse area, I was surprised to see that in Philadelphia, they actually don't. I went to a game and watched a few innings from the concourse right behind home plate. There was an usher there to make sure people without the expensive tickets didn't walk down the aisle, but they didn't mind people standing up top and watching. Hope the Nats do the same.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2007 2:42 PM

While Mr. Fisher clearly describes a fundamental flaw of Oriole Park, he fails to recognize that HOK figured this out in 1998, and just about EVERY MLB stadium built in the past 10 years has open concourses with field views. As far as I'm concerned, this "extra" that he's touting in the new ballpark is "standard equipment" in most newer Major League Stadiums. Please don't forget that Oriole Park is 15 years old, which is about halfway through an average stadium's lifetime.

As far as prices go, I think the Nats are missing the mark here. They raised ticket prices this year from 2006, and lost season ticket sales because of it. Now they're planning on blowing the pants off the season ticket holders who were able to wriggle through the last round of increase to get a chance for seats in the new park. While they'll obviously get increased intrests from higher end customers, the season ticket holders that scraped and pulled spare change out of their couches to afford season tickets this season will not be able to move to the new stadium. The biggest problem is that the number of "affordable" seats are significantly reduced. Yeah, they have those $5 and $10 seats in the upper deck, and a smattering of seats in the $10-$20 range, over 2/3 of the seats in the stadium will cost over $25. When fans have to pay $25 or more to sit in uncovered outfield seats, you're going to have a lot of unhappy families who will have to deal with sunburned and dehydrated children along with an empty wallet.

Baseball is supposed to be a family event, and if a family of 4 cannot go to the park to enjoy a game for under $100, that's completely unacceptable. I don't consider the $5 seats that will require people to stand in line 5-8 hours before the game starts to purchase acceptable either. I'm not impressed, and I guess I will be sadly sending my money to Mr. Angelos and his family-friendly ballpark or to the local minor league teams.

Posted by: Steven Thompson | June 7, 2007 2:58 PM

This is getting ridiculous. The new stadium plan undeniably reduces the number of affordable seats, but you really think that not having a roof over your head at a baseball stadium is grounds for complaining? How about trying sunscreen, a hat and some water on the kids. Or do you think the Nats should provide the sunscreen and hat gratis and have butlers bringing the water to you from the fountains?

This level of complaining is so patently absurd that it obscures a totally valid point that the folks most likely to show up all, half or a quarter of the season are being pushed up and out within the stadium.

Posted by: hazmat | June 7, 2007 3:54 PM

hazmat, they want to enjoy this outdoor sport with the annemities of indoors comfort. I demand valet parking and a bidet!

Posted by: Poo-Poo | June 7, 2007 3:58 PM

You completely missed my point hazmat. I'm not complaining that I cannot use sunscreen or buy a hat, but the fact that outfield seats are being sold at over $20 a pop, a price that in most MLB ballparks will at least buy you some shade. Most MLB ballparks with outfield seats sell them under $20 because while you have a good chance at catching a big fly, you can barely see what's going on at the plate, can't see the main scoreboard without being a contortionist, and typically do not have any cover on day games. To charge over $20 for outfield seats without a view of the scoreboards is unreasonable. Add that to the amount of money it's going to take to get to a game ($20 or more in Metro fare for a family of four or likely $25-30 for an evening of parking if you can actually find a place to park). Kasten has shot for the stratosphere in attempting to fleece the average baseball fan.

If you have the resources to afford $200 for a family outing at the park, go right ahead. I'll head up to Baltimore and do a day at Oriole Park with my wife and two kids for $100. The bottom line is that the new stadium has 2/3 of the seats priced over $20. Most MLB ballparks have approximately half of their seats at or below the $20 level. You can sit behind the dugouts at Wrigley Field for $36, the upper deck of Yankee Stadium for $20, in left field bleachers in San Fransisco for $18, and outfield bleacher seats to see the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals for $16.

Even the newest MLB stadiums (Busch, GAB, PNC, Citizens Bank, and Petco) have been very careful in creating a balance between the the most and least expensive seats. This new ballpark has not achieved that balance through the pricing schedule that has been released with a significant percentage of the seats skewing to the richest, leaving the average fans sitting in the $5 line before each game.

Posted by: Steven Thompson | June 7, 2007 4:38 PM

Thanks for picking up on the point I made yesterday re: the OF seats in your discussion. So WaPo of you to act as if it was original to you, since you expressed no concern in your blog entry.

But once again, you don`t get it: "The ultimate culprit in all this is the greed of the players and their union, combined with the craven nature of all too many team owners, who were only too happy to let the players' demand for millions push up ticket prices. Throw in the huge TV contracts and the advertisers and, well, soon we'll be blaming everyone, which is apt because we're all part of this insane inflation"

The Nats have one of the lowerst payrolls this year, and it is not going to appreciably increase NEXT year, since the `plan` is to to develop young talent from within the organization -- young talent is cheap until at least three years in the majors. As I posted yesterday -- and as many, many students of sports economics know -- ticket prices are solely a product of demand. Let me repeat that, since I know you are slow: Sports. Tickets. Are. SOLELY. A. Product. Of. Demand. It is false to contend that salaries push up prices. That is why the Nats are hiking prices. That is why the Cardinals hiked prices for their new park last year, despite having a middling payroll. Salaries are high because owners have the money to pay.

I would suggest you research (I know, WaPo types like you are allergic to any actual research) the litigation that involved Eagles owner Norman Braman back in the late 80s/early 90s, where it was revealed that despite crying poor, Braman was making far more than any Eagles player. It wasn`t that he lacked the money to get that key player to get the Eagles over the hump, it was that he did not want to cut back on the $7 million he was taking out of the Eagles every year.

The Lerner group is cut in the image of Bud Selig. Get publicly funded stadium, claim to use revenue on minor leagues, be an also-ran for year after year after year. In Selig`s case, the STATE investigated the Brewers to determine where Bud was spending his profits, because it looked like the taxpayers had been taken for a ride, and his team president quit because he felt the public had been misled. Look for the Lerner's, like Bud, to sell after they exhaust the profitmaking potential of the new stadium -- no wonder they did not squawk about the MASN deal, they are short-timers. Fortunately, the Nats have a 30-year lease, or I think you'd be looking at the Las Vegas Showmen in 2018 or so.

Posted by: RL | June 7, 2007 4:54 PM


I'll stick with the Frederick Keys thank you. I was hoping that they would at least some seats that regular joes could get their hands on, but those few $10 seats are going to get snatched up by season ticket holders, and you've got to stand in line for the $5 seats. If I want to buy tickets for a couple of games here and there, I'm completely out of luck. Also, what about standing room???

I guess burgeoning National's fan will just give up on MLB.

Posted by: Rick Neilson | June 7, 2007 4:56 PM

Those who think payroll determines ticket prices or vice versa know nothing about baseball. Revenue from ticket sales are pure profit for most MLB teams, because payroll can usually be paid through TV money, advertisements, sponsorships, and luxury suites. The money regular fans pay to see a baseball game, about 50% goes to team employees (groundkeepers, ushers, announcers, scorer, etc...) and stadium upkeep while the rest goes straight into the owner's pocket. If you have a team that doesn't get a lot of TV, ad, or suite revenue, they tend to spend less on payroll, while those with lucrative TV deals, corporate tie-ins, and suite and luxury seats can spend lots of money on payroll (Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cubs, Astros, and Giants). A bump in stadium revenue could lead to increased payroll spending, but documented cases are rare. New MLB stadiums are just cash cows for owners, and have rarely led to long-term on-field success. A study of the Brewers, Pirates, Rangers, Tigers, and Mariners will show that just because a new stadium goes in doesn't mean the owners go out and spend tons of money. What's going to happen in this case is anyone's guess, but I would not expect payroll to increase more above the $50 million level for 2008, and remain in the $50-75 million range in the forseeable future.

Posted by: Greg | June 7, 2007 5:17 PM

Well said Greg!
It only business- nothing personal
If you want them to play - you got to pay!

the boy got something but there aint no free - nrbq

Posted by: 4444 | June 11, 2007 10:47 AM

"Please stop with the rhetoric about trends in ticket prices and the Lerner's need to maximize revenue. They've got every right to try to make a buck, same as the next guy."
Sorry, but while I agree they have the right to make a buck, they're getting a sweetheart deal with a free new stadium; if it's not enough they're getting advertising revenue, they'll also get the money from the naming rights for the stadium. Somehow I keep missing the benefit the stadium and team will bring to the city and the citizens of the city (let's call them 'taxpayers') who are paying for everything but actual team ownership, something that will automatically increase and benefit the Lerner's when they sell the team, whenever that is. Of course I'm still trying to determine how, by taxing the jeweler and gas station owner and small store operator in the outer fringes of the city, they'll gain from Washington having a team.

Posted by: Dungarees | June 14, 2007 11:47 AM

"Please stop with the rhetoric about trends in ticket prices and the Lerner's need to maximize revenue. They've got every right to try to make a buck, same as the next guy."
Sorry, but while I agree they have the right to make a buck, they're getting a sweetheart deal with a free new stadium; if it's not enough they're getting advertising revenue, they'll also get the money from the naming rights for the stadium. Somehow I keep missing the benefit the stadium and team will bring to the city and the citizens of the city (let's call them 'taxpayers') who are paying for everything but actual team ownership, something that will automatically increase and benefit the Lerner's when they sell the team, whenever that is. Of course I'm still trying to determine how, by taxing the jeweler and gas station owner and small store operator in the outer fringes of the city, they'll gain from Washington having a team.

Posted by: Dungarees | June 14, 2007 11:47 AM

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