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Nationals Park: Tighter Rules, Friendlier Staff?

When the first two sell-out crowds visit Nationals Park this weekend--for Saturday's exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles and Sunday's nationally-televised Opening Night extravaganza against the Atlanta Braves--everyone will be together in the same exploratory mode. Finding, getting to, and wandering around the new, $611 million stadium will be as much a part of the experience as the game itself.

One group of people who are supposed to know their way around the ballpark already are the Nationals' gameday staff, the 400-plus ushers, ticket takers and ticket sellers who have toured the stadium repeatedly and attended frequent training sessions going back to when Nationals Park was just a giant hole in the ground.

"When the gates open, the fans are not going to want to hear 'I don't know,'" says Kynny Sutton, the Nats' guest services manager.

I visited one of the last of those training sessions and got a taste of the effort the Lerner family is making to transform the friendly, but lax atmosphere fans knew at RFK Stadium into something a bit more crisply professional, yet at the same time more welcoming.

"We're most definitely going to have more ticket discipline," says Sutton, who hired 226 new workers for this season, 132 of them D.C. residents, with a big chunk of those living in Ward 6, many within walking distance of the stadium. "Ticket discipline" is the trade term for "you can't move down to more expensive seats anymore, sorry, bud."

"We want fans to be able to enjoy the value of the ticket they paid for," Sutton says, and so ushers are going to be checking ticket stubs, something that was hardly ever done at RFK. (Well, that's what they say--on a sweltering Tuesday night in July with the home team trailing in late innings after most of the crowd has headed for the Metro station, are the ushers really going to care if a kid with a $10 ticket moves down to the $50 seats? I certainly hope not.)

The good news on the usher/ticket-taker front is that the RFK rules about food and drink will indeed carry over to Nationals Park. That means that you can pack a sandwich and bring some water, "for personal consumption only," Sutton says. You can't bring in alcohol.

To maximize the chances of a friendly welcome for fans, the Nats brought in trainers from Disney, Gaylord (the hotel company that's opening National Harbor in Prince George's County next month), and a Maryland consultant named Kelye Brown, who led the session I watched on customer service.

The trainer won over an initially reticent room by getting them to stand and do The Wave, and letting them recount tales of awful customer service they've been treated to by supermarket clerks, cable companies and airlines.

"You're making history here," Brown told the assembled staffers. "You're as important as the players on the field. You are creating those memories that fans will take home with them."

The trainer told the story of her interview with Bob, a real Nats season ticket holder who paid $17,000 for his seats this year and whose most fervent wish is that the stadium be a friendly place where the workers are courteous and are fans themselves. (Well, really, his most fervent wish was for a convenient parking space, but since that's not part of reality on Planet Nats, he'll have to settle for a great time at the game.)

For a while, the workers couldn't get beyond the idea that someone had $17,000 to spend on baseball tickets.

"For $17,000, what can you buy?" the trainer asked.

The workers had plenty of ideas: A car, a vacation, college, a down-payment on a house.

But what does Bob actually get for his big bucks? Four seats on the club level, professional baseball, fun, and customer service. And, ok, a parking space somewhere in the District of Columbia.

This is supposed to impress upon the workers the need to make Bob feel special, because, after all, without Bob and his ilk, no job.

"You have the power," Brown said. "You are the image of the Washington Nationals." She talked about eye contact, smiles, that "non-negotiable first impression" workers make, and this: "Tone of voice. Nobody wants to be arguing. If they ask where the bathroom is, don't point. Take them all the way there, or at least open your hand toward the bathroom and take a few steps with them."

So, what will fans see this weekend? A spectacular scoreboard, a sharp new ballpark, an improving baseball team, and, for the first time in quite a while, sellout crowds. And a warm welcome. Coming in the Sunday column: A visit with a Nats usher whose commitment, friendliness and knowledge of the game are legendary. See you at the ballpark.


By Marc Fisher |  March 28, 2008; 8:15 AM ET
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Comments

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I am very excited to see the stadium, but it is going to look silly is the area behind homeplate is constantly empty because they charge 300 dollars for a seat there. Thats a little much.

Posted by: Natsural | March 28, 2008 10:15 AM

Ya know, if no one is sitting in the seats by the third inning, no one ever will. If someone shows up and has a ticket for a seat I'm in and I don't, I move. It's really not a big deal and I don't make too big of a fuss about someone sitting where I'm suppsoed to be unless it's a sold out game/event. "Ticket discipline" sounds more to me like "You're a low roller so we'll treat you with disdain". If the seat's empty I aint hurting anyone.

Posted by: EricS | March 28, 2008 10:18 AM

Everyone In The Future Eats Dippin' Dots:

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/time_traveler_everyone_in_the

Posted by: Wolcott | March 28, 2008 10:26 AM

They're gonna care about moving from the $10 to the $50 seats. Trust me on this.

The Lerner's are trying to shake us all down for everything they've got. And you Marc, should be calling them on it. Just how they've always done it.

That said, I'll be at the game.

Posted by: DC Centurion's Shield | March 28, 2008 10:32 AM

Someone needs to tell that Disney person there's NO WAVE IN BASEBALL!!!!

Posted by: jw | March 28, 2008 10:40 AM

"If someone shows up and has a ticket for a seat I'm in and I don't, I move."

Unfortunately, a lot of people act as though it is a problem to move to their own seats, and they manage to obstruct everyone else's view of the game whilst doing it. Probably the same clowns who don't understand "When the puck is in play, make sure you're out of the way."

Posted by: Rich | March 28, 2008 11:33 AM

Personally, I'm happy that the Nats plan to enforce "ticket discipline." What's so hard about sitting in the seat that you paid for?

For the poster who moves when he asked, good for him. But for every one like him, there's 3 that stand there and put on an act like they misread their ticket and its an honest mistake - "Are you sure? Let me see your ticket?"

Posted by: Alex., VA | March 28, 2008 11:42 AM

If someone shows up and has a ticket for a seat I'm in and I don't, I move."


So if someone is on vacation you feel its ok to move into ther house while they are gone? If it isnt your seat dont sit there. Its simple. You are the guy probably that moves down then when the owner comes in the middle of an inning everyone has to get up and let you out then the owners moce in and the people behind you are missing the game. Sit where you paid to sit. This is not socialism.

Posted by: jrlemx | March 28, 2008 11:44 AM

The park should be beautiful. I use to live not far away East of the River many years ago. DC Centurion: People that always think someone is cheating them or they are always being ripped off are usually that way themselves!!!

Posted by: Nick | March 28, 2008 11:47 AM

Hopefully, Nats fans will begin to understand some baseball courtesy rules, like:

Show up on time, if you can.

Don't move around during an inning. Wait, stay seated, or stay out of the way.

Sit in the seat that you paid for.

There are NO WAVES IN BASEBALL !!!!

GO NATS... I can't wait!!!!

Posted by: AWWNats | March 28, 2008 11:47 AM

Really? No wave? Hmm, I wonder what all those people at baseball games that I attended were doing then. Serially and synchronously standing up and putting their arms in the air but NOT doing the wave?

Posted by: Ryan | March 28, 2008 11:50 AM

Oh, I ALWAYS make sure that I am in my seat, standing when other are standign if we are or in the portol when the puck is in play. I make sure to NEVER be standing in an asile when a team is playing. The V center folks won't let you enter until a whistle anyway.

I can't speak for everyone, but I try to be considerate to others and move when I'm in their seat. That's not a big deal. having bulding personnel harass me, well I guess I'm kinda asking for it but if it's later in the game or a night when there's just no one around I would hope they have better things to do like clean the floor. Nothing worse than spilled soda everywhere.

Posted by: EricS | March 28, 2008 11:51 AM

or at least there SHOULD be no wave in baseball....

Posted by: Lindemann | March 28, 2008 11:58 AM

Sorry, jrlemx, but that's a pretty silly analogy. Do you have a lock and key to your seat?

If someone luck enough to afford premium season seats can't make it one night and doesn't have the chance to give his tickets to someone, is he really going to get satisfaction knowing that no one else sat in his premium seats? Maybe Montgomery Burns would, but I hope that most of us aren't like that.

Posted by: $0.02 | March 28, 2008 12:09 PM

To EricS. No matter how polite, no matter what you say to justify it, just stay in the seat you paid for. You have no right to anything more. If you want to sit in more expensive seats, pay for them.

Posted by: Wallpass | March 28, 2008 12:15 PM

No, there is no wave in baseball. That's a silly football thing and it should stay there. It's incredibly distracting when people start doing that in the middle of the game.

If there's no one else in the row I'llmove down, but I usually just move to another empty row. Can't say it's ever been much of a problem in most places to find empty seats and I don't try to move from one deck to another.

Posted by: EricS | March 28, 2008 12:16 PM

I am very excited to see the stadium, but it is going to look silly is the area behind homeplate is constantly empty because they charge 300 dollars for a seat there. Thats a little much.

Posted by: Natsural | March 28, 2008 10:15 AM

Those seats will be empty, not because they go unsold, but because the lawyer/lobbyist/corporates will be hobnobbing in the swank lounges behind the seats.

The Nats have sold a lot of seats to high rollers, and they know DC, they'll be empty most of the time.

Posted by: Kev | March 28, 2008 12:20 PM

The ushers should be strict about it until after the 7th inning. After that, I don't see the problem EXCEPT (1) they obviously wont even let you on the club/suite levels if you dont have tickets for those levels because of access to the clubs, etc., and (2) they're not going to let you down into the field boxes for security reasons.

And there's no way you can get down to the really fancy seats behind the plate because, unlike at RFK, they have their very own entrance.

As I long-time baseball fan, I don't like the way the focus has been primarily on suites and season ticket holders (which, outside of a handful of large companies, used to be a rarity in baseball), and make the rest of us seem like afterthoughts. But that's the current economics of the sport.

Posted by: Meridian | March 28, 2008 12:25 PM

I am so glad to know that I can still bring a couple bottles of water. I cannot tell you how much it irks me to go to games at Jacob's Field (or whatever its called this season) and have my bottle of water confiscated.

Posted by: its the little things | March 28, 2008 12:44 PM

It's a good call to enforce the 'ticket discipline' as someone who sits close at Camden the last thing I want are people around me who a) are generally less passionate b) possibly drunken c) could pollute my ears with their lack of knowledge d) they worse yet could be yankee or sox fans and that wont do at all. In fact I usually flag these people if the ushers in my section miss them.

V-center won't allow you to take your seat during play? My God it's hockey who cares?

Posted by: joe | March 28, 2008 1:01 PM

Joe,

The last time I sat behind home plate at RFK I was behind a couple you would have loved. They both brought thick books and barely looked up between pitches. Give me drunken Yankees' fans any day.

Posted by: $0.02 | March 28, 2008 1:25 PM

I hope all the Nationals staff will have permission to put aside their smiles and good behavior for one minute Sunday night to boo and flip the bird to The Grinning Idiot whose throwing out the first ball.
"Pitchin Accomplished "

Posted by: jmsbh | March 28, 2008 2:11 PM

"I am so glad to know that I can still bring a couple bottles of water. I cannot tell you how much it irks me to go to games at Jacob's Field (or whatever its called this season) and have my bottle of water confiscated."

You better read the rules on the Nationals website:

OUTSIDE FOOD AND BEVERAGE
All food items must be contained in single serving bags within a soft-sided container or cooler, that does not exceed 16" x 16" x 8". Metal, plastic or glass containers of any kind (except for factory-sealed, plastic water bottles, no larger than 1 liter, and juice boxes) are prohibited at Nationals Park. Only one bottle of water per person will be permitted.

Enjoy...

Posted by: Mary B | March 28, 2008 2:31 PM

What, no $3 bleacher seats?

Posted by: johng | March 28, 2008 2:38 PM

Hunh, of all things that have gone wrong up in Baltimore, they do get the bring your own food thing right. As long as it's not glass, metal or obviously intoxicating they don't care. I've walked in with a sack from California Tortilla and a soda cup and they waved me through.

Posted by: EricS | March 28, 2008 2:40 PM

Unfortunately, the WAVE exists at Fenway Park, of all places...as does the signing of Sweet Caroline...usually in the 7th inning, unless something important is going on like a no hitter....then its all game.

Moving into empty seats is a time honored tradition at ball games. I think it's all right as long as the people that do it aren't drunken slobs calling their friends on their cell phones to brag about the seats they scored. AND most important that they don't play the bluffing ticket game and disrupt everyone's view during play.

It is amazing how even season ticket holders now get up during an inning and come back to their seats during a play. It drives me crazy. Fenway has a Fenway Park rules presentation before every game, they need to add this one to the list.

When John Henry and the boys bought the Sox, they too put extra effort into having their employees treat the fans with extra special kindness. They even hired a staff of Fenway Ambassadors whose only job was to walk around and help people or perform random acts of kindness, like giving baseball pins to little kids or having them meet Wally the green monster. At first I thought it was really corny, but now I agree that it has changed the entire atmosphere of the Park (for the better).

It doesn't hurt to have won 2 World Series since then either....Well, Good LUCK to the Nationals, I hope their fans are treated well!

Posted by: jim | March 28, 2008 2:43 PM

You all are complaining about the $300 seats behind home plate? At the new Yankees stadium, those same seats (120 of them) will be $2500.

That's just the way of the world in modern professional sports... get used to it, don't go to the games, or stop whining about it.

Posted by: 300 Seats | March 28, 2008 3:01 PM

There are $5 seats, available on game days.

Posted by: $3 Bleacher Seats | March 28, 2008 3:02 PM

I'm GLAD they are enforcing people moving down. I had a half season plan this year behind the dugout and just about every time my son or daugter and I got up to get food or use the restroom I had to have the usher move people out of my seats when we got back. I cant tell you how f-ing annoying that is. People must be scanning for good seats that are empty and they just deem it their right to move in. Sorry, but this isnt communism, we dont all get the same seats. SIT IN THE DAMN SEAT YOU PAID FOR!

Posted by: DC | March 28, 2008 3:11 PM

"V-center won't allow you to take your seat during play? My God it's hockey who cares?"


You could say the same for baseball

Posted by: Anonymous | March 28, 2008 4:12 PM

For all you arguing that "There's no WAVE in baseball":


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audience_wave

The first Wave was at an ALCS game at the Coluseum October 15, 1981. Krazy George is the coolest guy ever to a little kid in the stands.

Posted by: Leesburger | March 28, 2008 5:13 PM

Re $2500 seats at the new Yankee Stadium next year: As the poster said, there are 120 of them. What is amazing is that they are already completely sold out for the 81 games of the '09 season.

Posted by: Jack | March 31, 2008 8:41 AM

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