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Binary Man: Buy Nats Tix Or Hold Back?

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life a whole lot better. Each week, he will confront an issue, weigh the arguments and present a verdict. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him.

From the moment major league baseball returned to Washington, buying Nationals tickets was presented as an investment in the future, an act of faith and trust that the team would in reasonably short order become a top-tier franchise, a genuine contender that would rebuild the sport's fan base in the nation's capital.

Now, with the Nationals heading toward their fifth season in town (and the always-dicey sophomore session at the new ballpark), and with all of professional sports starting to retrench as recession-plagued fans watch their dollars, the team and its fans are warily circling each other with one big question between them: Should fans keep pumping the bucks into the product when said product continues to be, um, awful?

Binary Man himself has been asking this question in its purest form: Renew his share in a season ticketholders group, or not? This is a matter of both psychic affiliation and bottom-line brass tacks.

A fan has only one way to exercise leverage--with the dollar. Some diehard Nats fans are deciding that the Lerners, the team owners who have promised since they first acquired the franchise that they will spend what it takes to put a serious contender on the field, are not holding up their end of the bargain.

"If they don't sign an impact player, good luck trying to woo your fans back with more promise of prospects, plans, progress and pathetic play," writes blogger Jeff Bergin on NationalsPride.com, one of the team's many fan sites where the faithful are getting restless.

"Expect a turn to Plan 08, as in same plan as last year," writes a gloomy Harper Gordek on the Oleanders and Morning Glories blog. "Bargain basement free agents, a trade for a middling prospect perhaps, some prayers. It's not terrible for the Nats. They are on a slow methodical pace toward competitive baseball and can only be better next year, but it's going to be another disappointing season fan-wise."

The Post's own Baseball Immortal, Tom Boswell, announced the other day that he is cancelling his season tickets. That by itself should be occasion for the Red Alert to sound down on S. Capitol Street.

All around town, people who invested in ticket packages at RFK to celebrate the return of baseball, and then kept their tickets to get good seats at the new stadium, are now wondering whether to sink more money into a team that isn't shelling out the millions to compete in any serious way. The Lerners' dispute with the District government over paying rent on the ballpark hasn't exactly sent the message that the owners are doing what they are asking fans to do--demonstrate faith even when circumstances are difficult.

Binary Man appealed to Nats President Stan Kasten for answers to these grave doubts, and the boss was characteristically chipper: "People get trapped in that way of thinking about payroll. Do you want us to have the $100 million payroll that Seattle had last year [when the Mariners became the first team to spend $100 million and lose 100-plus games], or do you want us to have the $40 million payroll that Tampa had [as it won the American League championship]?"

Kasten argues that even now, the Nats are worth fans' investment because the game experience is great fun and the team, which "last year was the youngest and most-injured team in baseball, is now past all of our injuries, and our minor leagues are now going to be producing strong, exciting players."

But the Nats' chief executive knows that's not enough--and he says this off-season ain't over till it's over. "We've added some players already, and there are still more than 100 free agents out there. We're in conversations with many of them and we're hopeful that we're not finished. It remains a work in progress."

Some fans are waiting to see if the Nats land slugger Adam Dunn or second-baseman Orlando Hudson, but others gave up hope for a great leap forward after Mark Teixeira spurned the Nats to take his bat to the Bronx.

Kasten argues that the Lerners are "still committed to making this a first-class franchise, and we still have a ways to go." He says the owners played hardball with the city over the now-settled rent issue "to make sure the city's taxpayers got everything they paid for in the new stadium."

Binary Man likes the concept of the little guy making a statement to the powerful, and if withholding your dollars is your favored method for sending a message, he's ok with that. But Binary Man has a strong prejudice against cutting off your nose to spite your face (though he is also deeply, harshly opposed to using idioms that don't make a whole lot of sense).

Fans who buy into multiple-game packages are by definition people who enjoy watching the game. For them to now turn around and withhold their dollars to make a point about the management and direction of the franchise is a bit grandiose. With the incorrigibly untrustworthy class of characters who tend to own sports teams, it's generally best to take the high road, as in, "I was a fan of [your choice of allegiance, say, to the Washington Redskins, or the New York Yankees] long before [Dan Snyder, The Steinbrenners, etc.] came along, and I intend to outlast their [greed, avarice, incompetence, egotism]...."

The alternative is to quit pro sports entirely, which then propels you into a whirlwind of debate about the impurities and injustices involved in collegiate sports....

It's all enough to make Binary Man's head spin. So he has returned to center: Focus, weigh the arguments, and conclude. Fans have good options short of depriving themselves of some fun nights at the park. The Nats this month announced they are lowering prices on about 14,000 seats at the stadium. (Yes, they're holding tickets to the three games against the Boston Red Sox hostage, selling them only to fans who hold season packages, but that's the way the ticket game works these days.) If you want to make a statement about the team's direction, or just need to take the crumbling economy into account, by all means check out lower-priced seats. It is still possible to get decent seats for $10 each, a genuine bargain, even for a last-place team.

If enough people choose lower-priced tickets rather than plunking down for the fancier seats, the team owners will get the message.

But it's way too soon to pull the plug entirely on the Nats and the Lerners. The owners do need to make some moves to demonstrate their determination to give this region, the #9 market in the country, a franchise that matches the area's spending power. They need to be serious bidders--and winners--in some of the key free agent possibilities that are still out there.

But a sports team does not develop in a vacuum; Washington fans have a fickle enough reputation. Part of rebuilding support for a sport that missed three decades of this area's development is showing that you want it to stay here. Binary Man will buy some tickets--he will definitely downgrade, making less of an investment both to save money and to send that message about owner commitment, but he will buy some. Go Nats.

Do you agree with Binary Man? Take this poll and let him know.

By Marc Fisher |  January 30, 2009; 7:53 AM ET
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Comments

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Lerners' need to take their team and move it. They make Bob Short look like a genius. They don't care about their ticket holders or about fielding a quality team as demonstrated by thier actions would stevie and Jimbo still have jobs if they did. Hey maybe they can trade the team for a few shopping malls!

Until the Lerners' demonstrate that they care about the fans and show they have some clue about fielding a comeptive team I just go see a few Cannons games instead.

Bye, bye Nats and Lerners!

Posted by: sheepherder | January 30, 2009 9:21 AM

On the positive side ... the Nats now have smaller season ticket plans so I don't have to find a group to share with/in or buy more tix than I want.

On the down side... I went to 3 games last year. By the final game in Sept. the quality was AAA minor league, maybe.

I can't/won't justify spending $60 per person ($24 ticket/$6 ripoff service charge/ $15 parking/ $15-25 food&bev.), or $120 for 2 of us, for that level of frustration on the field.

Last year I got all 3 games' tix when the online ordering opened. This year I may buy a game or two early but will probably decided case-by-case.

I'm not sure that DC really is a major league town (willing to support a team), nor am I sure that the Lerners are throwing in as fully as they must.

Posted by: fendertweed | January 30, 2009 9:26 AM

I'm graduating from grad school in May, and I want to work in NYC or DC. Since, I'm partial toward NYC but a DC native, my concession to myself for not moving to NYC would be tickets to the Nats. I'm glad season tickets will be cheaper because the job market is crummy and I might have LOTS of time to go to Nationals Park and very little money. I'll be like one of those old retired guys who goes to watch a losing team every day, except I'm a 25-year-old girl with a great resume. This is not an exciting prospect, but at least I'll be there to root my team on!

Posted by: EmGu | January 30, 2009 9:40 AM

Let me start with this: when I read Boswell's column last week I had to laugh when he talked about cancelling his season tickets. Every member of the Baseball Writers Association of America can get into any MLB park for free. Maybe Boswell also bought tickets, maybe not. But it hardly strengthen his argument and hardly strengthens yours.

I think the Lerners have sucked, and the fact that Kasten is still working off of the same tired, old talking points about a work in progress and fun experience only shows that the Nationals organization is rotten to the core.

As a born and bred Washingtonian I will always root for the Nats, but there's basically no way I will go to a game for a very long, long time.

(Equally appalling, by the way, is the fact that as a father of 19-month old twins, I want nothing more than to get my boys Nats caps. Does the team sell them? NO!!!!!)

Posted by: thinman1 | January 30, 2009 9:49 AM

That is so sad about the baby hats. I went to look for you and all I could find were Montreal Expos caps!! My dad got me a Mets cap when I was a wee one (yes, we're a mixed family) and it was one of my prized possessions. There is this though: http://www.dickssportinggoods.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2036976

Posted by: EmGu | January 30, 2009 10:14 AM

EmGu,
Thanks for looking for me. I think they may be a bit too big for the beanie, even though I love it.

Sadly, I think it is just another example of how this ownership is woefully out of touch.

For what it is worth, embrace being out of work for a while and enjoy it. There's nothing like going to a day baseball game. I went a few times in the first season, and always felt like I was getting away with murder: the team was playing well then, the weather was usually great, and I wasn't at work. Good times....

Posted by: thinman1 | January 30, 2009 10:38 AM

fendertweed, what are you talking about when you said they now have smaller season ticket packages? We've had a 20 game package every year. We don't have time to go to 20 this year, but the smallest they have is a 21-gamer. To me, that's ridiculous. You have us, loyal buyers ready to plunk down for 4 seats to 10 games, but you've got nothing to offer. I wrote a nice explanatory e-mail to my ticket rep, and got no response. It's like they're trying to not sell us tickets. Great business model.

Posted by: mvk20 | January 30, 2009 11:13 AM

thinman1-

I bought our 19-month old daughter a curly W hat at the park last season. I think the youth adjustable hats on the Nationals mlb.com site are the same thing, but you might want to swing by the Team Shop to be sure.

No child (or adult) should have to go without their favorite team's hat.

Posted by: jcj5y | January 30, 2009 11:30 AM

We had (have?)4 full season tickets at field level, and have not renewed yet. We talked to Andy Burn in November to relocate, and am still waiting for a call back. Clearly they must be selling tons of tickets if they can afford to toss out 4 full season tickets.

Posted by: bpmont | January 30, 2009 11:55 AM

I'm late to this topic, so forgive me if I am repeating something that was on a previous thread. My 18-month old daughter has 2 Nats hats, one red, one navy. They are the cotton twill type made by Twins Enterprises, similar to "The Franchise" fitted ones you see everywhere (even on the President), but adjustable. They're infant sized, and fit her perfectly. I got them at a Lids shop at one of the malls right before she was born. I've also bought several of these for friends. The Lids shops don't all have them all the time, but I do see them fairly often and if you called around I bet you could find one.

Posted by: mvk20 | January 30, 2009 12:10 PM

A great way to show your displeasure with management, but still watch baseball is to drop the season tickets, but still plan on getting single game tickets when the mood moves you to go. For a good portion of season ticket plans, it's not like you got a discount for getting the season plan, so just go to individual games. That's what I did, and if they lose a good % of their season ticket holders, it will certainly send the message.

Posted by: erobw | January 30, 2009 1:13 PM

Yeah, that was the plan - it makes perfect sense for us, but it doesn't at all make sense for the team, which is why I'm really not upset about it other than that it demonstrates how poorly run my favorite baseball team is.

Posted by: mvk20 | January 30, 2009 1:47 PM

I've been part of a group sharing season tickets since '05 and have certainly seen a number of games that were tough to watch as a Nats fan. However, many nights have been magical, particularly when I shared them with my son. As long as we can afford them, we'll keep our season tickets. Our group had its annual "draw" for games this week and in spite of the expected groans about how lousy the team would be, we were all looking forward for the season to begin. Face it, if you are one of the people who follow Nats-related blogs, you're hooked.

Posted by: Natsgal | January 30, 2009 2:02 PM

Washington fans are the biggest bandwagon fans I have ever seen. Look at the Capitals, once they start winning everyone is a hockey fan all of a sudden. Pathetic.

Posted by: corneliusmatt | January 30, 2009 2:02 PM

Thanks for the post and poll.

In light of comments by erobw and others, it occurs to me that it might be useful to have a poll that breaks out intent to buy season tix vs. to buy single game tix.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 30, 2009 2:02 PM

I'm just glad we got to the bottom of the little-guy-cap problem! I'm also excited because I can retire my batting practice cap and get one with a curly W on it because no one will think I'm supporting our former (yay!) president anymore! Even if we don't have a winning season, at least our president is a winner. (I'm such a cheese ball.)

Posted by: EmGu | January 30, 2009 4:55 PM

Washington fans are the biggest bandwagon fans I have ever seen. Look at the Capitals, once they start winning everyone is a hockey fan all of a sudden. Pathetic.

Posted by: corneliusmatt | January 30, 2009 2:02 PM

Hey, D.C. loves a winner! Except the Redskins, Washington loves the Redskins no matter what, win or lose.

Posted by: rachel216 | January 31, 2009 8:35 AM

Today our group of nine will be dividing up our club level seats right behind home plate. Call us stupid, call us nuts, but we are baseball fans who get sucked in by the sound of "picters and catchers report." The Nats will improve this year, because nobody loses 102 games 2 years in a row.

Go Nats

Posted by: cr8oncsu | January 31, 2009 10:14 AM

"The Nats will improve this year, because nobody loses 102 games 2 years in a row."

Love the optimism, cr8oncsu!

Posted by: EmGu | January 31, 2009 11:21 AM

mvk20 -- I have the perfect season ticket package for you -- Lower Right Field Terrace, 4 tickets, 10 games. Check the Season Ticket Partner Zone on nationals.com.

Sorry to hijack this comment for commerce, but it's for a good cause.

Posted by: Section222 | January 31, 2009 11:37 AM

Well many of the games I went to last year, they won!

I'm keeping my 21 game plan and even upgraded my seats! A bad day at the ballpark is better than a good day at work! Now if I can find a job, I'd be in great shape, but I digress.

I rather have a terrible team than NO TEAM AT ALL.

Been a fan since 1969!

Posted by: CALSGR8 | January 31, 2009 12:32 PM

Hey, D.C. loves a winner! Except the Redskins, Washington loves the Redskins no matter what, win or lose.

Posted by: rachel216 | January 31, 2009 8:35 AM

Sorry forgot about the Redskins. That is definitely an exception.

Posted by: corneliusmatt | February 1, 2009 1:16 AM

One thing Kasten could do is to stop being so condescending to fans.

Playing hardball on rent to protect...taxpayers?! Who do you think footed the bill for the penalty?

Also, the whole "which would you rather have...a $100 million Mariners or $40 million Rays" is just a bunch of BS. If anything, he implies that if he had the money he wouldn't pick the right players.

Posted by: AshburnVA | February 1, 2009 3:23 PM

The fact that Tom Boswell discusses the status of his Nationals season tickets - in columns written on said franchise - is an embarrassment to the Post. I grew up reading Mr. Boswell; and I'm sorry to say that, over the past few years, he has become increasingly irrelevant to this long-time reader's eyes.

Posted by: mgilham | February 1, 2009 5:46 PM

I think it's hilarious that people complain about the price of food at the stadium. If you think it's too expensive, then don't buy it! Can't you people go three whole hours without shoving food into your gaping pie-holes? I also love the folks who say, "I'm a Nats fan, but I'm not going to any games." Then you're not a fan. If you're a fan you go to games. Case closed.

Posted by: logan9 | February 2, 2009 8:37 AM

the team is a business unit of the Lerner empire. as long as people understand that when they spend money, it's all good. the team made an operating profit of what, 20-30 million last year? 6 percent in this market ain't bad at all, how's your 401K doing? up 6% last year? oh, I know, none of that money is being taken out of the team for five years. still, it's going somewhere, unless there are a whole bunch of twenties stuck under a mattress somewhere. the team can expect to make a similar profit this year, without any further investment. in fact, investment is likely to diminish profits, since Adam Dunn isn't going to sell $10-12m worth of tickets and jerseys. so why invest more money? they lowered revenue (by reducing ticket prices in some seats) so why increase costs as well?


there is little to no extra money to be made right now doing well compared to doing poorly. will their revenue increase if they win 102 games next season compared to losing 102 games? marginally, but certainly not by the 40-50 million they'd have to spend to get there. and what if they don't win like the Mariners? bad gamble. much more profitable to be a bottom feeder on payroll. as long as they make their money from revenue sharing and endorsement deals, and sell the expensive tickets and boxes to corporate types, who cares? not the Lerners. as long as you don't expect them to care, or invest, then you'll be fine.

Posted by: joshuaostevens | February 2, 2009 10:55 AM

I intend to go to about as many games as I always have, but will not buy season (or partial season) tickets in advance because I see no reason to.

Without any concern that the stadium will fill up, what possible reason is there to lock up money and lock in dates in advance? Simply to improve the Lerners' cash flow?

This has nothing to do with protesting their lack of aggressiveness, though I certainly understand those who are withholding their money for that reason.

If I were being selfish, though, I would encourage as many people as possible to buy season tickets, so that when they are all competing with each other to dump tickets for individual games at bargain prices, I will be there online to snap them up.

Can't wait til spring!

Posted by: Meridian1 | February 2, 2009 4:15 PM

I posted this in response to the Boswell rant but it seems to fit here, too. Yes, last year was a bad one. Though, I guess I'm lucky, of the games I went to the Nats won 8 out of 13...so for me they did fine. I am not crazy, but with all the injuries its hard to believe they could have done any better. I am hoping we are better in 2009, better again in 2010 and so on. I keep the Mets experience in mind all the time, not to mention Tampa Bay.
One thing no one mentions regarding the Lerners is the costs of running not only the Nationals but the farm system. Anyone know the figures? Also wondered about the statement made that they are rolling in money? Even in this economy? Show me the figures. I am a 20 game season ticket holder and I did renew...and got better seats...so thank you to all those who dropped out. I did take advantage of my STH status and wrote the team some observations and recommendations and a major one was lowering the cost of tickets and food. I always have a great time when I go and am looking forward to going to my first game and getting a Willie Harris shirt.
Last year on the Metro going to a game I heard some folks talking and the Nats fan said "lousy baseball is better than no baseball at all"... well said. Lousy baseball can grow and change...NO baseball can't. I just hope someone who understands that gets Boswell's seats.

Posted by: lostein | February 2, 2009 5:03 PM

Washington fans are the biggest bandwagon fans I have ever seen. Look at the Capitals, once they start winning everyone is a hockey fan all of a sudden. Pathetic.

Posted by: corneliusmatt | January 30, 2009 2:02 PM

So what's your point? No one who was never a fan from day one of a franchise is ever permitted to become a fan? Is there some kind of exclusive club that only permits long-time fans to get on board? What's pathetic is posts like this.

Posted by: capsfan77 | February 2, 2009 5:10 PM

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