The Nationals Sold Out Their Fanbase

Photo courtesy of
‘Burning of Ravan 01′
courtesy of ‘TushyD’

I don’t usually start my posts with disclaimers, but I am starting this with one. The following is my personal opinion, and not the opinion of We Love DC, the business entity. No words here are approved by the editorial board of We Love DC, and should not be considered as endorsed by the board. I stand alone.

There is no question that in the aftermath of Monday’s abject embarrassment both on the field and off that the Nationals have sold their fanbase up the river. Stories are coming out that the Nationals made a concerted effort to attract large groups of fans from the Philadelphia area and sold large blocks of tickets (one was over 500 tickets) to Philly fans before the public at large was given a chance to buy tickets for themselves. The Nationals pursued profit first and foremost with no regard for their home market’s needs. The home market who shelled out six hundred million dollars for the temple that they play in.

Stan Kasten? Mark and Ted Lerner? You are cowards. Your sense of honor and fair play has been replaced by nothing short of total and abject greed. Instead of seeking out Nationals groups, you went straight up the river to Philly to sell to them in blocks of 500 tickets before Nats fans even had the option. Perhaps you should look to successful DC Sports Franchise owner Ted Leonsis about how to best capture a fanbase. Uncle Teddy has done wonders with the Capitals, where Pittsburgh Invasions were once common, and turned the team around by being nothing short of their number one fan. You have a long way to go if you want to understand what it means to be a fan of your own franchise.

You said when you bought the franchise that you wanted to bring baseball back to the Nation’s Capital, for all her residents to enjoy. Your behavior suggests that you’ve given up on the DC market in its entirety. Seeking out Philadelphia money before giving the broad public in the DC market a chance to buy seats is a slap in the face of every single citizen who paid for your stadium, and bore the burden of financing your offices.

I’ve had some baseball experiences that were less than enjoyable, I’ve watched my childhood team get swept in the World Series, I’ve watched my team decimated by the Yankees at home in the playoffs, but Monday’s shellacking on the field, and the sheepish feeling required to cheer for your own team while everyone around you boos your own team, on your home field? Unacceptable. You let the city of Philadelphia run roughshod over your own city because it was easier.

You are cowards. You should feel ashamed. But instead, you’re just laughing all the way to the bank, as it’s estimated that the Nats took home $2M in just tickets on Monday. I don’t care if you did cut off some group sales in February, the damage was done. Instead of working for that money attracting local fans, you took the easy road north to Philly, and sold out your fanbase in the process. I understand that every transaction costs money, and selling to groups is preferable to bring your own costs down, but every Philly group that you import decreases the likelihood of those groups developing in DC. No one wants to go to their own stadium to be made to feel embarrassed to cheer for their own team.

Cowards. All of you.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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25 thoughts on “The Nationals Sold Out Their Fanbase

  1. Tom, you don’t stand alone; I fully agree. I wasn’t at the game on Monday, but from what I’m reading, and seen at past games, it was distinctly an away game for the Nationals. Not the best of ways to build a fan base for your team.

  2. Tom, I didn’t know about the block sales targeting Philly groups… my guess is this happens more than we’d like to admit but regardless I hate it. I work near the Ballpark and couldn’t make the game but I when I left work at 5pm to walk through a sea of Philly fans that seemed to outnumber Nat’s fans 2:1 just to get to the metro it made me sick. It doesn’t help that they are naturally obnoxious.

    Definitly a step backwards for DC baseball and absolutely no way to build a fan base.

  3. I’m shocked by how tone deaf these guys have been. If Kasten had said, “hey, we blew it” the story would have mostly died down by now.

    Ted Leonsis, please give them an intervention!

  4. Aside from the simple insult of selling to Philly groups before selling to DC fans (which is egregious enough), it just seems like a poor business strategy to cater to ticket buyers who, by definition, cannot come to as many games. Yes, Phillies fans may indeed be willing to road trip it on down to DC to watch the Phillies play, but they won’t come back the next week to see the Pirates, or the week after that to see the Marlins. DC fans can, and would, if properly motivated, but the more difficult it is for them to get Opening Day tickets, the more difficult it is for them to feel like they’re part of a DC fan community, the less likely it is that they will bother attending.

    Like any large city, the DC region has a sizeable population of people who moved here from elsewhere, and so it’s normal and even good for a team with a brief history like the Nationals to see fans of the visiting team in the stands- many of those people live here and would be wearing a Nationals cap the following week. There are plenty of fans of other teams *here* in our own backyard to recruit to come see games- it can only hurt the long-term business of the team to preferentially sell to imported ticket buyers. (If the Phillies hit a slump again, will those fans be so motivated to trek down to DC?)

  5. Who wants to pay good money just to watch their crappy team get rained on by the current NL champions? Not Nats fans. Phillies fans, on the other hand, are more than happy to do so.

    The Nats front office isn’t running a charity. They have to produce revenue somehow. And until they put a winning product on the field to attract fans, this is how they’re gonna do it.

  6. Seriously, all you people need to get over it. The Nationals have had plenty of time to start building a fanbase, and the residents of this city by their silence, said “eh, I don’t care”. It’s not like this was the first opening day in the stadium. This is not a new phenomemon. It’s not even unique to DC. This happens quite often across the wide world of sports when teams don’t win. I went to Phils games at Vets Stadium in the 90′s where people were only there because some other awesome team of the year was in town- not for the Phils because the Phils sucked then. This isn’t about the Nats management or even the Phils fans. You are basically whining and complaing that other DC residents don’t care about baseball as much as you do. And you’re right. but throwing a tantrum and blaming it on the team, the other city, the other city’s fans? doesn’t fix the problem, whatever you might like to think.

  7. The Phillies home park (both the Vet and the Bank) used to get invaded by hordes of Mets fans. That stopped when the team got good in the last few years. That’s the only way to get the home fan base excited about going to the game — put something on the field worth paying to see.

  8. Wow.

    You’re right. This is your opinion.

    Bottom line is though – you can’t keep and pay for Stephen Strasburg’s new contract in 2014 with half empty stadiums.

    Dude, this is a rebuilding franchise. Not the Yankees/Cubs/RedSox/WhiteSox/Mets/Angels/Dodgers.

    So the ballclub wanted to make money. It’s called “capitalism”.

  9. @Sam: You’re right this isn’t a charity, but instead of trying to build a loyal fanbase by reaching out to DC fan groups, they went straight for the easy money in Philly and sold them all the tickets without giving DC fans an option to buy theirs first. That’s bullshit.

    @Jen: Thanks for weighing in from a Philly perspective. This isn’t a tantrum, it’s a call to arms. We, as a city, must demand better treatment by the owners of our sports franchises that aren’t performing. I’m looking right at the Lerners and Danny Snyder.

    @Kevin: This is a *building* franchise, not a rebuilding one. You have to start with an aggressive courting of new fans, something the Nationals have been patently uninterested in investing in when there’s easy money to be made off importing fans and turning the stadium into the home field for other teams. It’s an embarrassment, and it has to stop.

  10. Ok, Tom – You believe that the management that’s in place needs to start courting fans? What more can they do? First off, they have done everything possible to put fans into the seats. They have nearly 30 promotional days at the stadium this year. That’s almost 40% of the home games this seaon. On top of that, ticket prices remain low, and attainable for a family of 4, any time of the year. And they have made a day/night at the park an enjoyable experience, even if you’re not a fan.

    You can’t expect a team that has lost 200 games for the past two seasons, to all of a sudden have an explosive and rabid fan base. It’s something that takes time and money. And if that money is to be made from other cities team, then I have no problem with it. And if it takes 6 years, or if it takes 86 years – it will still come.

  11. @Kevin: We don’t even know how DC could have responded, DC wasn’t even given an opportunity. Philly groups were sold tickets as early as last December. How strong was demand in DC? The seats that were left sold out in seven minutes flat the day they were made available. That tells me that the Nats could have easily sold more seats to the DC audience than we reserved for them. It takes time to build a fanbase, yes, but you have to actually try to make one without selling tickets to your opponents fans first.

  12. I’m a big Phils fan living in DC with a few friends who work for the team or have previously worked for them.

    I think that the owners and management are generally cheap and on the wrong side of things. Parking garages in the outfield, baseball decisions, bad marketing, etc. But not in this case.

    Phil is right above. When the Phillies were bad, we had the same thing at home. Face it, the Nats are TERRIBLE. They can barely sell tickets. In a town full of transplants and so close to Philly, you guys shouldn’t have a problem with this from a business standpoint. As a fan it blows, but try to take comfort in your billionaire owners making a buck or two so they can pay what should be a big payroll in 4 or 5 years.

    As a crappy team, the Nats should do whatever is necessary to get fans. In 3 or 4 years, I’d be pissed about this a lot more as a Nats fan. Today, not so much.

    additionally, this was an extraordinary circumstance: the phillies are coming off 2 world series, have a HUGE traveling fan base, AND this was Halladay’s first start. people really wanted to be there from home. face it, this ain’t NatsTown, yet.

  13. I got an almost-personal e-mail from someone on the Nats staff to the tune of “Noticed you got tickets for the Phils/Nats home opener, have you considered a ticket package for the rest of the season?”

    The problem? I bought tickets to opening day last year, not this year.

    Not saying I’m never going to visit the stadium again, but it begged the question “what the heck are the Nats folks doing?”

  14. @Greg: What bugs me most is that the Nats fans at large, who haven’t had the decades of franchise history to coalesce large fan groups, weren’t even given a chance to buy Opening Day seats before Stan and the Lerners sold several 500+ seat blocks to Phillies fans. We didn’t get a chance to put our foot in the door.

    If sales had been lackluster, then they’d courted Philly fans? That’s a different experience. This behavior of just giving away those seats to Broad Street Bullies just ain’t kosher.

  15. even if several thousand phils fan were offered tix early, that still doesn’t make up for the fact that most of the phils fans there just outright bought tix. there’s a shitton of phils fans in dc, and it’s not far from philly.

    were maybe a few thousand extra tix sold to phils fans? prob, but that doesn’t explain 30k phils fans. i wouldn’t blame the nats for this. they have trouble selling tickets, and had this not been the phillies, would’ve had trouble selling out opening day.

    bottom line: good team = more home fans. no way around it.

  16. Nationals Park – Season 2010
    >Monday-Thursdays, Military/Senior/Govt./College discounts
    >Tuesdays, “Harris-Teeter VIC card Tuesdays”
    >Wednesdays, “Washington Post Wednesdays”
    >Thurs-Fridays, “Miller Lite Party Night”
    >Sundays, “Kids run the bases”
    >29 promotional days, above the previous mentioned days – ranging from a replica ball cap, to a Zimmerman bobble-head.

    Where exactly are the owners NOT trying to get Nats fans (or warm bodies) in the seats?

  17. Sure, they need to pay the bills – but this is pennywise and pound foolish. You build a long term financial success by building a fanbase, not selling out to your regional rivals.

    And no, the Nats are not that cheap of an option in the grand scheme of things for Major League Baseball – I’ve been to quite a few MLB parks, for good teams and bad ones, and many of them offer much better deals for fans than the Nats.

    Finally, I do believe one of the Lerners is a minority partner for Lincoln Holdings, the Leonsis’ ownership group for the Caps. So, not learning from that experience is no excuse.

  18. Nobody has mentioned the nats strategy of holding opening day tickets to sell as part of miniplans. To me, this is more discouraging than the group sales. A week before the game single seats were sold out. But put in a request for 10 mini plan tickets and voilà! 10 seats available together in multiple sections of the stadium.
    On top of this, the really unappreciated email from nationals.com I received a couple weeks before the game directing me to stubhub.com where tickets were about 4x face value. That left a teal bad taste in my mouth.

  19. take a look at all those empty seats tonight. maybe ownership didn’t want to be embarrassed by not selling out opening day.

  20. You know, there’s that saying about insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result; the Nats owners have hosed, cheated and exploited this city time after time since before they arrived. The stadium boondoggle, not paying their rent, this is just the next in line. Guess they’ll just keep it up for another few years then decide to move on to some other poor city who’ll be as dumb as the DC council was back when they voted to bring the team here in the first place. They clearly don’t give a damn about this city, the team’s fans, or anyone else.

  21. >29 promotional days, above the previous mentioned days – ranging from a replica ball cap, to a Zimmerman bobble-head.

    Where exactly are the owners NOT trying to get Nats fans (or warm bodies) in the seats?

    Where? Right field, the pitchers mound, and the bullpen. Just those 3 little spots.

    That’s the thing — THEY DON’T GET BASEBALL. They think it’s a big shopping mall. So they put in a video arcade and Ben’s Chili Bowl. Love me some Ben’s, but I’d rather go to the one on U street — I’m less likely to see a horrific beating there.

  22. i’m on the fence with this one. glad you brought this to the attention of your readers. i heard that there were a lot of phillies fans but didn’t know what was behind that.

    the thing is, the stadium was packed and that brings in money into our city in so many ways – metro, taxis, food, gas stations, hotels, train, stadium, tax, our team, and maybe many other places I’m not even thinking of. they brought in $2 million in one day. that is great for our city.

    here is one other thing. i just moved back to the city and was wanting to root for the nationals and wanted to go to the opening game. plus the prez was going to be there, so i thought i would love to go. not thinking i would even get tickets, i still searched on the net for tickets. i didn’t have to go very far, they were available everywhere.

    love ‘em or hate ‘em, i think having paying phillies fans in our stadiums was a good thing financially. without them, the stadium would not have come close to sales as they did. like i said, there were tickets available for anyone DC resident and fan or not.

  23. After going to the game last night, while still outnumbered by the surrounding Phillies fans, I found myself truly enjoying the Nationals. So they lost. What else is new? But what was nice to see was Ian Desmond hitting a homerun, little kids in Nationals jerseys sitting on their father’s/mother’s laps enthralled by the game (whether they understood what was going on or not is insignificant). Fact of the matter is, the baseball faithful will always come out for a game. We should simply consider ourselves lucky to even HAVE a Major League ball club in DC. If we didn’t, then all of us transplanted baseball lovers who moved to DC would have no way to easily access our favorite teams at a moments notice for $5 seats. Baseball is fun … or at least it’s supposed to be. So I say, let those haters hate and yell “sucks” after each one of our Nationals get announced. That’s just bad karma on them. Take the high ground and just keep going to games. One of these days the Nats are bound to surprise us with their eventual greatness, right? …even if it takes 5-10 years to get ‘er done.

  24. I think part of the issue here is that it was OPENING DAY. The day when you say “Welcome back, diehard fans, and hey, welcome to new ones as well!”

    Instead? We got “Welcome, Broadstreet Bullies. Please get tanked and boo us in our own stadium! And if you see any folks wearing curly W’s,don’t mind them…they’re just the natives.”