Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Reviews Are In

How does the general stathead public view the stadium and the prices?

After looking at the transportation and the ticket prices for this new stadium, I can only hope that the Nats get good and the economy picks up, and real fast in both cases. This stadium seems positively designed to repel fans below a certain income level, and as many other cities have discovered, that tends to work only when your team is a fairly consistent contender.

I just looked at the seating and pricing for this park, wow! Now I spend more than I'd like for 20 games at Miller Park, and I know it isn't cheap, but it sure is compared to this. "Scoreboard Pavilion" $27-$29 bucks for a single game. That's a second level right field seat, several feet beyond the right field wall, below this million dollar scoreboard.

Yeah, those are pricey seats...And nuthin' beats Tuesday upper deck seats behind homeplate for $8 at the Yard.

Like most things DC, this place is going to end up a boondoggle. What are people supposed to do? Go to the ballgame from work on the Metro and then ride back to their office afterwards to pick up their cars? And THEN drive home?

And don't forget to take a mask for days games to keep out the clouds of dust from the concrete company next door.

And the ticket prices? No surprises there; ballparks, especially one in DC, aren't built with the average fan in mind.

The new park has one of the weirdest pricing schemes I think I have ever seen.

There *is* value in the top deck - seats in the infield cost $18, and then seats towards the outfield are $10 and the seats beyond that are just $5. Those $5 seats don't even look like bad seats, so they're definitely among the best value for money seats in MLB.

But section 101-106 are glorified bleacher seats and they're charging $35 for those seats. Outfield seats are terrible - that's why bleachers are supposed the cheapest seats in the park. Just because you put down seats instead of benches doesn't mean you can sell them for $35.

I suppose it may not matter because a lot of these seats will be bought on corporate expense accounts, but once new park shine wears off, they'll have to alter their pricing structure quite a bit to get people to pay $40 to buy bad seats.

It's a hit!

Question of the day: Had the Lerners not ponied up a few bucks for this -- one of their few contributions to the stadium that the general public can appreciate -- would there have been a press conference to show it off?


  • Not sure I follow the logic behind your question of the day, Chris. Had the Lerners not ponied up the big bucks for the high tech scoreboard, there wouldn't have been a high tech scoreboard for them to show off at a press conference. There would have been a generic DCSEC scoreboard in the park, maybe even the one from RFK moved over. Would the Lerners have had a press conference to unveil that, even if they hadn't paid for it? Maybe, if they considered it to be a significant milestone in the development of the new stadium and wanted to keep a general buzz going about the new park. After all, they had a press conference to unveil the grass, which is (a) about as far away from high tech as you can get, and (b) not something the Lerners were forced to pay for, AFAIK anyway.

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 3/05/2008 12:22 PM  

  • Except for the part about the ridiculously priced bleachers, which i agree with, the rest of these complaints are pretty weak. There are affordable seats in this park, you just have to find them. I don't make too much money myself, but i still see going to 15-20 games this year. But i don't believe that there aren't any "family friendly" priced seats to be had. And there will also be alot more for the kids to do here during the game than at RFK.

    And the transportation issue? It may be an issue this season, but i'm sure the problem will be fixed for the most part by next season. People are just going to have to suck it up this year.

    We have a brand new stadium for our team. Can't we just enjoy it without all the non-stop bitching? (not from you Chris, but from others. You're bulletproof. ;)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/05/2008 12:26 PM  

  • Yeah, I certainly don't bitch about anything! :)

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 3/05/2008 12:26 PM  

  • i attended the festivities yesterday. you can see some of my photos on my blog if you like:

    that scoreboard is truly impressive.

    By Blogger Dave Nichols, at 3/05/2008 12:45 PM  

  • First, whoever thinks Milwaukee and D.C. are comparable markets should put down the beer and brat and get out more.

    Second, although it is difficult to make a direct comparison bsaed on the on-line seating charts, my seats would cost the same or more in PHI, ATL, BAL, and NYM. Maybe ticket prices in the other sections are way out of wack, but from going to Mets and Phillies games they seem right about market to me.

    Third, whose big idea was to put this on the green line? Who in the world rides the green line? I've blocked what a nightmare riding Metro will be from my mind for the last two years but now I guess I have to start facing reality.

    I also have not heard anything about trying to ensure cabs are available after games. There were never any around at RFK.

    By Blogger RPS, at 3/05/2008 12:52 PM  

  • I would imagine that the Nats are pricing high this year to see if they can't take advantage of the sucker/novelty market for tickets. They're probably and intelligently betting on an attendance boost from the new park and want to milk it for all its worth. Once the novelty wears off, attendance declines and the economy slows further, I'd bet money that unless the Nats get substantially more competitive, we see some price drops next year. Already, as Kasten said, there's been a substantial movement towards 20 game season tickets, which already has to be worrying their bean counters.

    On a side note, does anyone else find their spring training radio advertisements hilarious? They are touting Nats' Park as the state of the art entertainment venue of DC. Not once in there do they actually mention a competitive baseball team or even the Nationals at all. Instead, they talk about the sight lines, the big screen, but they don't even try to get fans to come for the team. Creative marketing at its best.

    By Blogger Michael Taylor, at 3/05/2008 12:53 PM  

  • So, they raced ahead to get moved to Nats park for this season, but one effect is that they really outstripped the ability of private development to catch up. So you've got that park smack dab in the middle of a mega-construction zone, metro upgrade likely not finished, canal park walkway from Hill neighborhoods not even started, and just a difficult atmosphere around the stadium. Which I'd think does make it harder to sell tickets to the casual fan based on the "stadium." But we'll see.

    Team probably makes more money if they average 16K at Geico Field than if they averaged 25K at RFK.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 3/05/2008 1:22 PM  

  • "Team probably makes more money if they average 16K at Geico Field than if they averaged 25K at RFK."

    There's no way they could average only 16K at the new park. They've already sold at least 18,000 full-plan-equivalent season tickets, or even more by some accounts. There's your rock-bottom single-game attendance for this year. The average will be considerably higher than that, although it may fall short of the charmed 2005 season, where absolutely all the planets aligned in favor of high attendance (the novelty factor of baseball being back in town, a surprisingly good team for the all-important first half of the season, and the Post hadn't quite figured out how best to indulge its natural tendency to go as negative as possible while staying within the bounds of credibility). At most one of those planets could possibly line up favorably this year (and that one would be if the team exceeds expectations on the field), but even with that there is no way to consider that opening a new stadium in a not-yet-there part of town is a bad thing. Another year in RFK would have killed this team.

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 3/05/2008 1:48 PM  

  • Remember that the 18K represents all ticket plans and that Kasten admitted that there was a flow to 20-game plans.

    So it's possible that on a 41-plan night, there could be, say, 14K as your base (if not lower).

    In the last two bad years, the walkup was pretty steady, 4-5K a night.

    If they average 23K or so a game, they'll be doing pretty well. (and making money hand over fist)

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 3/05/2008 1:50 PM  

  • Definitely 16K was overstated understatement.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 3/05/2008 2:40 PM  

  • "Remember that the 18K represents all ticket plans and that Kasten admitted that there was a flow to 20-game plans."

    The 18K or whatever other number they are throwing out is always called "full season equivalents". What is an FSE anyway? It's either one 81-game plan, or one 41-game plus 20-game plan A plus 20-game plan B that share a single seat for the 81 game season. So the rock bottom attendance number on any given night, assuming absolutely no walkups or single game sales, should be roughly whatever the FSE number is.

    "In the last two bad years, the walkup was pretty steady, 4-5K a night."

    Huh? Maybe if by "walkup" you mean advance single game sales plus day-of-game walkup I might believe that, but even then I think your number is a bit high. It all depends upon what the rock bottom FSE number was for those seasons, which of course is a closely guarded club secret. But look at last year's April 6th game against the D'backs as an example. Early in the season, so likely not a whole lot of advance single game sales for that one. It was 40 degrees and windy at that game (I was there) and I guarantee you that there were no true walkups that night. Announced attendance? 19,234. This says to me that the FSE ST base last year was probably in the 17-18,000 range. There were a lot of weeknight games last year that had announced attendance of 20,000 or under, and many others that were only in the low 20s. Which says to me that any night that saw a 4-5K walkup was a damn good night, not a typical night by any means.

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 3/05/2008 3:02 PM  

  • ABM,

    I believe you are correct at the way they calculate the FSE's. Therefore, attendance everynight is already 18,000 and anything else that is walk-up or advance single game tickets is added on top.

    I would not be a bit surprised if this year they average at least 35,000. With a good number of pure sellouts for teams like the Cubs, O's, Mets and Phils.

    By Blogger Chuck B., at 3/05/2008 3:34 PM  

  • I think they did some very weird things with the stadium, and doubt they will sell out any game other than opening day. To my knowledge, the only sold out games at RFK were the first opening day and the entire Yankees Series in 2006. The new stadium is still so big, it will be hard to sell out without a winning team filling out the last few seats. I wish they had gone a bit smaller, to make the park more exclusive (a la Pittsburgh).

    More importantly, they really screwed up the pricing. Having the President's Club ($300/each) and the PNC Diamond Club ($150) both half sold within a month of opening day is ridiculous. Now, they are selling those two "luxury" seats as single game tickets even.

    By Blogger Natsfan74, at 3/05/2008 4:48 PM  

  • "Not once in there do they (Nats' ads) actually mention a competitive baseball team."--Michael

    Let me add my two cents. It seems to me the MASN producers of Nats baseball have adopted the same philosophy. That is, nobody really cares about baseball, it's the "experience" that counts. Yesterday's afternoon broadcast featured wall-to-wall interviews with mostly boring people by the info semi-babe while the game was underway. The game on MASN was shown on a sort of split screen, and with the terrible quality of the feed, it was hard to make out what was happening on the field. It looked like the games from the Dominican Republic from last month.

    To add to the visual let-down, the guys in the truck didn't bother putting up identifiers for many of the batters so you ended up guessing who's who while staring at the blurry image. (I turned down the sound to avoid listening to the interviews, some of which droned on for a full inning.) All in all, an initial TV broadcast that told the viewers baseball is a game that has to be ginned up with off-field distractions since it's not worth much on its own.

    I can't see a lot of Washingtonians, except baseball dedicatees, clicking their remotes to find MASN when the season begins given the bush league production values.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/05/2008 5:38 PM  

  • John, it's fairly common during spring games to do lots of "in game' interviews. tv producers figure people would rather hear about the regulars than see the scrubs and rookie play. they're wrong, of course, but that's usually how it goes.

    By Blogger Dave Nichols, at 3/05/2008 5:45 PM  

  • @John--I agree with you 100%. I've been very disappointed with MASN coverage of games in the past and continue to be now.

    In general it seems to me that the media (and even and especially the Nats' own marketers) around here really doesn't "get" baseball as it exists independently--it's still a product.

    Hawking an "entertainment experience" makes it sounds like the Nats' are using the same marketers who represent government contractors and who are used to selling "Commercial Off the Shelf Business Solutions" instead of just calling the crap software. The problem is that while such titles might inflate the egos of underpaid bureaucrats trying to compensate for being federal cogs by buying overpriced important-sounding software, it doesn't work for average joe fan. They should be thinking more like political marketers and less like corporate flacs.

    Wrap the crap in stars and stripes, promise family-friendly, religion-friendly, good, old fashioned red-blooded patriotic American entertainment, maybe coupling it with some more decent prices, a native son player or two and they might actually have something.

    Also, if you're going to market an experience, why market the experience of a ballpark? (I know it's brand new and all, but they're still using the wrong language). Instead, if you've got a sucky team, market the experience of baseball, maybe through some sort of a historical (but non-Washington historical, because, let's face it, most prospective middle-class fans are transplants from other states who came well after baseball died here, which is why the DC baseball hall of fame simply has no traction to a lot of the suburbia dwellers) lens.

    /end rant here

    By Blogger Michael Taylor, at 3/05/2008 6:49 PM  

  • Well, for some (not all of that), look to our good friend, Stan Kasten.

    That's his MO. Ignore the quality of the product on the field and enjoy the baseball experience or the non-baseball experience, if you will.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 3/05/2008 9:43 PM  

  • "That's his MO. Ignore the quality of the product on the field and enjoy the baseball experience or the non-baseball experience, if you will."

    Well, if it results in as many straight division titles as he had when he was exercising it in Atlanta, I for one can live with that MO.

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 3/05/2008 9:46 PM  

  • I'll take it too.


    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 3/05/2008 9:48 PM  

  • I don't really mind the non-baseball marketing as much right now, as the new stadium will be what sells. In year 1, just having baseball in DC brought out fans, and then the team was surprisingly good. Year 2, people came just to see Soriano. Year 3, people stopped coming -- the stadium sucked and the team was pretty bad.

    This year, the team won't be great, but it will be better and is on the right track for success. So, if having fans come out just to see the park gets them in the gate, more power to the new park. As the Orioles have learned, once that newness wears off, you had better have a good team on the field to keep fans coming. So the new stadium just buys the Nats one or two more years before people really start complaining about how crappy the team is -- as long as the other experiences around the game make it worth going.

    By Blogger Natsfan74, at 3/06/2008 8:30 AM  

  • I see the Nats being a contender a lot quicker than people think. I may have had my issue with Stan when it came to the OD ticket decision but, as far as helping to build a great stadium and stockpiling the talent within an organization, his track record in Atlanta speaks for itself. I think he is already well on his way in building the Nats up for a good long run.

    By Blogger Chuck B., at 3/06/2008 10:30 AM  

  • What concerns me though is what happens if they don't put a competitive product on the field. It's not like DC is Chicago where the fans will sell out Wrigley year in, year out without ever winning a world series. We're a fair weather baseball city and we probably have a lot more in common with the Marlins and Rays than we do with the Braves, given that this town doesn't have a pre-built base of fans. I'm skeptical that Washington will survive long without a winning team (or that it will even do particularly well during the lean years after such a team). The fanbase just isn't conditioned for that yet.

    By Blogger Michael Taylor, at 3/06/2008 11:22 AM  

  • Michael:

    Almost all MLB cities are "fair weather" cities. They fill the ballpark when the team is winning. Teams like the Red Sox and Cubs are the exception.

    In 2002, Seattle drew 43,700 fans (1st in MLB) and Detroit drew 18,800 (26th). In 2007, Seattle drew 33,000 (16th) and Detroit drew 37,600 (9th).

    Washington will likely never challenge the Yankees, Mets, Cubs Dodgers, and Cardinals in attendance -- those teams are locked into the top 7 every year. But 2005 (33,600, 11th in the majors) shows me that Nats will do very well when they're winning. If last year is as "bad" as it gets (24,200, 25th in MLB), the Nats will be just fine, "baseball city" or not.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/06/2008 12:36 PM  

  • The $35 bleacher seats at Nationals Park are pricey. At Philly bleacher seats cost $24, and at Atlanta they range between $22 and $26 a piece. The single game price of my first row upper deck seat next to the pressbox cost $18 (which I got for $17 as part of a 20-game plan). I did not give serious consideration to getting a bleacher seat given price, distance from homeplate, and lack of protection from the sun.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/06/2008 12:36 PM  

  • One of the things I will be looking to discover once I actually am able to set foot into Nationals Park is what the outfield seats are really like. Popular opinion seems to be that they are nothing more than overpriced bleacher seats, but I would have to wonder why the team would choose to set up their pricing so high if that's all they are. Could it be that this is one of those "you really have to be there" things and those seats really are great seats, and actually aren't overpriced (or at least any more overpriced than any other seat in the stadium)? Maybe they will end up earning the same "excellent value for the money" cachet that the Infield Gallery holds now. If those sections end up sitting for the most part empty this season, though, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see their price come down next year - probably to be offset by a corresponding increase in the price of Infield Gallery seats.

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 3/06/2008 1:38 PM  

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