The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches – First Spring in Review

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats with photo enhancement by ReverendP

Talk Nats has led the way in coverage of the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches with reviews of the new facility (TBOTPB and BPPB). This article looks at attendance during the first spring and what can be done to entice more fans to make the trip down to Florida.

Ballpark of the Palm Beaches Attendance

Spring training 2017 is just about over and by nearly all accounts the Nats new ballpark has been a tremendous success. Stellar reviews from the players and coaches on the improved practice fields and facilities, along with the short drive times for away games. Equally glowing reviews from the fans and reporters who visited the ballpark. So why did the Nats attendance drop for the third straight year and what can be done to reverse that trend?

There are three big factors in the attendance drop which were out of the Nationals control and two of them won’t occur next year. The World Baseball Classic led to a drop in spring training attendance for multiple teams, the same as it did in 2013. Also, this year Easter falls deep into April, meaning that spring break for many school districts is after spring training has ended. Finally, the move from an isolated ballpark in Viera means that there is a lot more competition to bring in the local fans who have no particular reason to root for the Nats over the other three teams in the Palm Beach area. Considering these circumstances the Nats actually did very well at the turnstiles, just behind the highly popular Cards and Mets and well above the Marlins and Astros as shown in the following chart.

So the Nationals brass is heading home happy, even though the average attendance was 3,000 fans short of team’s peak in 2014. Plus, the higher ticket prices mean that they did just fine at the box office. West Palm Beach on the other hand can’t be pleased with the showing of the Astros. Averaging under 4,000 fans per game is hardly new for Houston but all those empty seats aren’t helping to pay back the ballpark loans.

How to bring in more local fans

The easy way to bring in more fans is to lower the prices, the cheapest tickets at the new ballpark were nearly double the cheapest right up the street at Roger Dean Stadium. However the Nats would have no desire to lower their prices and the assumption is that the teams have an agreement to keep their prices level with each other. One solution would be to offer discounts for season tickets and single games seats for Palm Beach County residents. Out of state fans are already paying for flights and hotels so we certainly won’t be deterred by $15 lawn seats, but a local baseball fan who has no reason to pick the Nats/Astros over the Cards (or the home town Marlins) would certainly be expected to go for the better bargain.

Check the time clock and period

Pictured above is 50% of the Nats/Astros promotional calendar for this spring, a coupon for one free kids dessert with the purchase of a meal at Applebee’s. The other half being the chance for the kids to run the bases. Not the most exciting of prizes, but Sundays were the most well attended day of the week, so maybe it worked.

Obviously a more robust schedule would help fill those empty seats. Here are some promotions that I would add:

  • Dollar dogs – a favorite at Nats Park, a favorite everywhere.
  • Free hats and shirts – a no brainer, in a town with four teams it pays to have your logo being worn proudly all over town, particularly by the area kids.
  • Golf tees/markers – Palm Beach and golf are like peanut butter and chocolate
  • Kids play area – the Astros had a great kids zone up in Kissimmee, nothing like a bounce house to make them want to go back again every week.
  • Local brews – probably this has been added since I left but there are a lot of micro beers in the Palm Beach area and having them brew up a custom batch for the ballpark will certainly bring in some local beer fans.
  • Local bands – post game concerts are a great way to get people to hang out and spend money after the game is over.

How to bring in more out of town fans

Bringing in the locals is great for the teams, but can be a zero sum game for the county, what they really want is for fans from DC and Houston to fly into town and fill up the hotels and restaurants.

  • A baseball themed hotel would be great. If possible overlooking the fields.
  • Offer weekly breakfasts with the coaching staff and ex-players
  • Autographs for kids who show up early, get two players per day to sign for an hour, every kid who comes to the park should be able to go home with a couple signatures.
  • Away game bus trips, particularly for games further away than Jupiter, great part about spring training is checking out the various ballparks.
  • A Palm Beach themed bobblehead, they are big draws here in DC should bring in a crowd for a mid-week game against the Marlins.

Nats Road Draw

Looking at the attendance numbers the one interesting fact that stuck out was that while the Nats are right behind the Cards and Mets in home attendance they are at the bottom of the five Atlantic coast teams in road attendance. Can’t figure that one out.

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