If you’ve visited Nationals Park anytime since last season, or if you’ve watched games on television, you’ve probably noticed the banners on the top of a building across the street from the Centerfield Gates. Sporting slogans such as “Bob and FP 2020,” “October is coming,” and “We like our Ws Curly,” they have attracted a lot of attention from Nats fans and the MASN broadcast, and even the Nats beat writers will often mention what they say on Twitter.
Checking out what the banner says is one of my favorite things to do when I first get down to the ballpark, so I reached out to get some information behind the creative signs. They are displayed atop F1RST Residences, a luxury apartment building located on First St SE that was developed by McCaffery Interests, Grosvenor, and Clark Enterprises, and is managed by McCaffery Interests. I spoke with Luke Koczela, who was the development project manager for the building, who explained how these awesome banners came into being.
“We had talked about it when the building was under construction of referencing how far we are from the stadium,” Koczela said. “The season started and we hadn’t done anything and I went on google maps and measured the distance from home plate to the building wall, and then we thought of the tag line, ‘Hit it here, Harper,’ since he’s the hometown star. I wanted to stylize it so it looked like the outfield wall with those colors and the font. We thought we put that up there and maybe it would last the whole season, but then it caught on in a way we never could have imagined. It was picked up on the first three broadcasts when it was up there and we got a lot of interaction with the local Nats twitter community.”
All the attention from the game broadcasts and Nats twitter got the attention of someone from the ownership group, who loved the concept and told them to run with it. While Luke is no longer involved with the day to day running of the apartment building, he has remained involved with the banners. He and Jon Carr, the Senior VP of Development at Grosvenor, are the creative minds behind the slogans, and they bounce ideas off each other as they’re developing the next great banner. The turn around is surprisingly fast, too, which gives them the ability to reference current happenings with the team. Luke explained that a banner can go from idea to finished product in about five days. He and Jon develop the concept and then work with Sign Central, who creates and delivers the banner for staff to then hang up.
Yall. YALL. @LiveatF1RST is AWESOME. It's so fun to have such an organic fan presence in the neighborhood around #Nats Park. Check out this view! And one of their interior walls has Nats history on it! pic.twitter.com/sdCDdKrCU9
— Erika (@UVAHooGirl) April 6, 2018
Luke and Jon aren’t averse to outside influence, though. “We did a contest last year where fans were able to tweet different suggestions. ‘Trea was here on his way to second’ is what someone suggested, which references the building, and it’s interactive, and it’s Trea Turner with the most stolen bases on the team, so that was fun and people loved it, and it just got more buzz around the whole thing.”
All that buzz wasn’t lost on the Nationals, who reached out last year asking to help push the vote for Anthony Rendon, who was up for the All-Star Final Vote.
“Last year, the Nats reached out to us to put the Vote Rendon banner up on the building during the All Star push because he was one of the final votes,” Koczela said. “Unfortunately, I think the game it went up and then the following game were both rained out and delayed, so that didn’t get as much visibility as we would have hoped, but they did get a good tweet with a picture of the building, which was great.”
There are no set time frames for the banners to be displayed. Some stay up for entire homestands, while others are made just for one series because they reference the opponent. They have yet to repeat a banner, although that doesn’t mean they won’t. Right now, the banners all sitting in a storage room, ready for the next time they’re called upon to ignite some Natitude. All but one, that is. After the famous typo on the “Trebek loves Bam Bam” banner, which referenced a Jeopardy question about Bryce Harper, got a lot of attention and some gentle ribbing from MASN color announcer FP Santangelo, it was given to the guy who answered the question on the show (turns out, he’s local, and a big Nats fan!). They’re currently talking about possibly making them part of an art installation this summer with the All Star Game coming to town. They’ve also kicked around the idea of making tshirts with the slogans, or auctioning off the banners and doing something with the proceeds. I’d love a tshirt with the Evolution of Jayson on it, F1RST Residences. Just saying.
It’s smart marketing to use the team to help garner some attention for their apartments. The Capital Riverfront area is a growing community, and there’s a lot of competition between the apartments and condos in the area, and it’s a safe bet to assume that someone moving into an apartment across the street from the ballpark is probably a fan of the team.
“That was our vision – how can we be a part of this baseball community? We are close to the stadium, so we want to play off of that,” Koczela told me. “Part of marketing of the building was to position ourselves as a place where Nats fans want to be and want to interact with each other and build that community.”
However, it was clear talking to him that the engagement around the team was more than just marketing. Luke was born and raised in DC. He grew up playing baseball and is a lifelong fan of the game, and even played a game in Nats Park when he was in high school. “When it’s game day, it’s the most exciting time to be in this neighborhood, and we wanted to embrace that. It draws people in off the street, and it gets people down here, so we like to be a part of that.” When we were checking out the view into the Park from their awesome rooftop, we were discussing the other construction projects going on, and Luke said he was hopeful that one day, the streets around the ballpark would be the go-to place for fans to come together to watch away games or celebrate big victories. I couldn’t agree more.
After talking with Luke Koczela , the engagement with the team has a real organic fan feel to it that goes well beyond a simple marketing campaign. They have watch parties for their residents for some of the games, and you can often see people on the roof looking into the stadium when the team is home. On one of walls inside the building, they also have several photographs of Washington baseball history, which was really cool to see. If you’re in the market for a luxury apartment in the District, check out F1RST Residences (and be sure to tell them I sent you. I don’t have any stake in that, but tell them anyway). And the next time you go down to the ballpark, be sure to look up at the end of Half St. and check out the latest banner offering. I promise it won’t disappoint.