Good things come to those who wait. The Nationals ticket rollover policy is the best in baseball. Maybe the Nationals thought they should be the last team to put their COVID-19 game cancellation plan in writing since they were the last team standing in the World Series. According to USA Today that as of May 3rd, all teams reported their new 2020 ticket policies except the Washington Nationals. There is no doubt that the Washington Nationals executive in charge of communicating the new 2020 ticket policy has had some sleepless nights lately. Nobody could have envisioned four and a half months after hoisting the World Series trophy that Jake Burns would be thrust into the throes of a pandemic. But why are the Nationals the last to the party by several days?
Last week, Nationals ticket reps were instructed to personally call each of their full-plan season ticket holders according to multiple sources who responded to our requests, and the message they were told was that a policy would be forthcoming. Multiple Nationals SPH (season plan holders) reported to us a similar theme in the message they received last week in phone calls from their ticket reps as to why the Nationals were delaying the publishing of their policy. The common denominator of the theme of the message was that the Nationals wanted to give their fans — and I will paraphrase, “the best options of any team”. Did the Nationals deliver on that promise? Yes they did!
Sports were shutdown and baseball was stopped in its tracks in the middle of Spring Training. It was and is unprecedented. Nothing can prepare you for these moments. The Executive Vice President of Business Operations is the person who is communicating this new policy to the tickets sales staff and ultimately to the foundation of the team — the season plan holders.
For Burns, he is just over a dozen years out of the MBA program at the University of Virginia’s Darden school. Virginia alums, Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle, were already in baseball long before Burns arrived on the scene. There just is no class taught in MBA programs on pandemics, but there will be case studies taught in the future. They do teach you about squeezing lemons into lemonade in some business entrepreneurial classes. But in practical terms, this is a spotlight moment for Burns and the Lerner family who are the majority owners of the Nats. How this plan is perceived and spun will run the gamut as this is not a one size fits all situation. The Yankees and the Mets were already crushed in the media last week for their ticket policy. The Nationals are now on the clock with their new policy.
Calls from some fans demanding refunds started days after baseball was shutdown and while all MLB teams were citing their postponement ticket policies which are typically used for inclement weather not for pandemics, the teams waited for guidance from the commissioner’s office which came last week. The long delay in issuing refunds bought teams time as expenses were far exceeding revenue and the ticket money helped with cashflow, but under basic accounting procedures teams cannot show the revenue for ticket sales under the accrual accounting methods because that money would not be earned until the games were “official” and in the books. All teams are incurring payrolls, and operating expenses with only small traces of revenue now. Many of the teams like the Nationals pay stadium rent and interest on debt which is deepening the losses. Keeping the fan money to bridge the cashflow deficit has been like an interest-free loan, and this is an issue across MLB. But fans grew restless and complaint calls were a daily occurrence.
A lawsuit attempting to gain class-action status was filed in a Los Angeles court on behalf of two ticket holders who were not even full-season plan holders with their respective local teams. In fact one of the plaintiffs just had purchased six tickets to Yankees games according to the documents. While the lawsuit felt like a publicity stunt, and the two plaintiffs got their 15-minutes of fame, it did seem to push MLB into making a decision on a COVID-19 cancellation policy.
“Baseball fans are stuck with expensive and unusable tickets for unplayable games in the midst of this economic crisis,” the lawsuit read. “Under the pretext of ‘postponing’ games, at the directive of MLB, teams and ticket merchants are refusing to issue refunds for games which are not going to be played as scheduled — if ever.”
MLB finally stepped in with a directive to teams that they could post cancellation policies with rollover options to future games. Basically most teams offered ticket holders incentives in exchange for what amounted to interest-free loans on their canceled tickets for greater value into the future. A win-win for some fans but not others who want their cash now and sound like those J.G. Wentworth commercials. With unemployment rates reaching over 20% in some areas due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandable that some fans need their cash now. Fewer games means less money all around in TV revenue, ticket revenue, player’s salaries, and of course at the Vegas sportsbooks.
Once it became clear that the MLB wasn’t going to be playing a 162-game season, still most sites on My Top Sportsbooks will still have some divisional futures. At that time, the NL East was seen as a three-team race between the Braves at around +180, Nationals (+245) and Mets (+280), with the Phillies (+380) given an outside shot. If MLB proceeds with the 80-game season recently proposed, the divisional odds will narrow. A shorter season means increased variability. In all likelihood, the Braves and Nationals will see their odds get slightly longer, while the Mets and Phillies get slightly shorter.
Once the season opens, we will see how MLB handles the summer and fall months for game cancellations. Quietly some teams had already made individual decisions for some hardship cases to refund money to fans we were told, but teams had to wait for the directive from MLB before team policy was publicly set. Some teams had a policy ready to go, but the Nationals as aforementioned were the last to publish.
At the Nationals Spring Training home at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, they sent out an email last Friday that read:
“First, I’d like to wish you all health and safety during this unprecedented time. While we are all missing baseball, the protection of our fans, staff and community will always remain our first priority.
As mentioned in previous communications, Season Ticket Holders have the option of receiving a credit for the 2021 Spring Training season at FITTEAM Ballpark or a refund for games not played in 2020. We are reaching out to let you know we are approaching the deadline of May 15th to request a refund. Refunds will not be able to be processed after this date and all remaining account balances will be rolled into a credit for the 2021 season. Please feel free to respond to this e-mail to request a refund, otherwise you will automatically receive a credit for 2021 Spring Training.
I hope you’re staying safe and healthy and I look forward to welcoming you back to FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in 2021.”
For the Nationals, there communication to season plan holders arrived today, and better late than never.
Here is what the Washington Nationals are doing for their tickets holders of record:
- Refunds available by contacting your ticket rep on tickets purchased through the team
- Rollover of money paid to future games with an incentive of 50% to be used for new tickets, merchandise and food and beverage
- Of note, any SPH who was on the payment plan, the Nats stopped charging/debiting accounts as of April so if you want a 50% bonus on that money you must pay that up if you want the bonus money or not pay any more if you want to retain those funds.
- What happens if you purchased tickets through a resale site. Will you receive a credit or refund? The Nationals wrote that all tickets purchased through a resale site (e.g., StubHub, Vivid Seats) will be subject to the policy of the ticket marketplace through which the tickets were purchased. Please contact the site’s customer service department for more information.
While some might complain, keep in mind that no teams are offering refunds for games beyond May 2020 at this point. There are complications for some season ticket holders who have ticket groups. There might be one person who wants a refund while all of the others want the incentives within a ticket group. Some people buy ticket plans and sell-off most through StubHub and through other ticket venues, and others do it for profit. Again, there is no one size fits all in this complicated situation.
There could also be more updates coming and more clarity on this subject. Also, an unknown at this point is the price of tickets for 2021. Expect a modest increase in ticket prices — that’s just the way it usually goes. Keep in mind, MLB is not throwing in the towel on the 2020 season or stating that all games will be played without fans. Expect that fans seeking refunds will have to wait month by month for cancellations, and again, that might be upsetting to some. But most people are taking this in stride that their money is not at risk, and they are not in need of the money right now. At some point, we might also be able to gauge who is opting for refunds and who is taking the incentives.
Here is what the Nationals wrote to season ticket holders:
The reigning World Series Champions have World Champion fans—and you deserve the best ticket offer in Major League Baseball! As a demonstration of our Gratitude for your Natitude, we are offering a loyalty bonus for your commitment to the Washington Nationals in 2020.
You will receive a 100% credit for the amount you spent on tickets and parking passes during the 2020 season (less certain associated fees) for any games you are unable to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You will also receive a free 50% bonus credit as a token of our Gratitude for your Natitude.* You decide how to spend your loyalty bonus during the 2020 or 2021 regular season: Get additional tickets, upgrade your seats, or convert your bonus for more food, refreshments, and merchandise.^ Alternatively, use your bonus credit to donate tickets to first responders and frontline workers, youth from local communities, and military service members and their families.
Please refer to our FAQs to answer your questions regarding tickets.
While we continue to monitor ongoing events and evaluate best practices and precautions as recommended by public health experts, we urge all Nats fans to continue to stay safe at home. We remain committed to the game of baseball, our World Series Champion team and fans, and the safety of our entire community in the greater Washington region.
We thank you for your patience, understanding, and for being a Nationals fan during this unprecedented time.
To paraphrase the voice of the Washington Nationals, Bob Carpenter, we can’t wait to see… you… SOON!
*Your total credit is the value of tickets and parking passes that you purchased to 2020 Washington Nationals exhibition and regular season home games, less certain associated fees, plus 50%. Additional restrictions and eligibility criteria apply. For full program terms and conditions, please visit www.nationals.com/CreditTerms.
^Your total credit is valid for 2020 and 2021 regular seasons only. Additional restrictions and eligibility criteria apply. For full program terms and conditions, please visit www.nationals.com/CreditTerms.