The Nationals attendance in 2022 wasn’t too bad, considering they set the franchise record for the worst run differential, they still sold over two million tickets. But you could see that on nights when 20,000 tickets were announced as sold there were far fewer fans actually in the ballpark. And you could hear the late season conversations in the crowd about whether long time ticket groups were going to be able to hold together and renew for 2023. As hope evaporates of a new owner bringing in the type of free agents that get people calling their ticket agents the Nationals sales and marketing departments are going to have to earn their money in 2023. Here are some ideas on how the team can avoid a repeat of 2009 where they lost a half million in tickets sold from the inaugural season at Nats Park.
Obviously selling tickets in blocks of 81 is the ideal way to boost attendance. The season plan base had already started dropping off before the World Series, which should have been reversed but instead continued to fall off based on Covid, the shooting, and the losing seasons. So the question is why do people buy season plans and why are the giving up their Nats tickets.
- To save money from buying single game tickets: This hasn’t been true for the Nats for many years. It used to be that you could break even selling your extra seats, but with price increases the secondary market has been cheaper much more often than not. The team also does a lot of single game discounts, which hits against the value of buying a plan. The obvious answer is to drop prices for plan holders but that isn’t happening this year.
- To get perks via the Red Carpet Rewards program: In 2019 I got to hang out with Dave Martinez for about ten minutes before a ballgame, that was about the coolest perk ever. Plus chances to watch batting practice on the field and to meet players, there are some great perks for season plan holders, but after 15 years many of us have done them all. The original Red Carpet Rewards allowed plan holders to claim enough free tickets that we were allowed to resell so that we could recoup the entire cost of our season plans, now that was a perk. The Commanders have half-priced concessions for season plan holders, that would be a heck of a good start to restore the value of the RCR program for 2023.
- To reserve playoff priority: Hard to control by the marketing department, but this was how the Nats kept up their plan holder base as they increased prices and dropped perks. It sure was nice being a season plan holder when the 2012-2019 playoffs rolled around.
- To sit in the same seats every game around the same group of fans: It is nice seeing the same faces each game but tough when groups share tickets and different people go to games from the groups each night. One thing that would be nice would be to move the Nats dugout to the 3rd base side. Sitting behind the visitors dugout where so many opposing fans take over isn’t ideal but it can be brutal sitting in the sun behind the Nats dugout. This would require a lot of work to move the Nats clubhouse but sure would help keep the home team fans in their seats.
Single Game Sales
Putting out the 2023 Promotions Schedule early was a big step up for the marketing department this year. Often the team waits until spring training has started and most ticket groups are already doing their ticket drafts before announcing the promotions. Also getting single game seats on sale super early this off-season was a good move. It seemed like the marketing department woke up about the same time that Soto was traded last season, they added a number of nice promotions late in the year.
Here are some thoughts on how to draw in non-plan holders to attend multiple games:
- Restore the reward points for non-plan holders: The team dropped the Red Carpet Reward Codes program that allowed fans to accumulate a large number of reward points. I get that the plan holders feel like the perks should be for the people who spend the most money but there has to be a happy medium where passionite fans who can’t go to as many games can earn rewards.
- Bring back Tee-Shirt Tuesdays: This one got dropped a while back because the Revenue Chief figured out that giving away free shirts means that fans don’t purchase as many. But it’s still a great way to sell tickets on a slow night and means that a lot more people in the DC area are wearing curly Ws on a regular basis. Also bring back the hat giveaways.
- Introduce Quiet Mondays: The operations booth at Nats Park seems to have a policy that no organic crowd noise should be allowed, it must always be drowned out by a canned music clip. When the Nats are batting there is a sound played after every pitch. It’s not as bad as the Caps or Wizards but it’s tough to hold a conversation with your friends without having to yell two seats down. Quiet nights wouldn’t be for everyone but I’d circle every Monday on my schedule sheet if they made this happen.
- Bring back the Golden Tickets: Used to be the Nats would insert coupons in the giveway items that were good for specialty items or a signed version of the giveaway. Cool idea that costs almost nothing. I’d do that for every giveaway. They could even give away a signed baseball at every home game, announce a section, row, and seat.
- Old timer events: The Zimmerman retirement ceremony was the highlight of 2022 at Nats Park, it was so great seeing all the old players back in town. It would be tough to manage that scale every year but the team should do whatever they can to convince the old players to visit once in a while. Even the lesser known players. It was great to see them at the park and listen to the old stories when they sat in with the MASN crew.
- Have players hand out promotional items: Way back in RFK days the Nats had the players standing at the ticket gates handing out bobbleheads. Seems hard to imagine in this happening now when the team is so hyper controlling of player access. But why not? It was a cool idea then and it would be just as cool now.
- Free baseballs: Before the games and after each half inning kids line up behind the dugouts and bullpens looking for free baseballs, why not just hand them out? Instead of throwing them into the stands how about giving out the scuffed up balls to young fans who show up early? Set up an area where the kids can play catch before the game.
- Promote the MASN rivalry: Every season the promotional schedule lists the Beltway Series as an event, but there is almost never a giveaway. Have some fun and give out shirts with Screech knocking out the Oriole Bird. At a minimum we want any of the remaining area fans who support both teams to be wearing Nats gear.
- Whatever happened to Nats Fest: Covid wiped out Nats Fest in 2021 and 2022 but what about 2023? One problem is that it grew in size to be such a monster event that it was very costly to produce. So scale it back and split it up. Have a smaller sized event at Nats Park just for plan holders, then a sales event to bring in prospective plan holders, and a kids fan club event.
- Bring back the Winter Caravan: Before Nats Fest the team used to have small events like having Manny Acta stand outside of a grocery store. With all of these young players why not do a dozen small events around the area? Give away coupons for half price tickets and prize giveaways.
- Away game parties: Carry the winter caravan into the season and partner up with Glory Days, Buffalo Wild Wings, or Greene Turtle and have away game parties every Saturday. Free tickets, pictures with mascots, and prizes.
- Send the Nats Mobile to little league games: Every Saturday morning send the Nats Mobile out to a different little league ballpark. Same theme as the Winter Caravan and away game parties, they have a Nats Mobile and mascot costumes, put them to use.
- Time to upgrade the Nats Pack: Maybe the days of cheerleaders in skimpy costumes are a thing of the past and the current group of guys seem nice enough, but it comes off as a minor league operation. Terrance used to work his butt off hyping up the crowd during games, that’s the model they should follow.
- Do something about the parking situation: Nats Park parking was once plentiful and cheap. You could pay good money to park right across the street in the Yards lot, or next to nothing to park in the gravel lot under the bridge. But the surface lots are all disappearing and the parking prices are spiking. There is no easy solution but the team needs to realize that parking is impacting attendance and come up with a long term plan. I’d redo the above ground garages to underground and see what is possible for expanding the number of spaces available. Improving the ride share pick-up flow would also help.
- Fix the beer taps: This is a personal pet peeve, for the last year and a half the Denizen’s Pilsner tap has been putting out 50% foam. It’s a standard beer tab found in any bar but the Nats haven’t bothered to fix it despite numerous complaints. If they are charging $15-20 for a single beer at least make it a decent pour.