Time flies and 8 years later: Still called ‘Nationals Park’

Yes, we finally have a new main videoboard and state-of-the-art LED lighting at Nationals Park. All of this comes after the first large scale upgrades from the DC Stadium Authority in the 16-years since the stadium opened. The ballpark needed technology updates, and could use some new “wow factor” too.

But this stadium still does not have a naming rights partner. It was eight years ago when news broke that the Washington Nationals had contracted with Korn Ferry and MLB Advanced Media to sell the naming rights for the stadium on South Capitol Street. There was speculation at the time that the Nationals could wrap-up a deal quickly which was not the case.

To think that the naming rights rigamarole has dragged on for the equivalent of two presidential terms. Barack Obama was still President when the Lerners gave the greenlight to find the right deal. That was at an optimal time when the team was a perennial winner with NL East pennants freshly hanging in the rafters, and the team was set to host the 2018 All-Star game. We once wrote this team “can one day compete for six or more home postseason games in the quest of a future World Series.” Well the Nats got eight postseason games at home, and a World Series win in 2019.

Now during this painful rebuild we can talk about the opportunity cost of not selling those naming rights eight years ago. Even if it was sold for just $9 million a year that is $72 million not taken advantage of — and nobody is discussing if the Lerners still want to sell the naming rights.

“We want to find the right partner that will really be integrated in what we’re doing here,” said former Nats’ VP, Valerie Camillo, to the Sports Business Journal back in 2016. “This is not just a signage play or a media play. We think this will be compelling to both traditional and non-traditional sports sponsors.”

According to the Sports Business Journal, comparable stadium naming rights deals include Citigroup’s 20-year, $400 million naming-rights deal with the New York Mets, and the Atlanta Braves’ 25-year deal with SunTrust/Truist for their Cobb County, Ga., ballpark, worth more than $250 million.

Some people have thought that the Nats don’t own the naming rights, and that is not accurate. The Nats have full rights to renaming the stadium, in Sections 9.1 and 9.2 of their contract to name the stadium subject to Section 9.4 with prohibited names. A h/t to Warning Track Power on a link to the contract.

Maybe between Chief Revenue Officer, Mike Carney, and Chief Marketing Officer, Kimberly Bolt, they have enough chiefs to get it done. On top of that, the team is one of the few remaining teams to not sell sponsorship of the jersey patches that MLB made saleable a year ago.

The largest sponsorship the team has made in the past few years was the Terra deal for the luxury seats behind homeplate in a five-year deal reportedly worth $40 million with Terra back in February 2022. Now known comically as the Terra-bull deal, that company was reportedly in financial and legal problems soon after the deal was done. That sponsorship runs through the 2026 season.

“The Nationals continue to push the envelope. We are excited to partner with Terra to name our most exclusive club and explore bringing powerful new fan experiences to Nationals Park, including the use of UST cryptocurrency to make purchases.”

— Mark Lerner, managing principal owner of the Washington Nationals, said back in 2022

Where can this team find more streams of revenue? For one, the original revenue plan is simple whereby you sell more tickets to your home games. Yes, attendance has it’s value. Per Forbes, the team receives approximately $43 per fan in attendance. That seems very low considering they estimate for the Orioles is at $52. Simple math, sell 2,000 more seats a game at $43 and you gain $7 million more in sales. Sell 4,000 more, and that is $14 million. Keep it going and get 8,000 more and that is $28 million. The Nats attendance only averaged just over 23,000 per game last year per ESPN.

Yes, with a combination of self-infliction and the ridiculously low annual rights fees paid by MASN, the Nationals are a small-market team in revenues.

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