- Step 1: Develop good players
- Step 2: Win baseball games
- Step 3: Draw fans
- Step 3: Profit!
Listen Nats fan(s), I understand. It's hard enough to transplant a team to a town as disinterested as Washington DC. Considering the amount of politicians, lobbyists, and activists living in the metro area, sports are an afterthought as it is. Then, to make matters worse, your geographically nearest competitor goes on a sustained run of success.Your neighbor to the north (remember, we were the capitol first!) is winning World Series games while your team comes in last place in five out of six years. And then to top it all off, your big free agent signing is a bust (Jayson Werth), your young phenom pitcher (Stephen Strasburg) needs Tommy John surgery, and your most valuable player in 2011 ends up being a 27 year old middle reliever (Tyler Clippard with his 3.4 WAR).
But don't take it out on me. I'm the guy who bought tickets when you still played at RFK and helped you pay for some of that new stadium on the waterfront. And I'm the guy who led a bus load of fans down to your stadium two years ago, buying tickets at full face value from your website despite them being much cheaper on the secondary market. You had no problem letting me pose for pictures with Teddy, George, Abe, and Tommy when the lines were so empty, the geico gecko was off taking a nap on a concrete bench. And you had no problem charging me and 30 of my friends $7 for a beer and $4 for a hot dog when you couldn't fill your own stadium on opening day.
You're a team that has more instability than the stock market. Five managers in seven years (Phillies, just one). A front office GM that resigned as a result of a signing bonus skimming for overseas talent. And a roster that has featured some of the scurve of the baseball world in recent years (high school expellee Lastings Milledge, wife beater Elijah Dukes, notorious loudmouth Nyjer Morgan, and that Teen Wolf that plays right field).
And yet for some reason, right when you're on the precipice of success, signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long team deal, trading for a legitimate starter in Gio Gonzalez, and developing great young talent like Strasburg and Bryce Harper, you go and foul it all up. Simply put, the "Take Back the Park" campaign is putting the cart before the horse.
First of all, there is a time and a place to develop ticket sales gimmicks and for the most part that time is BEFORE money is accepted as a deposit. You can bet that the moment MLB announced the 2012 schedule on September 13, 2011, front office folks were hard at work coming up with wacky promotions to get butts into seats. That gave Naitonals COO Andy Feffer nearly 5 whole months to come up with his weasely plan to keep Phillies fans out of Nationals Park. The problem is, his team had been taking group ticket deposits for nearly three months before the plan was announced. As a matter of fact, I could go on the Nationals Group Ticket Sales page right now and place a $200 deposit without any indication that my money would later be deemed no good for the May 4-6th series against the Phillies. Instead the Nationals have offered full refunds to all groups of fans that may have been looking to make the trek to DC that weekend. Obviously that timing has repercussions for organizations that plan trips in advance like the group at IPS who were left high and dry after putting down a deposit on a bus as well. And while that story had a happy ending as the Reading Phillies offered the group complimentary tickets to their stadium on the same day, you have to imagine that many fan groups won't be so lucky.
But the bigger thing that irks me about you, Washington, is the overnight sense of entitlement you've developed. It's as if an entire organization and fan base has suddenly adopted the same snide attitude of Jayson Werth that made Phillies fans only half interested in even seeing their team make an offer for the guy to come back. Says Andy Fefferer:
"If we lock a few Phillies fans out, so be it. They can be angry all they want... look, we’re not gonna make it easy for group sales, for buses coming from Philly. I will not make it easy for those guys to buy tickets or get into this ballpark... Forget you, Philly. This is our park, this is our town, these are our fans, and it’s our time right now.”"Your park" only holds the team's namesake because naming rights couldn't be sold and was funded with $611M in tax payer dollars that most DC residents were furious about. "Your fans" have filled that park to the rank of 13th, 13th, 14th, and 14th out of the 16 teams in the National League in attendance. And "Your Time" is after an 80-81 season in which you were 21.5 games out in the division and 9.5 out of the playoff picture. This isn't how you build a fan base. You can't shove a subpar product down their throats with "#FUPhilly" radio bits by giving away tickets in the hundreds. "Your" inferiority complex is getting out of hand!
The concept of "taking back the park" is something Jayson Werth mentioned immediately upon joining the team. It's also something that popped up on a fan forum of yours over a year ago. (Your COO jacking ideas from a FAN FORUM, think about that possibility for a minute). But it doesn't work that way! Banning Phillies fans does not create Nationals fans! Instead you end up with a handful of Nats die hards, a handful of guys that thought it'd be cool to stick it to Philly for the weekend, and a whole lot of irate Phillies fans who had to spend an extra 20-30% secondary market to get tickets (over a thousand available on Stubhub right now). I'll be there on May 5th with a group of twenty blog readers. I suspect that many area bloggers will have similar groups. And PhilsFever will still roll down I-95 in a caravan of coach buses.
A good product brings people on the bandwagon and bandwagons drive out opposing fans! See Phillies, 2007.