Nats Fans Need Help
Attending a baseball game at Nationals Park is a lot like going for a walk around a really nice shopping mall: there are plenty of opportunities to spend money, a very nice food court with interesting options, and mostly inoffensive patrons. And if you’re lucky, you may catch a really cool fountain show, or in this case, a baseball game.
I’ll go ahead and say what Dusty Baker and Dan Steinberg won’t: the majority of Nationals fans are a dry, boring bunch. But it’s not their fault. The stadium experience is terrible. Terrible stadium experience plus an uninspired fan base is the prefect recipe for “blah.” Hell, even the players are bored. Here’s why:
Marketing: The Nationals are the most vanilla first place team in baseball history. Yes, some of it is their players (Jesus Christ, listening to an interview with anyone other than Jayson Werth is about as much fun as a root canal), but some of it is the way in which the team presents itself: the uniforms, the signage, and promotions are boring as hell. I’m all for supporting our troops and learning about Presidential history, but would it kill them to try something different after 10 years? Does every sponsor in the stadium need to be a defense contractor? It seems like the ideal Nats fan in Ted Lerner’s mind is a middle-aged white male who works at the Pentagon writing code for Lockheed Martin. For a city with a diverse population and a growing tech industry, why are the Nats so limited?
Furthermore, the team needs to directly promote more of its stars. I refuse to believe a local television commercial with Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer and Werth wouldn’t generate laughs. Well, unless it was written by the Nats marketing team.
Convenience: Because the area around the stadium is a traffic nightmare and the cost to park is $50 or your stereo, most fans take public transportation to the game. That makes the center field gate the de facto main entrance to the stadium. However, unless you’re an hour or two early, you will wait in line for 20 minutes (or more) so a 15 year-old can pretend to run you through a metal detector. Once inside, you’re in the one area of the stadium that’s furthest away from any seats, so plan on walking a bit. However, there’s a gigantic team store, so just go ahead and spend some more money before you watch any baseball. If you don’t want to wait in line, feel free to check out the Bullpen, which used to be a cool unaffiliated Nats bar, but for the last couple years has resembled an internment camp for drunks.
Ballpark experience: I attended Sunday’s game against the Reds and was shocked by how many people were standing in the concourse, especially since Steve was throwing a no-hitter late in the game. Then it dawned on me: these people weren’t hanging out because they were bored, they were waiting in line. Doing anything at Nats Park is an exercise in patience. Want food? Wait in line. Want a beer? Wait in line. Want merchandise? You guessed it: line out the door. Want to sit in your seats? Stand at the top of the concourse for twenty minutes while you wait for a break in play. Oh, and don’t try to sit anywhere in the park without your ticket: lobbyists hate to see their seats occupied when they’re watching on TV.
When you ARE finally able to get to your seats, you’re bombarded by terrible music, stupid in-game gimmicks, and a PA announcer who I swear once tried to sell me a used Accord. There’s a reason why fans feel compelled to start “the wave:” they’re tired of yelling “Let’s Go Nats” for the 50th time that night. A few years ago, the Nats were on to something when they played “Take On Me” during the 7th inning stretch. However, when the catalyst for that tradition, Mike Morse, was let go, so was the tradition. But yeah, Natitude and country music, that’s a draw…
Cost: The Nationals have the sixth-highest average ticket price in MLB. How can you attract any demographic other than old, rich, white and male if it costs people hundreds of dollars to go to a game? While the Nationals hover outside the top 10 most expensive stadium experiences, they need to endear themselves more to those fans who are on the periphery of fandom (or might have something better to do). Every time they show the half-empty Lexus club seats, it’s a reminder to fans who the Nationals really cater to when it comes to the fan experience.
Baker’s point about the franchise’s relative newness makes sense, but if it’s energy he wants, the team needs to win and the ownership needs to make people care whether or not they do. Right now, I’m more apt to buy a beer and try one of the new gourmet sandwiches, if I’m in the mood to wait…