SBD/Issue 142/Franchises

New Ballpark Has Yet To Deliver Increased Attendance for Nats

Nationals Failing To See Attendance
Bump From New Ballpark
The Nationals this season through seven home games at the new Nationals Park have a paid attendance average of 28,214, which is about 5,400 less than the team averaged at RFK Stadium in '05, its inaugural season, according to Barry Svrluga of the WASHINGTON POST. Sports marketing experts indicated that the attendance, which ranks 20th out of the 30 MLB teams, "reflects the difficult challenges the Nationals face in a crowded market.'' Leffler Agency President Bob Leffler: "Sometimes, (a fan base) just doesn't come because you're new or have a new stadium." Since '92, 16 existing MLB teams have moved into new ballparks, and "none has drawn a smaller crowd for its second home game than the Nationals," which on April 7 drew 20,487 fans for a game against the Marlins. Svrluga notes the Presidential Seats, located behind home plate "aren't sold out, creating a striking view of empty seats from the center field" TV camera. Nationals officials said that the team has sold about two-thirds of the ballpark's 78 suites. But Nationals Owner Mark Lerner said, "I think so far everybody's having a great experience when they're here" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/15).

TROUBLE? In DC, Mark Zuckerman noted it is "evident that the organization overestimated how much fans are willing to spend to sit in the lower decks of a stadium, brand new or not." The Presidential and Diamond club seats, priced at $325 and $170, respectively, "didn't appear to be even half-full for any game" last week. Nine other MLB clubs have opened new ballpark's since '00, and five of the teams, the Giants, Cardinals, Phillies, Padres and Astros, all averaged more than 35,000 fans per game in their park's first season. The four clubs that drew less than 35,000 per game, the Brewers, Padres, Reds and Tigers, all had losing records. Zuckerman wrote for the Nationals, a "more reasonable goal this season would be 2.4 million, which roughly equates to 30,000 a game." But Zuckerman added all the "paranoia over parking and traffic appears to have been overblown." Few of the fans "who bought parking passes near the ballpark, or took Metro to the Navy Yard station or took advantage of the free RFK Stadium shuttle have offered up significant complaints" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 4/14). In Baltimore, Jeff Barker reported industry observers are "stunned" by the low attendance at Nationals Park so far this season. Former Maryland Stadium Authority Chair John Moag: "The folks in DC have experienced a new baseball stadium, and that's Oriole Park. So the novelty of a new park isn't so novel." In DC, however, Moag added, "It's really early, and it's tough to make conclusions" (Baltimore SUN, 4/12).

CHARITY CASE: Meanwhile, in DC, Brigid Schulte reported the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation Saturday at Nationals Park unveiled the Wall of Dreams, a collection of 1,026 gold-, red-, blue- and green-stitched baseballs in the center field plaza in an "effort to raise money to help the community." The color of stitching on the ball corresponds to the amount of the donation, ranging from $250 for red to $5,000 for gold. The funds from the Wall will be used to help build a kids' baseball academy in Ward 7 in DC, a new pediatric diabetes wing at Children's National Medical Center, and to support a local Boys & Girls Club and nonprofit Earth Conservation Corps, both located near the ballpark (WASHINGTON POST, 4/13).

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