SBD/May 4, 2012/Franchises

Nationals Expect Increased Attendance With Strasburg, Harper On Field In DC

Harper's home debut Tuesday drew only 22,675 fans to the 41,000-seat park
The Nationals said they are expecting more than 100,000 to attend this weekend's three-game series against the Phillies, which was targeted back in February for its "Take Back the Park" ticketing effort. The Nationals conducted a month-long targeted presale before the season for the Phillies' first visit in '12 to DC, only selling tickets to fans in the Nationals' home market. Following that effort, Nationals officials are expecting a far different environment than the last two years, during which Phillies games at Nationals Park have been overrun by fans from Philadelphia who unofficially dubbed the ballpark "Citizens Bank Park South." "It was probably 80% Phillies fans at times last year. I promise you it won't be anywhere near 80 percent Phillies fans this weekend, and in reality, a large part of the fans will be ours. There is a story starting to unfold in this town that is truly taking hold," said Nationals COO Andrew Feffer, in part referencing the first-place club featuring young phenoms P Stephen Strasburg and LF Bryce Harper. The Nationals are also promising a "really unique" pre-game event related to the the "Take Back the Park" effort, but refused to divulge any further details. Sunday's finale will be nationally televised on ESPN (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).

A NEW ERA: Feffer said of Strasburg and Harper playing together for the first time at Nationals Park on Friday night, "I think this is an important moment for our franchise." In DC, Barry Svrluga noted while the DC sports market has "long been dominated by the Redskins," Strasburg and Harper "would seem to give the Nationals an opportunity to finally create a little buzz of their own." However, for Harper's home debut on Tuesday, only "22,675 fans came to 41,000-seat Nationals Park." Feffer "cites a well-worn list of obstacles to selling mid-week tickets early in a baseball season." Feffer: "It's still a start-up. The biggest challenge, and probably the greatest opportunity, is building the fan base from the ground up. That takes time." The Nationals "have never drawn more fans" than in their debut year of '05. Feffer said that while the team's attendance is down this season, "advance sales are up" nearly 20%. Nationals SS Ian Desmond said, "I absolutely thought we'd see more (fans) this week. I thought when we were in first place, playing great baseball early on, they'd start coming out. ... We've got to play better as players and continue to show them it's not a fluke" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/3).

GET OFF MY LAWN: In Philadelphia, Mark Kram writes, "Seems the Nationals have grown weary of seeing Nationals Park overrun with Phillies fans whenever the NL East defending champs swing through Washington." Kram writes the Nationals plan to only allow tickets to be sold to fans in its home market "does have a hint of desperation to it." Phillies fans "are a presence throughout baseball whenever the team plays outside of Philadelphia, not just Washington." Phillies VP/Sales & Ticket Operations John Weber said, "Our fan support at Citizens Bank Park and on the road has been incredible." Given how "tough a ticket the Phillies have been at home -- Citizens Bank Park has had 214 consecutive sellouts -- it is not surprising that fans follow the team on the road" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/4).

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