SBJ/20100607/This Week's News

Nats welcome Strasburg’s arrival

The Washington Nationals have been swept up in “Stras-mania” over this week’s scheduled MLB debut of pitcher Stephen Strasburg, and the franchise and its partners are reveling in the upsurge in attention.

After two months of dominating Class AA and Class AAA ball, Strasburg, last year’s top pick in the MLB draft, is slated to make his major league debut on Tuesday against Pittsburgh. The game is a sellout, just the ninth ever at three-year-old Nationals Park, and will be shown nationally on the MLB Network, markers that follow heavy levels of fan interest during Strasburg’s minor league games (see chart below).

“The attention this kid is getting is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some pretty good pitchers,” said Nationals President Stan Kasten. “Fortunately for us, the best possible marketing plan is the anticipation. There’s no one that isn’t following this.”

Stephen Strasburg has boosted ratings
and attendance during his short stay
in the minors.

MASN is expanding its postgame show from a half-hour to a full hour on Tuesday for its local-market coverage of Strasburg’s debut. Ad inventory for the broadcast is fully sold out, with rates doubling typical Nationals games, and network officials expect further spikes in ad sales as the season progresses.

“Demand has pushed up across the board,” said MASN spokesman Todd Webster. “We’re seeing big increases everywhere.”

Such gains are a reflection of a broader resurgence for the Nationals this year, following back-to-back 100-loss seasons. Washington has hovered around .500 for much of the season in a tight NL East race and has seen other young players ascend to starring roles. Because of that, club officials have seen an upsurge in advance single-game ticket sales and even some new purchases of pro-rated season-ticket plans.

“There is an energized fan base and not just for Strasburg,” said Andy Feffer, Nationals chief operating officer. “The team is playing well, and I sense a buzz in town that goes beyond Strasburg and has not been there before.”

But for the Strasburg game specifically, ticket demand has been particularly heavy. A special offer to Nationals season-ticket holders to buy up to four additional tickets to the game sold out within a half hour. On the secondary markets, average listing prices for Strasburg’s debut surged 47 percent in the 24 hours following the announcement of his scheduled start, according to ticket metasearch engine FanSnap, despite a similar increase in available inventory. At press time last week, FanSnap data showed 4,272 tickets — more than 10 percent of the ballpark capacity — available for resale, and peak listing prices of $999 per ticket.

Strasburg merchandise, which anecdotally has already sold well during his minor league tour, will be supplemented with additional inventory Tuesday night, team officials said.

EYES ON STRASBURG Stephen Strasburg’s last scheduled minor league start was televised by Versus last Thursday. It was the network’s first pro baseball game and capped a high-profile run for Strasburg through the minors. Following are highlights from his Class AAA stint with the Syracuse Chiefs.
DATE GAME ATTENDANCE NO. OF VIEWERS* NOTES
May 29 (Sat.) vs. Scranton / Wilkes-Barre 13,115 14,994 TV audience was for tape-delay broadcast that aired a day later (Sunday, 8:15 p.m.)
May 24 (Mon.) vs. Toledo 13,288 21,015 Second-largest crowd in franchise history; live MASN telecast.
May 19 (Wed.) at Rochester 12,590 7,472 11th-largest crowd in Rochester history, about 8,000 above the team’s May game average.
May 12 (Wed.) vs. Norfolk 6,702 14,711 Fewer fans on night with rain, poor weather.
May 7 (Fri.) vs. Gwinnett 13,766 17,746 Largest recorded crowd in the 135-year history of Syracuse baseball; about 30 media credentials issued, or roughly five times a normal game night.
* Quarter-hour peak
Note: MASN aired Strasburg’s Class AAA starts at 10:30 p.m. ET
(tape delay) unless otherwise noted above.
Compiled by David Broughton
Sources: The Nielsen Co., Minor League Baseball
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