SBJ/April 15-21, 2013/Franchises

Nationals cash in on success, sign 22 deals

Buoyed by its new status as one of the elite teams in baseball, the Washington Nationals have recently signed 22 sponsorship deals, creating an aggregate annual revenue increase of more than 20 percent in the category.

The renewals were particularly critical, because Nationals Park is entering its sixth season of operation and many of the club’s original sponsorships were tied to the first five years of the building. As a result, the club last fall faced an unusually high number of expiring contracts. But with an NL East division title already won last year and expectations for this year never rivaled in franchise history, the club was able to secure fee increases in many of the deals.

“There have been plenty of instances at other stadiums where the second set of five-year deals shows a decrease from the original term. We’ve been able to flip that model around and in many cases sign larger deals,” Nationals Chief Operating Officer Andy Feffer said. “It’s another indicator of the kind of progress we’ve made taking root in this market.”

Exact figures were not available, but the boost from the new and renewed deals are thought to place the Nationals among the top tier of MLB clubs in sponsorship sales, and are more in accordance with Washington’s status as the one of the most affluent and educated U.S. markets.

Beyond many of the typical sign- and media-driven activations, some of the deals involve more unusual elements. The HBO alignment was a short-term deal driven by the network’s show “Veep” that featured a mascot likeness of lead character Selina Meyer, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, participating last week in the club’s famed Racing Presidents dash.

TGI Friday’s will feature a redemption program for discounted Nationals tickets on its frozen meals sold at area grocery stores.

The Nationals, meanwhile, continue to post gains on their radio frequency identification, or RFID, system at Nationals Park. Developed last year with London-based customer management firm Fortress GB and beta tested in 2012, all full and partial season tickets this year are based on the RFID cards. The cards tie together not only ticketing but also concessions, merchandising, parking and the club’s loyalty program into one computerized system.

The program will be expanded later this season to include electronic cash for in-ballpark purchases with dedicated lines for RFID card users.

Since the beginning of the year, 94 percent of the club’s season-ticket holders have logged into the online system to manage their accounts, and more than 500,000 seats for the 2013 season have been transferred virtually. The ticket transfer is the largest for any Fortress GB sports client, which includes more than 120 stadiums in 16 countries.
The Nationals have been at the forefront in the use of the technology among MLB clubs.

“There’s been a bit of a learning curve among the fan base, but there’s been great acceptance of the program,” said Richard Pinnick, Fortress GB head of global business development. “Technologically, the implementation has been smooth, and it’s interesting to see the Nationals use this for all these different dimensions of the fan experience as opposed to something specific like just stadium access.”

The RFID system at Nationals Park also uses self-scanning turnstiles. Average entry rates at those turnstiles have dropped to about one second per fan to enter, as opposed to the eight to 10 seconds required when ushers are scanning.

Also: Ballpark data network slated for upgrades

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