When I first heard Charlie Slowes’s voice on the radio offering a “Yankees Pack” — a five-game Nats plan that includes seats for New York’s first-ever visit to Nats Park — it just sounded off. It felt like yet another example of banking on another team’s notoriety to fill a D.C. stadium.
And so I blogged about it, and was passively aggressive critical, and thought no more.
But I’ve talked to Nats COO Andy Feffer a couple times since then, and I’ll go ahead and admit that that I was wrong on this one. Sure, the audio remains a bit weird to these ears — hearing the Nats’ radio guy dropping theYankees name to sell Nats seats on the Nats’ flagship station — but that’s sort of a minor point.
And the larger point is this: by packaging that big-time draw with tickets against the Reds, Rays, Orioles and Phillies, you’re encouraging fans of the home team to buy seats for that date before they’re offered on a single-game basis, since a Yankees fan wouldn’t likely be interested in a ticket to see the Reds play the Nats. And the more seats that move as part of holiday gift packs, the fewer New York accents will show up on June 15.
That’s the theory, anyhow.
“We know from experience that fans who are buying flex plans or mini plans or gift plans tend to be Nationals fans, because there are multiple games included there,” Feffer told me this week. “That was our intention, to give Nationals fans the availability first. This is our way to alert them that hey, there’s a big game with a big opponent you’ve been asking about, and it’s included in this pack.”
The Yankees, of course, are grouped in with teams like the Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies as high-demand opponents with national followings likely to create a mixed crowd at Nats Park. As in the past, Feffer said the team will give first preference for these games to existing season-ticket holders, mini-plan holders and fans who sign up to receive Nats news updates from the team’s Web site.
“In those types of games with high demand, it’s our intention to make sure that we first give our own fans, our Nationals fans, the opportunity to purchase those tickets,” he said. “A, to see a great game and B, to root on for their home team.”
(Plus, if you buy either the five-game Yankees Pack or the three-game Opening Day Pack, you get a Teddy holiday ornament, while supplies last. Call now! Operators are standing by! Am I off the hook yet?)
Feffer said sales of both these mini-packs and of season tickets are up year-to-year over 2010, which isn’t surprising, given the team’s strong finish and the prospect of both Strasburg and Harper on the field at some point in 2012. But to my original point — the rhetoric of appealing to home fans vs. live bodies — he left no doubt.
“Of course the intention is to have it full of Nationals fans,” he said. “We want to keep Phillies fans out and bring Nationals fans in. We want our fans to be there, cheering for a team that’s got a chance to be a championship-quality team. And it’s coming. It’s not a reach to say we’re going to be an extremely competitive team in 2012.
“I do think there’ll be a day very soon when you see that a shift has been made in the fans in the ballpark, and people will say wow, how did that happen, and it could happen very quickly....
“I think you’re going to see a transformation of who shows up at the ballpark next year when those big games happen. I think we’re the team people in D.C. are looking to now for a shot in the arm, for an exciting sports fan experience.”
Which the chatter among my friends and readers largely confirms. So I hereby rescind my criticism of the Yankees Pack. Go crazy, Charlie Slowes. And here’s hoping June 15 turns out to be a beautiful spring day, featuring the scent of gelato and the bleat of a submarine horn and a ballpark packed with Washingtonians, fathers and daughters and mothers and sons joined hand-in-hand, booing the Yankees as one.