I had a long conversation with Nats COO Andy Feffer last week, mostly about the Nats Opening Weekend festivities. Then, because I’m an idiot, I never got around to posting the details, and the Nats put out a press release with everything I had learned. But I will press on, and present this handy-dandy Q&A about Opening Weekend and more.
Is Obama again throwing out the first pitch?
He is not. Instead, the first pitch will be five-fold, involving generals from the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. The U.S. Navy Band will perform the National Anthem, and children of military members deployed overseas will line the outfield red carpet that players will walk down.
“A patriotic flavor to opening day,” Feffer put it.
The pitches will be caught by Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. James Brown will be the emcee. Mike Rizzo will address the crowd. And Vincent Gray will say “play ball!”
What about the Saturday and Sunday games?
Saturday’s first pitch will be thrown out by Larry King. Sunday’s game will be a Cherry Blossom extravaganza, with video-board elements and in-game promotions revolving around the Cherry Blossom festival.
I heard that Five Guys is gone from Nats Park. Can you provide some concessions information?
Of course. There will be an announcement this week on new branded food concessions, but in the meantime, here are a few of the new options. In right field will be a new concept called “The Sweet Spot, featuring frozen yogurt and candy treats. There will also be a new “Loaded Dog” concept in the outfield, featuring 10 different varieties of hot dogs, including Thai Dogs, Deli Dogs, Burger Dogs, Tailgate Dogs, The Big Kid Dog, Frito Pie Dogs and Ay, Chihuahua Dogs.
Other changes: a new jerk chicken, a D.C. crab cake sandwich, a Florida Cuban, grilled cheese on Texas toast, an Italian sandwich, and a bunch of new options inside the Stars and Stripes Club.
Also, the new hot dog provider will be Kayem (which does the hot dogs at Fenway), and the new ice cream provider will be Breyers.
Any other changes in the ballpark experience?
Feffer said the organization’s biggest offseason ballpark focus was a “huge customer-service initiative” to improve the fan experience. This will include hiring more managers, and introducing a new point-of-sale system that should increase the speed of lines and provide a more efficient way to monitor sales.
There will also be new ways for fans to text or e-mail immediate feedback on slow lines, unruly fans, cold hot dogs, empty beer taps, and so on.
“Instead of waiting, we can make real efforts in real time to effect change,” Feffer said. “
How about some non-specific quotes about season-ticket sales?
Well, Feffer was not giving me a number. This is what he said.
“It was an extraordinary year this year. We’ve had the strongest renewal percentage rate that we’ve ever had here in Washington, and our new season ticket sales are greater than they’ve ever been. Our renewal rates were in the top echelon of Major League Baseball. I’m encouraged, very encouraged. I really believe that the end of last year was really a tipping point for the business in terms of season tickets, in terms of fan enthusiasm, in terms of some of the unique and different things we’re doing at the park....
“The numbers are beyond our own expectations, and beyond everything we’ve had in this market for renewals, and new season sales are up significantly. This is our opportunity this year, both on the field and off the field, to deliver on expectations.”
Could you provide free advertising for the Nationals for a second?
Sure, why not. Here’s something else that’s new: the Harris Teeter Family Fun Pack, previously available for Sunday games, is now also available for all Saturday home games. That means you can get a $14 Upper Right Field Terrace ticket (including prime games) or a $25 Outfield Reserved ticket ($28 for prime games) that includes a hot dog, Coca-Cola/Dasani beverage and chips.
Sure. Feffer likes to think of the upcoming events as Opening Weekend, not just Opening Day.”
“People always focus on Opening Day,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do from a branding perspective is really call it Opening Weekend, and it starts with NatsFest on Wednesday and extends through Sunday. There are unique elements and aspects on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday that are not Opening Day. We’ve purposely done that to create something special and different that has not been done in the past.”