On Opening Day 2010, Phillies fans flooded Nationals Park after bus tour operators from Philadelphia gobbled up thousands and thousands of tickets, which the Nationals sold to them at a group-rate discount. The trips to Washington became something of a cottage industry, and each year organizers plunked down deposits with the assurance they would receive a bundle of tickets for their trips.
This year, though, “it’s a different day,” Nationals COO Andrew Feffer said. The Nationals have limited group sales for the May 4-6 series at Nationals Park against the Phillies, an extension of their Take Back the Park campaign that allows only people with a D.C., Maryland or Virginia address to purchase single-game tickets until a yet-to-be-specified date.
“If we lock a few Phillies fans out, so be it,” Feffer said. “They can be angry all they want.”
And many are angry. The lack of group sales has upset some Phillies fans, particularly tour operators who generated income by packaging bus trips with tickets to Nationals games. Feffer said those operators can buy as many as tickets as they want – at a non-discount rate – once single-game tickets go on sale at the conclusion of the Take Back the Park promotion. He also emphasized that a deposit on group sales did not guarantee purchase.
“They’re not used to a deposit not guaranteeing tickets,” Feffer said. “We’re going to make it a little more difficult for the Phillies fans. I want to be consistent with that. My only disappointment is I guess I won’t get to see them swim across the river if they’re not there.”
The Nationals made their decision to limit group sales and began returning deposits after announcing the Take Back the Park initiative. Feffer said the Nationals wanted to ensure as many local fans as possible could attend the series.
“It’s not that those tickets won’t be available,” Feffer said. “There just won’t be as many available through [the group sales] channel. They’ll be able them just like everybody else when single-game tickets go on sale.
“What does it do? It gives people from the Washington area who are real fans in this area the opportunity before a group sale from Philadelphia gets the opportunity. It’s not that we didn’t sell any group sales. It’s just that it’s a very limited amount to ensure that single-game tickets are available.”
If that upsets Phillies fans who had expected to make the trip, “I’m not altogether unhappy about it, let’s put it that way,” Feffer said.
Feffer did not offer specifics on the number of single-game tickets sold to the May Phillies series. He made an appeal to local fans that filling the park is not only about the Nationals and Phillies, but rather a civic issue.
“It’s kind of taken on a larger picture,” Feffer said. “A lot of the bloggers said quote, Nationals fans won’t buy the tickets. This is from Philly fans – Nationals fans won’t buy the tickets. Season-ticket holders are going to list them on StubHub, and we’re going to buy all the tickets, anyway. If there’s any message that goes out, this should be a rally call for the community. It’s less about this series. I think it’s become a civic issue of Washington. Are we going to band together? It’s an opportunity for us to recapture and reclaim the market as a sports market.”
Former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth recalled the Phillies running a similar promotion during his first years in Philadelphia aimed at keeping New York Mets fans out of Citizens Bank Ballpark.
“All I know is, in ’07 it was 50-50, 60-40 Mets to Phillies fans,” Werth said. “And then pretty soon there were very little Mets fans. Whether that’s because they stopped selling to Mets fans or they just stopped coming, I don’t know.
“You’re definitely better off with a park full of your own fans at home compared to a park full of somebody else’s fans at home. I think it’s good.”
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