One problem is that the wealthiest client in the Washington region is the federal government, whose employees generally have gift limits -- $50 in the case of senators, congressmen and Capitol Hill staffers, with a $100 annual limit from any one source.
Government employees can accept tickets to high-price sports events, but they must reimburse their hosts for any amount above the gift limits. Complicating matters, some foreign governments that do business with U.S. companies have their own ethics rules.
"Worrying and trying to be sure the regulations are met, we just don't want to get into that, so we don't buy season tickets," said Alan Hill, a spokesman for SI International Inc., a six-year-old Reston-based defense contractor.
One of SI International's largest competitors, Raytheon, says it's well worth the trouble. Miles Sawyer,Raytheon's manager of U.S. business development, said: "They are primarily for enhancing our relationships. Our employees are going to go with a customer, and they will enjoy each other's company and get to know each other better. That's the purpose of the tickets, all within the ethical guidelines."
Asked if Raytheon uses tickets more to entertain current clients or to woo prospective customers, Sawyer, a retired Air Force officer, said: "Both, sir. You know, we have 'keep sold' and 'get it sold' recruitment and retention strategies."
Recalling his Nationals tickets purchase last month, Sawyer said he asked the club for two groups of four instead of eight in the same row.
"Four seems to be a good [size for a] group . . . if one of our professionals wants to escort a customer -- using all of the rules and everything -- and a family member, like spouses, so they can socialize, or possibly even kids," he said.
Most of Raytheon's guests are from the Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and other government agencies, Sawyer said.
It is the responsibility of Raytheon employees, he said, to collect reimbursements from their guests.
"I monitor that here for our accounting and auditing purchases," Sawyer said. "The Raytheon employee will bring their check in or cash, and I log it on for payment.
"We also have international customers, and some of them are under different rules. . . . But if [a Raytheon employee] comes back and say, 'This person is' -- and I'm just using an example -- 'an Albanian colonel in the embassy,' our agreements with Albania may be such that he can accept [tickets].
"I say to the Raytheon employee I give the tickets to: 'You go figure it out.' "
A smaller defense contractor, CACI International Inc. of Arlington, has taken the middle road, buying two Nationals season tickets that it plans to offer only to employees.
Why not share those tickets with clients?
"We do other things to get face time with our customers that don't fall into the category of buying tickets to sports events," company spokeswoman Jody Brown said.
"Particularly in the Washington area, there's all kinds of industry and government events that both sides sponsor. Some of them may be high-profile trade shows . . . and, you know, there are all kinds of social events that give us face time with our customers, like golf outings. Those seem to work very well."