Nationals No-Shows Could Cost D.C. in Taxes

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 30, 2005

Nearly 250,000 tickets sold by the Washington Nationals have gone unused at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, a no-show rate that is slightly higher than normal for professional teams and could mean that the District earns less revenue than expected.

The Nationals sold an average of 32,019 tickets for their first 33 games, from their home opener in April through June 12, a pace that puts them on track to meet their preseason projection of about 2.5 million tickets for the season.

But the average number of people who attended those games was 24,679, according to data provided by the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK. This figure, known as the turnstile count, is rarely divulged by professional teams but is closely monitored in the sports industry.

The rate of unused tickets at RFKwas 23 percent, slightly higher than the 15 to 20 percent that a professional team should expect, industry analysts said. And the difference means less money for the city in taxes from parking spaces, hot dogs and all the other things fans buy at RFK.

Team officials said they are not disappointed by the crowds and predict that more fans will use their tickets during the summer because schools are in recess.

"We are not concerned at this point," said David Cope, the Nationals' vice president for sales and marketing, who has worked for several professional teams. "The lowest months of turnstile attendance are April, May and early June, before school lets out and before the weather turns."

In large part because of solid ticket sales, the Nationals are expected to make a pretax profit of $20 million, a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that lost about $10 million last season. The District government receives a 10 percent sales tax on tickets.

But the city's revenue also is based on how many fans pay for parking, food, beverages and merchandise. The city receives a 12 percent tax on parking services and 10 percent on all food, beverage and merchandise sales. This in-stadium revenue is crucial because officials intend to use that money to help finance construction bonds to build a $535 million stadium project along the Anacostia River.

Julia Friedman, deputy chief financial officer in the D.C. Office of Revenue Analysis, said District planning officials received a report last year from consultants who estimated that a baseball team playing at RFK would sell an average of 36,000 tickets a game in its first season. Turnstile attendance would be about 33,000 a game, the report said.

Based on those numbers, the city expected to earn $10.5 million in tax revenue in the first year, Friedman said.

"This was a planning document," she said. "It was sort of a base line."

The report stated that in the team's second and third seasons at RFK, ticket sales and actual attendance would decline each year, Friedman said. Then they would bump up to 38,000 tickets sold per game and an average attendance of 35,000 in a new stadium.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company