The Major League Baseball club scheduled to play in Washington next spring sent 21,000 e-mails yesterday to fans who had registered for season tickets, inviting them to submit deposits for those tickets a day before club officials originally said that process would begin.
Fans who had registered their interest in tickets through one of three sources -- the team's Web site, Major League Baseball's Web site or with a local group, Baseball in D.C. -- were given initial access to putting down deposits of $300 per seat for season tickets even though the club had not indicated that was necessary. Fans who had not registered will be able to place deposits for season tickets beginning today through the team's Web site, www.dcbaseball.com, or by calling 202-349-0400 after 10 a.m.
Those people, however, will be slotted behind the pre-registered group when it comes to determining who sits where. The team, formerly the Montreal Expos, is scheduled to begin play at RFK Stadium in April.
"The judgment we made, since these were the people who had showed interest months ago -- in some cases, years ago -- that they would be able to go first," team president Tony Tavares said. "We thought we had an obligation to them."
Tavares and Kevin Uhlich, his top assistant and the point man on the ticket project, said the plan was always to give those who had pre-registered the first access to tickets. But there was no mention of that plan in a news release distributed last week announcing the team's ticket sales plan. The release said, "Season ticket deposits will start to be accepted on November 18."
Club officials spent much of the day huddling on the ticket issue. Tavares was traveling from his home in Nevada to a meeting of baseball owners today in Chicago. There, the owners are expected to approve the franchise's move from Montreal to Washington, even though it is up for sale and the D.C. Council hasn't yet approved a financing plan for a new stadium proposed for the waterfront along the Anacostia River.
Uhlich said the club will likely spend much of December developing partial season ticket plans -- packages of several home games -- but they almost certainly won't go on sale until after Jan. 1. Single-game tickets likely won't be available until February, Uhlich said.
Fans who already have registered their interest with the club will have until 11 p.m. on Wednesday to make their deposits, but within that group there will be no preference given to those who make their deposits early.
"It doesn't matter for somebody on that list if they did it [yesterday] morning, or if they do it at 10:50 p.m. on the 24th," Uhlich said. "That's the window."
Those who put down deposits for season tickets will choose from one of 16 seating areas at RFK, ranging from $90 "Diamond Box" seats -- a section of about 830 seats behind home plate that will include a pregame buffet, wait service and other amenities -- to $7 tickets in reserved sections of the outfield. Thus, season ticket prices range from $567 to $7,290 per seat.
Those who put down a deposit yesterday were asked six questions about seating preferences on the Web site, which is run by Ticketmaster. A computer program used by several professional sports franchises will then match those answers with the layout at RFK, which is expected to seat about 43,500 for baseball.
Season ticket holders will receive a discount for purchasing the entire 81-game home schedule. Uhlich said the club hadn't determined the prices for single-game tickets, only that they will be "slightly more." One exception: The reserved outfield seats will always be $7, whether they're purchased as a season ticket or for a single game.
"We need to provide our season ticket holders with a benefit, a discount," Uhlich said. "But we want to be accessible, and those $7 seats -- that's cheaper than going to a movie. We couldn't go lower than that [for season tickets]."
Uhlich said the team doesn't expect to have to cap season ticket sales. He said it would be reasonable to assume the club would probably sell about 20,000 season tickets, leaving the bulk of the park open for partial plans and single-game tickets.