The Major League Baseball franchise scheduled to move to Washington next spring has collected more than 10,000 deposits for season tickets in less than two days of sales, despite the uncertainty around the District's plans to build the team a new stadium and a delay on a vote by MLB owners to approve its relocation from Montreal.
"We're happy," said Kevin Uhlich, a special assistant to club president Tony Tavares and the point man on the ticket project. "We knew that the first 72 hours would probably be real strong, and then we'll see where it goes from there. It may taper off a little bit."
The only way fans can currently buy seats is to purchase the entire season -- all 81 games scheduled to be played at RFK Stadium. Since MLB announced in September its plans to move the former Montreal Expos to the District, the club had collected some 21,000 names of interested people, and began making tickets available to those fans beginning Wednesday. The general public was able to first order season tickets yesterday. Each seat requires a deposit of $300.
As of 6 last night, the club had collected 10,030 deposits, Uhlich said.
The deposits already collected represent more than 812,000 tickets sold even before single-game seats and partial season ticket plans become available. In effect, the team has already topped the Expos' entire home attendance for 2004 -- 748,550 over 80 home dates split between Montreal and Puerto Rico -- if all those making the non-refundable deposits end up buying seats.
Preregistered fans have until 11 p.m. Wednesday to purchase tickets without risking preference on seating, so Uhlich said there could be steady volume over the weekend. Season ticket orders will continue to be taken after Wednesday, but those who buy then will be slotted behind preregistered fans in determining seat selection.
With tickets on sale and the club signing two free agents, third baseman Vinny Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman, District and team officials were preparing for the next step: a ceremony Monday at Union Station to unveil the team's new name -- expected to be the Nationals. The event won't include the entire uniforms, but will include hats, according to three industry sources.
Officials are still tinkering with the final choices on uniforms, but the hats will almost certainly have a script "W" for Washington, and the team's colors will be red, white and blue. The home white jerseys are expected to say "Nationals" across the front, with "Washington" stripped across the road uniform. The team will also have a red jersey to be worn occasionally, two sources said.
The team confirmed yesterday what General Manager Jim Bowden had said all along -- that field manager Frank Robinson would return for the 2005 season. Robinson, whose contract was to expire on Dec. 31, met this week with Bowden at the team's training complex in Viera, Fla. Robinson has managed the Expos since 2002.
Also, Major League Baseball this week hired David Cope, a respected Washington-area sports marketer and salesman, to be vice president for sales and marketing for the team while it is under baseball's ownership. Cope, 40, will run marketing, corporate sales, ticket plans and customer service. Cope, who has worked for the Orioles, Redskins and Washington Sports and Entertainment, is a partner in Bethesda-based Gilco Sports and Entertainment Marketing.
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report from Chicago.