If you’ve witnessed a home run by the home team at Nats Park this year, you’ve possibly noticed two things:
1) There are no longer fireworks after said home run.
2) Instead, you can hear the sound of some sort of horn — an air horn maybe, or a hockey horn, or a less gusty version of the Caps’ horn guy.
Well, it turns out that “some sort of horn” is actually a submarine horn. And that the three blasts that follow both home runs and wins are the submarine’s signal for a power ascent. And that the horn is there to pay tribute to the Nationals’ relationship to the military, the franchise’s significant number of fans who work in the military, and the stadium’s proximity to the Navy Yard. And that the move from fireworks to a submarine horn was a calculated decision to move from a generic form of stadium celebration to something uniquely Southeast Washington.
“We’re only six years old; we should look for brand identifiers in the market that differentiate us not only in the marketplace but in sports,” Nats COO Andy Feffer told me recently, when we were discussing sub horns. “The Nationals should be developing something that’s brand-centric and distinctive from other teams in the [Washington] market, and from other teams in Major League Baseball.”
So, how did this happen? A few months ago, when people inside the organization began considering a move away from fireworks, they began researching naval horn options and even went to the Navy Yard to check out alternatives. Their advisers at the Yard advised they go with the sub horn, both for the sound and for the way that sound would carry. The Navy folks also thought the three-blast signal would be appropriate.
So the horn was taken to Nats Park and hooked up to a special mic in the press box, where members of the marketing department can fire away after home runs and wins.
As for fireworks, there had been some complaints from neighbors about the noise, and some fans said their children were scared by the noise. (Full disclosure: I had to take my toddler home early from a game last year because the fireworks terrified her. Then again, she loves Screech, so there’s no accounting for taste.)
But Feffer said eliminating the fireworks from the post-game celebrations and also the regular Friday night fireworks shows was really about trying to be distinctive; he also said financial considerations did not influence the decision.
“It’s less about fireworks and it’s more about the overall fan experience and our ability to deliver something new and different,” he said. “Looking at the overall schedule of 81 games is important; it’s not just about 13 Friday nights. What’s popular yesterday and today, you shouldn’t rest on it. You have to always look to do something different. And that doesn’t mean we have it figured out.”
And so it’s possible the deployment of the horn could become more interactive or public in the future, and there’s no guarantee that the horn will remain the celebratory noise indefinitely. But the team is pleased with the early returns -- both the sound itself, and what it says about the franchise.
“I’m probably biased, but I love it. The reason I love it is because it’s distinct, right?” Feffer said. “People should hear that horn on TV, not even look at the screen and be able to say that’s Nationals Park. That’s a unique identifier to what we do, and the fact that it’s authentic is important to us, that we not try to contrive something and force something.
“The military is already part of game presentation and the Navy Yard is right next door; not only is it unique and distinctive, but it fit. It fit with our goals, and it fits with what Washington is. It’s ours. Someone else can’t copy it and say we’re gonna do that too. It’s Washington’s.”