Last week thousands of baseball fans flocked to Miami, the site of the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
In the crowd were a dozen people from Washington including government officials and representatives of Destination DC, the District’s marketing arm. They made the trip because they want to be ready to play ball next year when the All-Star game lands in D.C. — and generate as much revenue from the event as they can.
Next July the MLB All-Star Game will be held at Nationals Park, making it the first time the nation’s capital has hosted the game since 1969, when Richard M. Nixon was president. The city has already started planning for how things will run and how to maximize the amount of money it could bring in from the week-long events.
It’s a rare opportunity for the city to profit off a major sporting event. A high-profile bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games fell through a few years ago, dashing the hopes of planners and architects who hoped it would jump-start a new round of long-term development.
The District is an unlikely candidate for a Super Bowl, which usually goes to a Southern city where snow is less likely in February. The Wizards haven’t seen an NBA finals in this century. And while the Nationals hope for a Cubs-like breakout this fall, the team has yet to make a World Series.
So the All-Star Game will bring D.C. it’s most high-level sporting event in decades.
“We are the nation’s capital, and baseball is the nation’s pastime,” said Jack Evans, Ward 2 councilman who is helping to lead the effort. “So hosting the All Star game this could be one for the ages. It’s a chance to showcase DC as a world capital.”
Nationals star outfielder Bryce Harper has done his part to help promote next year’s events, saying — if he’s an All-Star, he would partake in the Home Run Derby, where players from the National and American League slug it out to see who can hit the most long balls. The event generally takes place the day before the All-Star Game.
According to Anirban Basu, a regional economist with Sage Policy, an MLB All Star game usually brings a minimum of $60 million to the local economy. He said smaller market cities that have hosted the game in recent years like St. Louis, Cincinnati and Kansas City have all stayed closer to the $60 million mark or a little better while markets like Anaheim and New York City have flirted with $100 million in economic impact.
“For us it’s about what sort of programs occur away from the site and what can you do around the stadium over a four- to five-day period,” said Michael Stevens, president of Capitol Riverfront BID and one of the people who went to Miami.
Elliott Ferguson, CEO of Destination D.C., was on the trip to Miami last week to see how the city handled things like security and transportation. He believes the city can bring in between $50 million to 60 million in economic impact; while Evans thinks they can make $5 million to $10 million in additional sales tax revenue alone.
Basu thinks the expectations should be a lot higher, given the number of museums and historical sites that tourists can visit in the city, the amount of wealth in the area and the size of the region.
“I think that at a minimum the goal for Washington, D.C. would be to try and generate $100 million from this game,” he said.
Ferguson said that on the marketing side, a lot of what was discussed in Miami was to look into ways to market baseball with politics — the other big game in Washington. He said they might draw inspiration from traditions like the president throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day.
“In terms of the marketing, how do we loop in Washington museums and how do we tie in the presence of baseball with the experience of Washington?” he said.
Ferguson, Evans and Co. have begun to speak with hotels and businesses around Nationals Park and the convention center, to make sure they keep enough rooms available for fans, players, league executives and their families and that they’re armed with enough inventory and personnel for when people start coming to town. In 2016 when the All-Star Game was in San Diego, the league drew 117,144 people to FanFest and more than 280,000 to its non-ballpark events according to the Sports Business Journal. A capacity crowd at Nationals Park is about 41,000.
According to Stephens, the convention center will be the host of All Star FanFest, which is a five-day long gathering where fans are able to meet former players, partake in baseball drills, buy memorabilia and view artifacts from the game.
“We want to start organizing businesses and getting maps together,” Stephens said. “We want to take advantage of a marketing standpoint to drive attendance to those restaurants and entertainment and the other places.”
Both Nationals Park and the convention center run on Metro’s green line, which is why Evans has approached officials about running additional trains during the week next year and coordinating bus routes and traffic plans.
One concern seems to be security, including possible terror threats. Stephens said a member of the Department of Homeland Security went to Miami to see how local law enforcement handled large crowds and safety concerns. But Evans notes that the city deals with high-security visitors all the time and handles big events like the presidential Inauguration.
“We move the president everyday,” he said. “This is all we do. You don’t have to have as much preparation and training because we do this all the time. It will be more routine for us compared to somebody else.”
Regardless, Evans, Ferguson and Stephens want to see that the city’s marketing for the game has as an lasting effect, long after the final out of the game is made next July.
They are counting on attention the city will get on national television throughout the week and with the marketing campaigns they plan to launch once the MLB gives them the green light. The Nationals have created #DCin18 to launch promotion of the game.
“The huge multiplier for us is that national TV audience with the blimp circling the area” and showing off its sites, Stephens said. “Hopefully we get great shots of the stadium on the river. That’s a marketing campaign I could never buy. That’s millions of dollars in advertising just from those aerial views.”
Correction: This story incorrectly said that Lyndon B. Johnson was president in 1969 when the last All-Star Game was played in Washington. Richard M. Nixon was president at that time.