Kudos to Chris Needham and the Natosphere

Today Marc Fisher at the Washington Post offers a very nice nod to the Nationals blog community, and recognizes Chris Needham of Capitol Punishment as Blogger of the Month.

That and $3.99 might get Chris a grande iced caramel macchiatto at the Alexandria Starbucks, but the point is that I am proud to be among the newest members of one of the best blogging community in baseball, and Chris deserves being recognized as the king of the pack.

Capitol Punishment is among the first things I read every day, and my conversations with other prominent Nationals bloggers confirms that it’s the same for them as well. As Fisher points out…

Capitol Punishment is what works on the web: A strong, attractive personality backed up by a clear devotion to accuracy and good storytelling, with a good dose of humor and a real interest in creating and maintaining a community.

Being so new it was nice to have LetTeddyWin.com singled out as well, despite being labeled as “remarkably obsessive,” but hey… that’s what the internet is about. In fact, for the ultimate in remarkable obsessions, check out StrikeTwo.net, which has built an automated algorithm to rank baseball blogs based on things such as frequency of posts and the number of times they are linked to from the home pages of other blogs!

As you can see, Chris takes the prize among Nationals bloggers, but just as impressive is the overall showing of the Natosphere. The Washington Nationals fan blogs rank only behind the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox, and are pretty close to the Cubs in terms of the proliferation and following by blogs and their readers.

For a losing team with only a 3 year history, that’s pretty impressive. Now if we could just win a few games and fill up that ball park on South Capitol street, we’d really have something to write about.

The Nationals’ Big Marketing Mistake

After their first complete homestand at the new Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals are ranked 20th among Major League Baseball teams in home attendance, and averaging fewer paid spectators than the team did at this point in their first season at RFK stadium.

Perhaps most striking is the lack of bodies in the new stadium’s most visible seats — the “Presidential Seats” which sit directly behind home plate and serve as a backdrop for televised shots of the batter’s box.

Possible reasons for the lackluster attendance have been much debated. Team president Stan Kasten says he’s “very pleased” with attendance given the cold weather and the hot playoff pursuits of other DC sports teams. Others have cited the high cost of Nationals Park tickets and concessions, or the team’s losing record.

I blame it on The Myth.

The Myth was born from a well-intentioned effort to promote the use of Metro to get to Nationals home games. Team, city, and Metro officials worked their tails off to get the word out. They talked about it non-stop, held press events, and devoted significant advertising and PR dollars to the cause.

The problem? They put the creative message in the hands of marketing amateurs, and the campaign went negative.

Why not? Negative works, right? Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are some of the greatest tools in the marketing arsenal. Attacking the competition (in this case, trying to park at the Park) is a time-tested and reliable method of getting people’s attention. Positive is boring.

So the message got delivered, and it wasn’t “Take Metro!” or “Try our free parking shuttle!” The message was clear. Parking is a nightmare. Take Metro or your life will be miserable.

Local news producers love fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It helps them invent drama where none exists. So they jumped on the bandwagon quickly with “public interest” feature stories about how terrible the parking situation is going to be.

A radio ad running non-stop for the last 6 weeks profiles a man who drives around Nationals Park for inning after inning looking for a parking spot. The man is desperate. He is miserable. He misses the entire game. The voiceover intones “Don’t drive and try to park at Nationals Park!”

It worked too well.

I know dozens of people who have shared or partial-season ticket plans. In March, as they picked their games, everybody told me that they were trying to avoid the first few homestands, “to let them get this parking and traffic mess figured out.”

The Myth is that transportation to Nationals Park is a nightmare, and this myth was created by the team itself. I haven’t seen any meaningful traffic, parking, or crowd issues. It’s time for the powers that be to pull this campaign and go positive instead.

Nationals Park from photo by Flickr user Ouij.
Navy Yard Metro from photo by Flickr user MissChatter.

Losing Streaks Continue at Nationals Park

With George, Tom, and Abe having each won one of the first three presidents races at Nationals Park, and the snakebitten Washington Nationals coming into the evening on a 6-game skid, the question on the mind of Nats fans was whether they would see the end of somebody’s losing streak tonight against the Florida Marlins.

Unfortunately, the luck of neither Teddy nor the team changed tonight, as Thomas Jefferson took the 4th inning contest to take the season lead, and our Nats suffered their fourth heartbreaking one-run loss just ten games into the season. After consecutive sweeps by the Cardinals and Marlins, the Nationals 3-game winning streak to start the season is a distance memory.

Friday night the Atlanta Braves come to Nationals Park for the final series of this homestand. Let’s hope for a big turnout and an end to some losing streaks this weekend!

Photo by flickr user afagen.

Five Things That Need Work at Nationals Park

Last week I wrote about 5 things I love about the new Nationals Park. Truth be told, I could have gone on to list dozens more items, from food to views to little design details, but most of these things have been well documented by the press.

Perhaps the best compliment I could give to Nationals Park is that my list of points for improvement is so short, especially when I confine the list to things that the Lerners have control over changing.

#5: Game info on the scoreboard.We know the scoreboard operators will do a better job at keeping up now that they are used to their new toy. That’s not my complaint. The problem is that despite the vastly increased scoreboard real estate, in some cases we don’t seem to have as much info as we had at RFK. Specifically, information about a batter’s previous at bats doesn’t have a permanent spot on the scoreboard and doesn’t stay on the screen long enough. In addition, the pitcher’s pitch count shown does not distinguish balls from strikes — a great bit of info we had on 2 screens at RFK Stadium. If this info appears anywhere, I missed it.

#4: A Sign to Ease the Congestion, Please. The great new food options along the 3rd base line have created a terrible traffic jam in the first couple of games at Nationals Park. The lines have been so bad for Ben’s Chili Bowl that the entire concourse
is reduced to gridlock. Savvy fans have already figured out that this isn’t necessary, so how about educating the rest of the crowd? Put up a big sign with arrows above Ben’s that says “Ben’s Chili Bowl Half Smokes are available at all hot dog stands.”

Nationals Park Fan Photos#3: Update the “Fan Photo” options. The new “Fan Photo” photographers roaming the park are a fun addition that I hope generates some big revenue for the team (look for the photographers in the green shirts). Unfortunately, if they take a photo you like, there is a surprising paucity of nice framing options commemorating the inaugural game or inaugural season. Instead, the outdated offerings include a $150 option framed with dirt from RFK stadium, and a $34 acrylic-enclosed Nationals History that starts “The Washington Nationals have played only two full seasons through 2006…” C’mon Stan. I’d love to throw you more of my fan money, but…

#2: 41,888 Cupholders please. Much was made in the press about how Nationals Park would have 41,888 seats and 41,888 cupholders. Unfortunately, Nationals Park does not deliver on the latter. There were reports of many seats without cupholders. The main culprits are the angled rows where the number of seats is reduced as you get closer to the field, such as in section 110 along the 3rd base line. It seems to me that the team could come up with a solution, such as installing two cupholders on the back of a single seat.

#1: Explain the rules to Teddy! If Teddy is every going to have a chance to win the presidents race at Nationals Park, he can’t be kept in the dark. Last week’s opening night debacle, in which Teddy ran straight into center field rather than around the warning track with the other presidents, suggests to me that somebody on the inside is trying to mislead our 26th president. This is unfair! Teddy Roosevelt is among the smartest and most physically fit presidents in U.S. history. Give him a level playing field and Teddy will win!

Photos from flickr users randomduck, tbridge, Scott Ableman, and afagen

Join the Presidents Race Team, Get a Free T-Shirt

Presidents Race Let Teddy Win Shirt.Would you like a free Let Teddy Win
t-shirt?

I am looking for 1 or 2 season ticket holders to help me make sure the Presidents Race Standings are kept up to date. Unfortunately, my travel schedule does not allow me to attend every home game.

If you can commit to helping throughout the season by sending a quick email after the game, I’ll send you the Let Teddy Win! shirt of your choice, and other Teddy Roosevelt 2008 campaign goodies. Send me an email if you are interested or have any questions.

Nationals Park Tour Tickets Go On Sale This Morning

Nationals Park BullpenThe Washington Nationals have announced that they will offer behind-the-scenes tours of Nationals Park on non-game days beginning Saturday, April 19. Adult tickets cost $15.00 and go on sale this morning, April 7 at 10:00am.

The 75-minute guided tour of Nationals Park promises an “up close and personal” view of the the Washington Nationals’ home dugout and state-of-the-art clubhouse, plus the Nationals bullpen, batting cages, press box, a luxury suite, the PNC Diamond Club, the Lexus Presidents Club and the Stars & Stripes Club.

Participants in Nationals Park tours will have opportunities to throw a pitch in the Nationals Bullpen, among other interactive activities.

A reduced rate of $12.00 will be available to groups of 15 or more, seniors 55 or older, military personnel, and children age 12 and under. Children under the age of 2 will be admitted free. Groups of 25 or more may request a private tour.

Tickets will go on sale at Nationals.com, at the stadium Kiosks near the team store at Nationals Park, and at the Box Office during normal business hours.

Nationals Park bullpen photo by Scott Ableman.

Nationals Park Opening Night Sets ESPN Record

According to a press release from ESPN today, the March 30 opening day game at Nationals Park set an all-time record for ESPN network opening day telecasts.

Atlanta at Washington on March 30 in the debut of Nationals Park – averaged 2,700,000 households and 3,656,000 viewers to become the most-viewed Opening Night ever on ESPN networks.

For those of us who spent so many years lobbying for baseball’s return to Washington, this may not come as a surprise, but it sure is a nice feather in our cap and sends a big message to the brass at ESPN and FOX Sports.

Washington is one of the nation’s biggest markets, and the Nationals are quickly developing a large, loyal fan base, both in the parks and at home on TV.

We had the fan base, the ownership, and the best on-field promotion in sports. Now we can add a world class stadium to the mix. The Washington Nationals have arrived!

Photo from “The Celebration” by Flickr user ctankcycles

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