Why the Lerners want a roof over Nationals Park

News that the Lerners want to add a roof over Nationals Park has caused quite a Thanksgiving week stir among Nats fans, with many questioning the hubris of the request and others calling into question the necessity. Over at The Post, Adam Kilgore and James Wagner have compiled an analysis of rain delays and postponements showing that 88 games have been affected in the team’s first six seasons there.

Whether 88 is a big number or a small number can be debated, but that would be missing the point. The real question for the Lerners (and ultimately for the fans), is how many games had attendance impacted by weather. That number could easily be five times higher.

For better or worse, this is a team that depends on a la carte ticket sales. Even when there was a surge in season tickets after the 2012 season, the team capped sales at about half the stadium capacity, and that includes partial season ticket plans. I don’t know if that was an attempt at manufactured scarcity, or some philosophical statement by the owners, but unless the Nats win several World Series in a short period of time, it is likely to continue to be the state of things for the Washington Nationals.

It’s a much more complicated analysis, so I can only speak anecdotally, but it’s my observation that unless the Orioles, Yankees, or Red Sox are visiting, if the forecast is anything other than sunny and warm, attendance will be somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 capacity. And of course, that’s just announced paid attendance. When the actual weather matches the forecast, the true attendance is always much lower. We’ve all been in Nationals Park when the forecast is cold and drizzly, and it turns out to be cold and drizzly. The place is pretty empty.

I’ve had to list a number of my tickets on StubHub over the years. The consistent #1 determinant of whether they sell is… the weather. When the forecast is bad, even when the game is played without postponement or delay, you can’t give them away. By contrast, when the weather is nice, tickets sell even if it’s the Padres or Astros in town.

For what it’s worth, bad weather includes the inevitable mid-summer heat waves that hit DC every year. When it’s 100 degrees outside and the air quality is Code Red for a day game, there may not be a delay, but the entire first base side of the stands becomes no man’s land.

I’m sure the Lerners have compiled and analyzed this data, and I’m sure it’s compelling.

This of course says nothing about whether a retractable roof would be an eyesore, or what circumstances would determine whether it’s opened or closed. There are surely negatives to the idea; but as a fan I want the team to be able to fill the stadium with other fans.

Filling every seat is the single biggest thing the Lerners can do to make for a better day at the ball park. It pumps the crowd and the team, it throws of the opposing pitchers, and it funds free agents and long-term contracts.

Would a roof drive away some fans? Would it be retractable? Would it be an eyesore and block the sun when the weather is nice? Should the Lerners pay for it themselves? Is it even possible to retrofit a roof onto an existing ball park? All good questions. But it’s a good conversation to have.

Photo: Chris Rief

Video: The Amazing Race at Nationals Park

The Amazing Race Nationals Park Racing PresidentsSunday’s full season finale of The Amazing Race is available for viewing now at CBS.com. The episode features a challenge that was filmed at Nationals Park in December of last year. Nats mascot Screech and the racing presidents are featured prominently.

Watch the full episode here or check out these Nats Park highlights:

Racing presidents, Nationals Park to be featured on finale of CBS’s The Amazing Race Sunday

 It looks like a mid 60s pennant to me. "Off the floor in '64"CBS’s The Amazing Race will feature Nationals Park, the Nats’ racing presidents and mascot Screech, as the season finale takes place in Washington, DC.

The episode was shot last December, and features a task in which participants are suspended from a zip wire stretching from the center field plaza to the top of the stadium, and toss baseballs as they fly above the mascots on the diamond below.

The episode airs this coming Sunday night at 8:00pm. Preview below.

Chicken sacrifice planned for noon Thursday at Nationals Park

In response to Davey Johnson, Rubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman Sacrifices a chicken at Washington Nationals ParkChicken Sacrifice at Nationals Park dugout - Chicken ModeIn an effort to break the team’s losing streak, Washington Nationals “Rubber Chicken Man” Hugh Kaufman will perform a ritual sacrifice of a rubber chicken in front of the Nationals Park center field gate at noon on Thursday.

Kaufman has performed the ritual many times since 2005, whenever he determines that the Nationals have hit a streak of particularly bad luck. Last season, chickens were sacrificed after a string of injuries to the team’s catchers, and again after the Nationals lost Game 3 of their playoff series vs. the Cardinals. Just ten weeks ago, Kaufman was called into service by a Washington Capitals fan to help end their own losing streak.

Kaufman, who inspired Chicken Mode t-shirts, also plans to burn sage on Thursday, to honor a postgame request by outfielder Jayson Werth. “Somebody was talking about Phil Jackson the other day,” Werth said after Wednesday’s loss. “We need to call him up, have him come in and burn some sage or something. We’re not very feng shui.”

No word on whether Jackson will make an appearance, but the ritual will be open to the public.

Nationals Park to boost WiFi for fans, AT&T app promises relief for mobile data users

Comcast announced this morning that it has been selected by the Washington Nationals for a multiyear contract to deliver Gigabit ethernet and expanded WiFi availability within Nationals Park.

“When we first opened the ballpark in March 2008, our fans were not utilizing our WiFi network to the extent that they do now during an average game, which is why we needed to increase the bandwidth supporting our Internet service,” Nationals Chief Technical Officer Nationals Jason Zachariah said via press release. “We are always looking for ways to enhance the ballpark experience for our guests, and we look forward to working with Comcast in the coming years to help us keep pace as our technology demands evolve.”

Comcast suggested that the upgrade is complete, and that Nationals Park “now has enough capacity to allow thousands of fans to order food and beverages via a website from their wireless devices.”

In related news, long-suffering AT&T customers have a new option for voicing their concerns about spotty service during heavily attended games. Their upgraded app, AT&T Mark the Spot now can be used to mark specific locations and times of signal failure. The app saves the information and transmits it to AT&T later when a data signal is recovered.

Nationals Park free postgame concerts announced, Paul McCartney to visit July 12

The Nationals announced Friday that Nationals Park has been added as a stop on Paul McCartney’s Out There tour on July 12. Tickets go on sale Friday, April 12 at 10:00am through Tickets.com.

Performers were also announced for the NatsLive post-game concert series. Blues Traveler (June 8), Thompson Square (July 6), Gavin DeGraw (August 31) and Montgomery Gentry (September 21) will perform free concerts for ticketholders after Saturday night games this summer. With last week’s announcement of bobbleheads for Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, and Davey Johnson, our Nationals promotion/giveaway schedule is now filled out for the season.

Season ticket holders react to the Nationals’ souvenir “commemorative” paper tickets

The Washington Nationals are pitching their new Ultimate Ballpark Access as a great boon for season ticket holders. As noted in our annual opening day review of changes at Nats Park, many features of the new access cards have yet to be introduced, so the benefits will be seen over time.

Nationals Opening Day Souvenir Ticket and Ultimate Access Cards

Season ticket holders received one souvenir opening day ticket per account, along with the new “Ultimate Access” cards

Washington Nationals Souvenir Commemorative Ticket Replacement $3.00

The Washington Nationals are selling ticket holders “souvenir” paper tickets for $3.00 each.

In the meantime, the team went out of its way to appease those looking for a paper ticket, announcing before the season that season ticket holders would receive one commemorative “souvenir” paper ticket for opening day, and could obtain additional souvenir paper tickets for any game at the ball park for an added fee of $3.00 per ticket, with the funds going to the Nationals Dream Foundation.

“Not approaching the level of the commemorative tickets in years past,” wrote Nats fan Gerry Gleckel Jr. about the opening day ticket, “…and only one per subscriber? Should my two seatholders trade every half inning? Yuck.”

Then Monday, the $3.00 souvenir tickets made their debut at Nationals Park, and an informal poll of season ticket holders at the park and on Facebook produced a flood of reactions ranging from mild disappointment to unprintable outrage. Here are just a few of the responses:

“Not impressed,” said DC resident Susan Vavrick. “I would have thought a commemorative ticket would look nicer than that.”

“Three bucks for a piece of paper that isn’t the real ticket? C’mon,” said journalist and DC resident Max Cacas. “Give people a chance to print it out at the ballpark for free, and charge a modest fee to have a nice print suitable for framing. But not this way.”

“It has to have images on it before I’d buy,” added DC resident Andy Kostas.

“Don’t these people understand that many fans like to tickets as momentos of particular games?,” asked Alfonse Mannato. “Just stupid to charge $3 for a souvenir that lacks images.”

“How can they be so smart in team building and so ignorant in something as simple as this?,” wrote Virginia season ticket holder James Taylor. “Go figure, I sure can’t.”

And finally, from DC blogger and season ticket holder Tom Bridge:

“Nothing says ‘I was there’ quite like ‘Not Valid For Entry.'”

Personally, I applaud the Nats’ desire to be technology trendsetters, but if I’m in the ball park when Stephen Strasburg pitches his first no-hitter, I think I’m going to want to frame something better than this.

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: Received a positive comment worth sharing from Nats fan Michael Cusick: “It is pretty hard on the eyes. I think all would have been forgiven if they had put a little hologram on it. But the three bucks goes to charity (if I heard the story right) so I’m OK with it. And I would rather have a good team than fireworks and fancy ticket stubs.”

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